There were six of them. I won’t use their real names, though they said I could. The parents came from large, conservative Italian families and were childhood sweethearts. He became a pharmacist, whose hobbies included anything he could build or fix. His idea of fun was digging a trench around their large yard and planting a 20 tree hedge on a Saturday afternoon. She always wanted to teach and loved children. As young newly weds they had their future mapped out- four children, a home, respective careers, and a comfortable life. As a child, the mother had many disabilities. She didn’t speak until she was four, and didn’t read until she was eight. She had problems with attention and mood swings. Both parents were intelligent and industrious. They bought their first house and settled in a small town in Bergen County.
Their first child was a boy. He had black, wavy hair, enormous brown eyes and was a handsome child. Then two years later, his sister came along, just as beautiful as he was. He always had problems expressing himself, took a long time to find the words he wanted, and with huge problems in reading. She, too, had reading problems. Three and four years later, two more brothers were born a year apart. Both were diagnosed with autism. One was in constant motion, taking off his clothes anyplace, anytime and appearing uncontrollable. The youngest was quieter, did not talk, but watched and heard everything going on around him. I ate dinner there a few times in those days. Nobody could have handled what took place around the clock in that home. As the problems grew, the mother became more overloaded and desperate. She tried to put together and run home programs for both boys, while taking every training program I taught. She tried to advocate for her children, but could not understand why what the school did never matched what the law required. She would take the laws in to show them, and the Team simply laughed at her. The older two children became her helpers so that all could survive. The father worked double shifts, while the mother was in a constant state of hysteria and confusion about the needs of her youngest sons. It was during this time that it became evident that she suffered from manic depression and needed psychiatric help.
Because of the chaos in the home that was observed by the neighbors and school staff, somebody reported the family to DYFS for suspected child abuse. A caseworker came in unannounced. She decided the accusation was unfounded, but offered some assistance within the home from her agency. Two years passed. The oldest boy still could barely read, while his sister played alone with her dolls under a tree during the summer. The parents asked me to help them get improved services from the school district.
After I got involved, things went from bad to worse. The school would mix up the meetings and reports on the two boys, so that meetings had to be rescheduled. The mother kept pointing to the law and what should be in an IEP. On the times I attended I observed them wink at each other, giggle, and Ooo and Ah over the law book she put on the table. As this relentless abuse continued and her children showed no improvement, she went from exhaustion to hopelessness. She felt victimized and alone and would sometimes sob uncontrollably as we drove away from the school parking lot. Nonetheless, when she worked with her children at home or in the library, it was magic, like watching Picasso at work. She was an artist with kids and instinctively knew what to do and how to do it. And when she didn’t know she researched techniques and methods she could use or adapt to teach them and change their behavior. She is the first person who introduced me to sensory integration. But in the end, she would always crash and burn, broken hearted, and engulfed in a black depression. I never figured out how she fed everybody or kept them all clean. But food was always on the table at mealtime and each child was well groomed. She asked me to do a hearing for her and I refused. Not because she wasn’t right to ask for one, but because she was too unstable to go through it. So we did not see each other for a time. When they moved to a new community for a fresh start, she sent me a note. They were going to try and work out the problems with the kids in a new town.