Welcome to my blog, which speaks to parents, professionals who work with children, and policy makers. Through stories from my behavioral pediatrics practice (with details changed to protect privacy) I will show how contemporary research in child development can be applied to support parents in their efforts to facilitate their children’s healthy emotional development. I will address factors that converge to obstruct such support. These include limited access to quality mental health care, influences of a powerful health insurance industry and intensive marketing efforts by the pharmaceutical industry.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun control and preventive mental health care to honor the lost children of Newtown

For the families who lost children, their world as they knew it has effectively ended. Yet somehow the sun rises again and the next day is here. For the rest of us grieving along with these families, the only way to move forward is to take what President Obama called "meaningful action." I interpret this to be action that is radical and significant enough that it will somehow give meaning to this unimaginable loss.

The first and most obvious front is gun control. Without access to guns, apparently the same rifles used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, one individual could not have done this degree of harm. The politics of gun control is not my area of expertise, but certainly the politicians must now be motivated to, as Obama said, "put aside differences" and honor these children with dramatic changes to gun control laws.

The second front is preventive mental health care. This event is the result of a deeply disturbed individual with access to guns. My inbox this morning was full of emails from mental health colleagues referring to pieces they had written for other massacres such as Virginia Tech. I hope that this unspeakable horror will be  the one that will finally lead to real change in access to preventive mental health care.

One of these colleagues wrote of how these events are often perpetrated by young adults who have not been "acting out," but rather have been quietly bullied for years and seriously neglected at home. Their symptoms may be more subtle. Yet it is difficult to imagine that there were not people in this family's life who did not recognize that this boy/young man was mentally ill.

The emerging information speaks to  a deeply troubled relationship between the shooter and his mother as being at the root of the event. Apparently he first shot his mother and then went to the school to deliberately kill the children at the school where she worked. I wonder, was the hurt he experienced in his relationship with her magnified by his witnessing of the care she gave her young charges at her job?  Of course I don't know, and this is only theory as I struggle to make sense of something that doesn't make sense.

As I said to my editor when she asked for our thoughts on this event, the trauma is perhaps too fresh for an in-depth discussion of theory and policy change. However, I am hopeful that the coming weeks and months will be filled with meaningfully dialogue of how we as a society can honor the dead children, both through gun control and improved access to quality preventive mental health care.

1 comment:

  1. Interviews with his classmates indicate that he was an intelligent boy on the autistic spectrum. Most people with ASD will never, ever, hurt anyone; but I so think that this terrible act speaks of his isolation, anger and anguish -- his envy of these other children, these "normal" children, on whom his mother had seemed to lavish love and attention, which never seemed to reach him. (Reports are now that she once worked at the Sandy Hook elementary school, but had quit to take care of Adam; that his parents were kind to each other in the divorce.) See: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/adam-lanza-20-deeply-disturbed-kid-article-1.1220752#ixzz2F6VF5UFt

    I think this particularly speaks to the need to work with people with ASD in ways that emphasize their personhood, their worth, their abilities, that builds relationship and connection. And how much support parents need, when raising a child who is touch and gaze avoidant, who has great difficulty understanding the language of emotion and feelings -- a child whose struggles to make sense of the world or to comfort themselves may be disruptive or destructive.

    So many adults on the ASD spectrum speak of their terrible isolation, as children, in school and often in their families -- how efforts to eradicate or cure autism can make them feel as if they, themselves, are being eradicated, cured of their essential personhood. The issue is to build skills in ways that are positive and helpful to the child, to work for relationships that are meaningful and nourishing to the child, and to the child's family. And to address a child's -- person's -- disregulation, and needs for self-regulation, wisely, usefully, and with respect and compassion.

    Adam's classmates speak of him with fear and disdain; his brother has said that he hadn't had contact with him since 2010; one neighbor said he'd been strange "since he was five". What message was given to Adam about his strangeness, when he was five? Where was the hand of connection and understanding in all of this? But also, how does one connect, how does one teach people to connect, to a boy like Adam? I don't know, myself, frankly; where is the public education on this?

    My thoughts are with all the families, and the community.

    -- Patricia Hawkins




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