December the 14, 2012, the American horror movie became real life, when a 20 year old high functioning Asperger man, Adam Lanza, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown CT and became the “Boogieman”. Murdering 20 innocent children, 6 educators and then turning the gun on himself. Police discovered early in the morning, he had shot, his “gun enthusiast” mother several times in the face, while she laid sleeping.
I didn’t know Adam or Nancy, but in a strange way, felt a connection to the horrific event, through family friends, who knew well one of the child victims and I’m a Mother, who raised a special needs child.
Adam’s Mom, it’s being disclosed, was not just a gun collector but a divorcee, who didn’t work. She lived in a 1.4 million dollar home, and received nearly 300k alimony and child support a year. Nancy was a “prepper” or a survivalist, who believed the end of civilization, perhaps Armageddon, was at hand.
It’s becoming apparent, Nancy, was raising her medicated (reported on Zanapt) Asperger son alone, with very little family or community (other then drinking buddies at her local pub) to assist and support this exhausting job.
I believe her income and ethnic bracket allowed her and Adam to slip into a dangerous fantasy world and fall between the cracks. No social worker or mental health professional checked in on them, even after she had an apparent falling out with educators and decided she would home school Adam for a few years….Or during/after her divorce.
Divorce is more often then not, traumatic, even for kids who aren’t disabled! Splintering families, dividing children in two, going from camp to camp, creating loyalty issues. Many kids become addicted to escapism in one form or another, that follows them into adulthood.
Reports are emerging, Nancy was looking into admitting her son to a facility or some type of college for special needs children. Did Adam feel threatened, like his world was crashing to an end or the Apocalypse was a week away? Was Nancy bi polar, and exhibiting extreme punish and reward behavior or did she fear a social stigma and shame, to call out for help? Little is known about the dynamics of their Mother/Son relationship. And why would anyone, especially a mother, in their right mind, believe exposing an Asperger child to automatic assault guns, is a way to teach the child or young adult responsibility?
(And at such a dangerous age, it’s a proven fact, boys, young men between the ages of adolescence and young adulthood, are prime pickings for the military or militia and the majority of perpetrators in acts of terrorism, internationally or domestic.)
Ryan, Adam’s older brother and Father, Peter Lanza were reported not to have seen Adam in two years. Who were they estranged from, Adam or Nancy or both? Even so, they are the only ones who can shine additional light on the complicated mother/son relationship and mind of Adam Lanza.
I for one, know the importance of community when there is a special need child in your family. I have walked in Nancy Lanza’s shoes. It was the learning experience of my life, raising Carla!
Let me define Asperger; Asperger syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders. The term “autism spectrum” refers to a range of developmental disabilities that includes autism as well as other disorders with similar characteristics.
When I first became Carla’s caregiver, I discovered she was awkward with social skills, labeled with learning disabilities by educators and doctors. I didn’t know how severe her problems were until I got up close and personal. This was before computers and internet research engines. I hit the library and spoke to every educator and doctor, to discovery at the time, 1992, not much was out there as far as Asperger and the wide spectrum it covers.
It was a rude awaking to discover, education and childcare professionals, could be cold hearted. I believed, like many, educators and doctors have a calling, and put the best interest of kids first. NOPE! I had to dig deep for answers, for folks who did care and shelter Carla from unnecessary emotional pain.
One encounter, is when I was “mommy volunteer yard monitor”. I came across a group of children who cornered Carla and for amusement, called her names and even physically abused her. I found it strange, Carla didn’t tell on them and if I hadn’t observed this with my own eyes, it may have continued. It was especially shocking because one of the girls, Jenny, I had first met at a BBQ at Carla’s home. Where the little girls played harmoniously, but at school, that was not case. Jenny taunted Carla often, disturbing educators turned a blind eye. I immediately intervened and called Jenny’s mother and other children’s parents who’d joined in, the bullying stopped.
