My 13-Year Old Son Has Had Two Run-Ins With Police, But I Refuse To Let That Define Him.

It’s easy to let our children’s bad choices, extreme behavior, or special needs defeat us and make us want to give up. But something deep inside of me refuses to let his choices define his future!

Sad embrace - father and son

The other day Kristin sent me a text that nearly took my breath away. “About to call the police department back over the incident at camp this summer.” The incident happened between my 13-year-old son and another boy enrolled in sports camp with him. The fellow camper said something to my son, made a face, and muttered something else under his breath, and in turn, my son lost his cool, charged after the boy, punched him in the head, and subsequently threw him to the turf in the indoor soccer arena.

The organization who runs the camp decided to call the police. On my son. For his violent and dangerous choice. And I can’t blame them for doing so. As much as it hurts me to the depths of my soul for saying that, it’s true. Unfortunately, we’ve been down this road before. Most recently, just five months ago, when a slew of officers had to respond to our home because my son had pulled a kitchen knife out of the drawer and charged after my wife.

To look at my son, one wouldn’t think he’d act this way. You’d probably remark on how handsome he is. “What a good-looking kid” is a comment I’ve heard hundreds of times over the course of his 13-year life. His cute little ears protrude from either side of his head enough to make him adorable. When he looks at you with his deep dark brown eyes, your heart melts. And don’t get me started on his smile, or his laugh. They both can light up the darkest day.

He’s articulate, athletic, and charismatic to boot. Most would read what I just wrote above and say, with shrugging shoulders, and hands held outward to their side, “There’s no way a cutie pie like this could ever do anything wrong, or hurt someone!”

And that’s exactly why the disorder he lives with is so devastating. Before we adopted him, he was born drug- and alcohol-exposed. His birth mother repeatedly used crack cocaine and drank while he was in her womb. The amniotic fluid that was supposed to give him life, nourishment, and a strong future, was a pool of poison for his developing brain and body. The last time she drank and used drugs was just three days before his birth. When he was 6 years old, and permanently in our care, he was officially diagnosed with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), a disorder that exists under the umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Shortly after, we read literature on the disorder. Page after page online, each word taking more life out of us:

  • Extreme aggression
  • Impulsivity
  • Learning disabilities
  • Manipulative
  • Extremely vulnerable to criminal activity
  • Easily manipulated by stronger personalities
  • High rate of incarceration in adult years
  • Highly susceptible to addictive behaviors
  • Inability to relate to others in socially acceptable ways

We felt like someone had just given us a life sentence in prison. Our shoulders sank in defeat, and our hearts were broken. Beyond that, we were angry. How could anyone be so selfish and stupid to drink and use drugs while a little life grew inside of them? we wondered, as we shook our fists at the heavens.

Hopeless. That’s the best word I can find to describe how we felt upon learning all of this seven years ago. It’s the word I’ll use to describe how we felt a few days ago when my wife had to call the police department back. Often, over the years, we’ve both whispered to ourselves: There’s no way. There’s no way we’ll ever get through this. There’s no way he’ll ever be able to make the right choices. There’s no way he’ll grow up to be a person of character and integrity who thinks of others first.

In full transparency, these are the dark places we’ve gone to in our minds at our lowest points with our son. When we first discovered his diagnosis, we were angry with his birth mother, frustrated with his behavior that constantly kept us on-guard, but also devastated that he would never have a normal life. We often find ourselves defeated, weary, and ready to give up. But we don’t. While this road with our son has been long, seemingly unending, and incredibly difficult to handle over the years, we believe in another, “There’s no way.” There’s no way we can determine his future based on his 13-year-old behavior. Special need and all. Diagnosis and all. Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder and all.

I will not stop fighting for him. I will not stop loving him. And I sure won’t stop believing in him. Somehow, someway, at sometime, the plan for his life will unfold. I believe that with all of my heart. While others may look at my son or his special need, and see a failure, a loser, or a hopeless case, I look at my son and see promise. I look at my son and see potential. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder isn’t a death sentence. Autism isn’t a death sentence. Down syndrome or multiple sclerosis isn’t a death sentence. And for caretakers, we’re not a prison sentence either. It only becomes this way when we see our circumstances this way. If you look at the bigger picture, as opposed to one pixel, you’ll see just how bright the future is.

Kristin called the officer back. He was more than kind to her. He handled her broken heart the way anyone whose child struggles through a disorder like my son’s would want to be handled: with care and compassion. He listened as she shared the details of his disorder. She didn’t make excuses for his behavior at summer camp and neither did he. I wouldn’t expect him to anyways.

But before their conversation ended, the officer said something to her that filled our hearts with hope and confirmed the belief we have in our son. “How can I help your son become a better person now, and in the future?” Kristin nearly dropped the phone and passed out. In all the years of parenting, and the numerous times our son has had to talk to police, we’ve never had one ask this kind of question.

