My response to Dr. Young’s oped, “Making it easier to identify and treat the next Adam Lanza.”

While I very much appreciate many of the points captured in Dr. Young’s Detroit Free Press oped, “Making it easier to identify and treat the next Adam Lanza,” I struggle with the title and it’s somewhat sensationalistic slant.  We all know that an infinitesimal number of children go on to commit such violently tragic acts as Adam Lanza.  The bigger issue (as Dr. Young has alluded to) is the lack of research, lack of access to psychiatrists, pharmacotherapy and psychosocial therapies; along with the fact that MI does not have one long-term pediatric psychiatric hospital.

When my son had a psychiatric crisis in September 2011 we could not get him into the U. of M. Hospital but could get him into McLean (or Mass General), where he stayed for 24 days and could have stayed longer if necessary.

In addition, as an educational advocate and one who lives in the trenches, I can say unequivocally that Michigan’s public schools are not partnering with pediatric psychiatrists or even community mental health workers.  School districts are suspending and expelling children with psychiatric illnesses and disorders at an astounding rate.  Schools are quick to identify a child with an Emotional Impairment without doing even a Cognitive Battery to assess the executive functions; an Occupational Therapy assessment to evaluate sensory processing; and/or a Speech & Language to evaluate expressive and receptive language along with social thinking.  The districts use a few rating scales (the BASC is a favorite) and subtests of the Woodcock Johnson, KTEA or WIAT-II (maybe III), and little else to rule in or rule out other causal factors for emotional and behavioral symptoms.

Children put into an Emotionally Impaired program/classroom are at great risk for school failure, dropping out and ending up in our juvenile justice system.  The school districts are an accomplice and not a support, and with the unprecedented nature of a growing budget crisis they are not building capacity through professional development to understand the educational and psychosocial needs of children with the early onset of complex psychiatric disorders.  This is as true in districts like Rochester, Birmingham, Farmington and Utica as it is in Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck and River Rouge.  Poverty creates a layer that is insurmountable but our more stable and even wealthier communities are devastating children with psychiatric illnesses, and emotional and behavioral concerns with little thought for the children or parents.

In the first four months of the 2012-13 school year I have more children under the age of 9 (primarily, but not all boys) who have been suspended and even up for expulsion, than in the last five years combined.  These are children that have been egregiously underserved in our public schools and in a state without the private schools that are available in most states across the U.S.  I shudder when I receive what have become weekly calls from the parents of children in need of pediatric psychiatrists and psychologists, as so few are available and even fewer are covered through insurance. My first step is virtually always to write a request for a comprehensive evaluation.

I am going to call Dr.Young and thank him for his oped, and then encourage him to contact the directors of special education in his surrounding districts (Rochester, Avondale, Troy, Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Lake Orion and Utica).  I am also going to tell him to not be surprised when he doesn’t receive return phone calls.

We are in very dark times for children in desperate need of psychiatric and psychosocial treatments and therapies.

It is nothing short of heartbreaking.

Original oped at:

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