All week long I’ve read about the tragic death of James Alenson at Lincoln-Sudbury high school, allegedly caused by John Odgren, bitten my lip, and swallowed my gall.
As I wrote in this paper last fall, I am the mother of four children who have been or are on the autism spectrum, one with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.
I know a little something about life with spectrum kids, the caution and care that goes into medication choices, the anxieties and fears that dog every parent but especially those of a special needs child, and uniquely those of an Asperger’s child.
I know something about the rigorous, nail-biting care that goes into planning an appropriate education and safe environment for special needs children.
I know only what I’ve read in the papers, and I presume that the larger facts of the case will unfold in time. It’s not my place to speculate upon innocence or blame, upon the appropriateness of Odgren’s treatment or school placement, upon whether or not this tragedy could have been avoided.
I know that I see the faces of two beautiful teenage boys in the papers, two lives that have ended in a sense, and I cry.
Both families are in my prayers. Both mothers are in my heart. Both boys have become, through this tragedy, precious to me.
I pray that the entire community affected by this will show mercy to all who’ve been scarred by this. I pray that greater understanding, and not greater fear and stigmatization of those who live with autism, will rise from the ashes of this great sorrow. I pray that the legal operations that now surround John Odgren and his family will move cautiously, and not be swift in judgment.
Now, though I would wish to avoid this subject, I feel compelled to speak in response to the signs and displays put forward by the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights, a group founded by the Church of Scientology, and displayed in Sudbury on the day of James Alenson’s funeral.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted at What judges have to say about Scientology
Surely there is a better way to promote awareness of the potential harmful effects of psychiatric medications than to stage a circus at a time and a place when the victims’ hearts are so raw.
Surely there is a more effective way to be heard than to alienate an entire community.
There is no martyr’s merit in speaking out in this way. If science is indeed the basis of Scientology, engage the scientific community. Conduct studies, present findings to the appropriate councils for drug safety or psychiatric practice. If your position can be substantiated, you will be heard.
But what right do you have to demand to know the medications John Odgren took? His medical history is private.
No mother brings a child into the world hoping to give him psychiatric drugs. It is always a last resort, approached in fear and trembling, after research and alternatives and every other intervention have been exhausted. The potential side effects and possible links to dangerous behavior, we know, and we wring our hands over them. We watch vigilantly, we monitor, we seek ongoing professional follow-up.
To flippantly ascribe last week’s tragedy to Odgren’s medications is irresponsible in the extreme. Competent medical expertise would undoubtedly agree that a host of interconnected factors are at work in Odgren’s psychology, and which one (or ten) of them are the reason for his alleged attack, we may never know. To categorically blame it on the meds is an ignorant and insupportable position.
How does it feel to be a mother faced with this alternative: a child who will never fit into society, succeed in school, have friends, or be happy, or a medicated child with a much better shot at success in those areas, yet a slight risk of violence or suicide? Until you’ve faced that modern Sophie’s choice, don’t suppose you know best.
And just because you can point to some success stories involving alternative therapies, don’t assume they’re universal cures.
Oh, what the heck: it’s your religion. Assume anything you want. But don’t try to impose your assumptions on the rest of us. It won’t work, anyway.
And to any who may wonder if special needs children are a danger to public safety, consider how many more acts of aggression occur where no special needs are present, and no medication involved.
Patience, not prejudice; understanding, not ignorance.
Surely James Alenson’s legacy demands no less of us.
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