My husband and I have purposefully adopted children with mental illnesses. One of these adoptions was a sibling group of three. The oldest child had obvious mental illness. The youngest child has FAS and mental retardation. The middle child, we were told, had no problems whatsoever. He was very cuddly, age appropriate, grade level, and sweet as can be – the previous mom called him “teddy bear”. The caseworker even once termed him the “bonus child”. It sounds offensive to write, but I never thought that to be her intent. I assume she meant that, with the other two being so difficult, it would be nice to have one easy child in this sibling group.
Fast forward to five years later. The oldest child still has some incredible issues, however they are much fewer than they appeared to be when he first came to us. The youngest child hasn’t grown out of FAS or mental retardation, but is pretty mellow and stable. The child that has had the most difficult time is that “bonus” child. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
It’s been tough for him. It’s been tough for us, as his family. It’s been hard for his teachers. We’ve all learned a lot. We continue to learn – it just sometimes seems that our learning just isn’t keeping up pace enough to really figure this stuff out! My large family of children, all with many diagnoses, has not prepared me for this one illness of schizophrenia.
Whether or not schizophrenia can even be diagnosed in a child is a debated issue just about everywhere you turn. Just when you think you’ve found the “true” answer on that, you find another one that contradicts it. When your child is actually living with “something” that meets all of the DSM IV diagnostic criteria of schizophrenia, paranoid type – when your child is living with all of those things, it doesn’t really seem to matter whether it becomes an officially owned label then. Or does it?
As any mom of a child with a mental illness knows, the labels DO matter. Whether they should matter or not is really beside the point. The truth remains that it is near impossible to get the right kinds of help for your child without the diagnosis, or more accurately spoken, without the label.