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Those Who "Can't..." Teach (part 2, excerpt from James)

At the meeting, the medical doctor’s results were covered first. James

definitely had ADHD, and his medicine was helping keep it under control. The

doctor tested him for Fragile X syndrome, because James had presented

characteristics. He was cleared. Claire was not surprised at these results. Next, the

autism specialist diagnosed James with pervasive developmental disorder-not

otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), which was a category of an autism spectrum

diagnosis. This was not what Claire had expected to hear.

Little was known in the 1990s of the range of characteristics a person with

autism could have, and the prevalence was less than 1 percent of the population.

Autism is a developmental disorder that presents in a wide variety of ways and

levels of severity. It affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with

others, and often comes with difficulties in executive functioning. Although she

was not prepared for this answer, she felt at least there was a direction the school

could move toward when it came to educating James. The school teacher, speech

pathologist, behavioral therapist, and motor experts spoke next. They confirmed

what Claire already knew.

Based on the psychological and psychiatric evaluation results, the expert

suggested James had oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The disorder is typically

diagnosed in childhood and is characterized by frequent anger, vindictiveness,

argumentativeness, and defiance, especially directed toward authority figures.

Again, Claire was not shocked by this diagnosis.

The next words out of the psychologist’s mouth will forever be etched into

Claire’s mind. She was told, “Because of your son’s behaviors, his PDD-NOS, and

that he is retarded, we suggest a residential facility as the best placement.”

Claire felt as though the floor had just given out underneath her, and her

entire world was crumbling around her. She had a multitude of thoughts run

through her head. What did they mean when they said, “...he is retarded”? No one

had ever said those words before. Where was this coming from? She knew he was

delayed, but never had anyone suggested he was that delayed. He was not

stupid—slow, maybe, but not retarded.

Wait, did they just suggest sending her eleven-year-old son away? She could

not do that to him, or to herself. She was all he had. His father was a jerk and had

basically abandoned him; she could not do that to him too. All those schools had

rejected him, and she always told him it was his behavior and not him personally.

What would sending him away do to him? What was happening? Was this a

nightmare? They could not be right. He could disconnect and hook up the video

cassette recorder correctly, he could take things apart and put them back together.

This was not right. His behaviors were causing him to lag behind, not his


They just needed to find the key to manage his behaviors, and then the

academics would catch up. Every time she asked James’s doctors, they just said he

was a boy and would catch up. When did that change? She guessed her plan to take

him to Disneyland someday would never be possible. What else wasn’t possible?

She couldn’t do this; she wouldn’t do this to her little boy. God, why?

This was all his father’s fault. She hated Jeff. He did this to her son, he

should be feeling this pain too. It was not fair. How would she pay for this? Jeff

never paid child support. He owed close to $20,000, but would it even be enough?

A parent didn’t do that to a kid, a baby; they didn’t send them away. What kind of

people thought sending an eleven-year-old away was the right thing? People sent a

letter or a package away, but not a child. She was not doing that.

The attendees at the meeting could tell they had just told her something she

did not know, and they were surprised. They all thought she knew, and that it was

one of the main reasons she had brought him to their type of facility to be

evaluated. They felt awful—especially the psychologist who had said it so bluntly.

She would have approached the situation very differently if she had known. She

apologized and asked, “You didn’t know he was retarded?” If anything else was

discussed at the meeting, Claire had no memory of it. For her, the world stopped

spinning and time froze.

Claire had no memory of the next several days, but Ted said she just shut

everything and everyone out of her life. She went through the motions of daily

living, but was completely numb. Ted tried to comfort his girlfriend, and he felt

bad for her, but he was not as attached to James, so the news did not affect him as


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