Saving Our 'Lost Boy'

The decision to send our troubled teen to a therapeutic wilderness camp was heart-wrenching. Were we doing the right thing?

Aggresive Teens with  ADHD often find alternate education programs theraputic ADDitude Magazine

It's hard for us to imagine how this child, surrounded by so much love, could turn out to be so lost.

Richard Reiss

It's dark. I lie in bed with my eyes open. The windows are closed, but I can still hear the gentle midnight roar of the New Jersey Turnpike, a mere quarter-mile from the front door of my family's safe suburban home.

Safe, that's a joke. Walk through my house, see what my 14-year-old son has done: a pile of broken picture frames, a hole in the wall, a closet without a door, a few shards of glass still beneath a recently repaired window.

At 2 a.m. I go to my son's room to check on him, and he asks me to rub his back. His skin is cool to the touch as my hand slides across his developing muscles. His thick hair is the color of henna. His eyes are dark and sophisticated. He is lean, with long, elegant hands. He is a striking young man, just as he was a striking young boy.

What he doesn't know is that these will be the last hours in his bed, in our house, for a long, long time. Yet he must sense something's up; he can't sleep. I can't either. I haven't even tried.

Our R-rated house

It's been a relatively good week: no major fights, not much cursing. Our "R-rated house," as his younger brother describes it, recently has been closer to PG, which makes this even harder. But the irresolvable problem, the breaking point for us, is that he has stopped going to school; he simply refuses. Instead, he stays up late and then sleeps in and hangs around until his friends get out of school, when he leaves to join them.

Our son's birthmother is a woman he has never known, a woman who answered our ad in the newspaper. My wife and I endured the trials of infertility: three years of shots and tears and bloody toilets, and absolutely not one second of joy. Like so many others, we were desperate, young and naïve.

Then we got him, our boy, and he was a star, a chatterbox, a whiz, the delight of all who were lucky enough to cross his path. A few years later my wife gave birth to a boy, and then to another. Our first son was adored not only by his parents but by his younger brothers, too. We felt blessed; certainly we were blessed.

So it's hard for us to imagine how this child, surrounded by so much love, could turn out to be so lost. Perhaps it was the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD ADHD). Or the plethora of medications that never worked for more than a few weeks. Perhaps it was the loss of two people he never knew, his biological parents.

Spiraling out of control

At the age of three, he began to show a temper. At six, he developed an attitude. At 10, he struck a classmate. At 14, he was spiraling out of control. His mother and I grew convinced that our love was not enough to help him, so we looked into having him taken away to people who could. We researched it, examined the costs, talked to everyone we could find. And we've put up all of our assets to pay for it: mortgaged our house, spent his college fund. It's all gone to this. A financial hardship, yes, but how could we not?

Back in our bedroom, my wife says to me, "What's going to happen?" "I don't know. I just hope he doesn't wake up his brothers."

At 4 a.m., they arrive, right on time. I open the door and hear, much louder now, the sound of cars rushing by on the turnpike. But their car, its engine cooling in my driveway, is quiet.

Two young men step out. One is big but not huge. The other is average size.

"So how do you do this?" I ask. "What if he resists?"

This article comes from the June-July 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Camp for ADHD Kids, Teens and Tweens with ADHD, ADHD and Discipline, Exercise and ADHD

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