Poor Kids and Mental Illness

I was at a program a couple of weeks ago where children with autism and/or who were on the spectrum were performing in a holiday recital.

The atmosphere was a mixture of excitement and poorly controlled chaos. Some of the children were wide-eyed and expectant. Others had no life in their eyes at all. Some ran around the venue, parents chasing them, others sat stone-still or rocked back and forth making quiet noises.

On stage, some performed so well that one would not know they had a developmental issue. Others merely stood and made noises. My daughter, a music therapist, was the organizer of the recital, and she literally worked wonders with the children, both those who were high functioning and with those who were more challenged.

What I noticed, though, is that most of the children in this school and therefore in this recital were white; there were only three African American children. The sight stopped me cold, because surely, there are kids of all ethnicities who are born with autism and other developmental issues, but they were not represented this evening.

The observation took me to my belief that there are many children in poor, urban and rural areas, who have autism but whose parents either cannot afford the specialized care they need or are too  young or too fraught with their own issues to recognize that there is something physically wrong with their children. Instead of getting care, they get yelled at, whipped, called names and are put down by their families. Then, they go to school and still, nobody recognizes that they have a developmental problem, and again, get chastised, criticized, put down, are ostracized, called names, labeled behavior problems …and they live lives of utter despair.

I imagine it must be like a person who has had a stroke and whose cognitive abilities are still intact but who cannot talk or communicate. He or she is at the liberty of people who do not understand and, unfortunately, often do not care.

These children enter the cradle to prison pipeline. They have a hard time in school; they must find themselves by themselves and many never do. Once they are pubescent, they are on the streets where they find some relief from feeling inadequate and stupid and bad. They find friends who like them and seem to respect them and they do what they can do to stay connected to what becomes their family.

That family, however, too often leads them deeper and deeper into the streets and the lure of excitement and danger offered by the streets. Too often, little kids with autism or other ailments grow up totally untreated; they are miserable children who grow up to be adults in despair. They push and fight and claw their way to try to find light and normalcy in this life but often fail.

They are killed, or they kill. They are arrested. They are convicted and put into prison, and they die.

As I watched these little children, my heart ached. There must be something we can do. There must be a way to form a foundation or something so that these children can get the same love, care and attention other, more privileged children receive. All children need that, no matter their color, ethnicity or class. If humans do not get care and love, they disintegrate, inside, spiritually and emotionally.

My guess is that there are more children than not being labeled bad who are really sick.

We who are able need to care about them and somehow, do something to help them.

A candid observation …

 

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