I learned being a care giver for a special needs child, will always be hands on project and a full time job. It takes a lot of love and patience, I could not have done it or be successful, if I wasn’t able to gather community of friends, family and peers around us. WE got Carla through, elementary, middle school, high school and junior college. By the time she reached high school, she was a B student and graduated from one of the most coveted public high schools in the City, High School for Environmental Studies, where she was awarded a scholarship during the graduation ceremony, one of the proudest days in my life.
I hope by listing some our challenges and how to counteract them, can shine light for other parents/caregivers struggling in this increasingly cold world to raise a special needs child. And turn a disability into a reinvent-ability.
1. Labels & Stigma; Carla was an awkward child, doing anti social things that could be immediately labeled “troubled kid”. Most people, even in liberal Manhattan found it easier to label her “bad” and distant themselves from her. I immediately sounded the alarm, but not in a hostile tone, asking other parents and friends for understanding, help. Letting them know, her awkwardness was not symptoms of a “troubled child“, but her special condition. She was not EVIL, but needed supportive friends, “helpers“ as the wonderful late Mr. Rogers, so beautifully expressed.
2. Anti Social Behavior; Wandering physically and mentally, Carla would become anti social on her own, if I would allow it. She would disappear in her own world, I believe a place of comfort, from the years of bullying and neglect she endured. She did things out of the blue, making no sense and would often be considered by her peers as “gross”. I wouldn’t let her retreat into a fantasy world. I pulled her out! I made her engage with the family, made sure she had playmates and hobbies. When she would do something “gross”, I would explain to her why it made people uncomfortable. I taught her boundaries, mental and physical. I would tell her if she wasn’t sure about how to act or feel, she could ask and she could observe how other children behaved.
4. Detachment; I realized, some of Carla’s issues came from being alone. I knew it was important for her to interact with the family and with friends as much as possible. This was a break through for her! Finally this little girl was becoming more social, even capable of making her own friends.
4. Physically Numb; Carla had a super human pain threshold. Even when she fell hard, she seldom cried. I once found her poking herself with an unfolded paper clip. This also translated into how she would touch or hug someone. She often gave strangling bear hugs. I constantly explained to her, that others were not as strong as her. And reminded her to play soft. I believe giving her a kitten was an important part in this process, and also taught her empathy, attachment and RESPONSIBILITY. Hunter, our great Tabby cat, was all hers to love and she did very much (he passed away at 14). She even invented a cat language, she would meow in different tones, like a kitty Morse Code! I began to call her Miss Doolittle, she loved it and her love and empathy for animals (and for people) grew, she was able to bond and began to have best friends.
5. Learning Disabilities; When I first met Carla, she was an 8 year old who couldn’t do math, tell time, count money or even tie her shoe laces. I didn’t resolve, like others in the past, that she was hopeless to learn math. I found the right tutor, an artist, who once was a NYC public school teacher and her Mom a special education teacher. Dana, immediately consulted her Mom, identified Carla read above her grade level, a huge vocabulary and believed this could translate in her ability to learn math! Dana invented creative ways to teach Charlotte, it worked!
I also discovered Carla had a PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY!!!! She may have hated American history but if she would read me her test material out loud before her exam, SHE WOULD ACE THE TEST! I learned nature is a beautiful thing, it can compensates weakness with incredible gifts.
To recap and to sum it up; I’m not a scientist, I’m not an educator or hold any professional degrees to work with Asperger or special needs children, but I am an open minded mother, care giver who learned through my experience that the first thing that had to be done was to establish community, surrounding her with love and support. And above all, never give up.
Carla is now an adult woman, is she normal? What is normal anyway? She graduated college, is capable of living alone, hold a job, has friends and was able to find her place in life. She has quality of life. I also believe her brain on several fronts caught up to others. Many people who meet her today, don’t have a clue she had or has a disabilities. It was almost like she was helped to fake it until she felt it.
Other important notes, is never parent from a place of guilt, never allow a child to disappear down a rabbit hole. If a parent can’t handle a Asperger, special needs child, it is best this be evaluated and the child is placed in an enviroment that engages them.
Hillary Clinton said it best by borrowing a beautiful West African proverb, “It takes a Village to raise a child!” It sure does!