Yes, the future is bright. My son’s special need does not define his future. There’s still hope.

Question: Are you in the trenches of parenting children who make bad choices or have a major special need? Share your story with us and find hope! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

[Editors note- this post originally appeared in Mike’s column on Disney’s]

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  • Jeanette Bousman

    This post is exactly where we are with our just-short-of-16-year-old son. It is one of the hardest things we have ever gone through as parents. The impulsiveness of our brain damaged, Fetal Alcohol son makes it so very, very difficult to see a future with him that is positive. Yet, my husband and I strongly believe that God has a plan for his life. God has not abandoned him just because his brain doesn’t work like a typical 16-year-old; and, we won’t abandon him either. He has been placed in the juvenile detention system because of charges made against him. The very sad thing is, he is adamant he did not do it; and, we just don’t know whether he did or not. He has a great probation officer right now who seems to get our special circumstances. But, how far can she go to help him? And, what does that help look like? WE DON’T KNOW! We lay awake each night concerned about how much ‘damage’ is being done to the positive progress we have made in his behaviors over the past 4 years. We have already seen signs of his aggressiveness creeping back in. We worry about the “what-ifs’ and the ‘whether-or-nots.’ This is certainly not the road we thought we would be traveling when we adopted our son! But, I keep his smiling picture close to me at all times to remind me HE IS WORTH IT!

    • We are right there in the trench with you Jeanette. And you are right… it is worth the fight! Keep at it. We are cheering for you. 😉

  • Dominga Weicht

    What type of testing did you seek out to get the diagnosis?

    • We went to a clinic here in Indianapolis that officially diagnosed two of our children.

  • Jennifer Dufault

    We have a son who is 7 and has been suspended from school repeatedly for impulsive, aggressive behavior. We prayed fervently and decided to homeschool. This is the most difficult thing we have ever gone through, but it’s worth it. Yesterday I read your blog and it gave me hope. My son is not defined by his behavior. Thank you so much for your words of hope.

    • Oh Jennifer, I am so sorry to hear this. My heart breaks for you and this trial you’re going through. I am grateful that you found hope through our words. Hang in there. You are not alone!

  • Heather Brandt

    You had a wonderful experience with the police. The last time we had experience with our local police and our son with fas it was traumatizing for all of us. The officer refused to listen when I tried to share about his fasd. I fear the possibility of ever needing to deal with them again because I can’t be certain which officer my son would encounter and I have now learned not all of our local ones want to help support children or teens with special needs or their families — which is scary and sad.

  • t52665

    I’m right there with you. I’ve lost count of how many times our PD has responded to our calls to help this single mom of a 6’5″, 14 yr old, athletic (read:strong!) boy who was also affected by the poisons his birthmother exposed him to in utero.
    So this is just a suggestion of something that’s helped us – in my phone I have a list of all my son’s diagnoses, what provider gave the diagnosis and when. When a new officer comes out I just open up the list and hand him my phone. This seems to really get their attention so they can focus on putting their crisis intervention training to good use. I’m thankful that ALL of our officers are Crisis Intervention Officers and they care deeply about my son.

  • Allisonm

    Lots of police contact for us, too, but thankfully not in almost a year. If I have to call, I always start off with “I have a mentally ill child in distress and need help getting him back into a safe situation.” Whenever possible, I meet the officer out front, before he contacts my son, to tell the officer what I need from him and what is likely to positively affect the situation. I focus on my son’s PTSD and on not triggering him more. Police have heard of PTSD and often have more compassion and understanding about it. I remind officers that my belligerent, angry-appearing son is terrified and thinks his survival is at risk. (A hostage negotiator would be an ideal responding officer.). I use my son’s name and the words “my son” as a constant reminder that this distressed child is someone with redeeming qualities and a family who is committed to him no matter what. I ride in the back of the police car with him and try to get him taken to the ER rather than the police station. So far, I’ve been successful with that. I do not let myself appear helpless. If my son feels that the police are bullying me, he will fight harder to try to protect me. A tangled dynamic, just like my son’s tendency to punish himself for losing it by causing himself as much trouble as possible. Not wise when police are involved, but he has no executive functioning at those times.

    Yet I don’t think I’m being naive when I say that he has a bright future. He has come so far from the objectively hopeless condition he started in. I no longer have professionals telling me that he is the most severely dysregulated child they have ever seen. As his level of distress has decreased slowly over the years, he has become able to learn and build on his many strengths. His behavior no longer communicates constant trauma language and inability to cope. He now uses words and is curious and caring. His diagnoses tell us more about where he’s been than where he is going.

  • Andrea Mischelle Presley

    I am the adoptive parent to an NAS child and a drug exposed child and I know there are trying days and there will be many more in the future but knowing what we are dealing with and having support of family, friends and the community gives me hope for my son and daughter”s future.
    Thank you for sharing this open and honest account of your every day reality.