When I walked into the bookstore I expected to see the author, Christine Walker. I didn’t expect to see her husband, three kids and their dog greeting the people as they arrived. It all made sense after Christine began her presentation. Her book, Chasing Hope: Your Compass for a New Normal, was written to help families who have children with mental disorders so she brought her family since it is their collective experiences that are shared in the book.
Christine never imagined that she would be writing a book about childhood mental illness when she brought her oldest son, Schuyler, home from the hospital. By the time her son was two years old she and her husband, Dave, suspected that there was something wrong. However, it was not until Schulyer was four years old that he was diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, and autism. She kept searching for help and chasing the hope that she could find the answers for her son’s issues. Her words to parents who discover that their child has special needs is that they need to accept a new version of normal. They are going to have to adjust their expectations and to create new goals to measure the success of their child. Parents don’t have to like it. Simply not liking the situation will not change it. Parents need to learn to deal with it. Being angry and blaming teachers will not help. Rather parents need to work with the school district to find the options that will work for their child.
It was amazing to see that the Director of Student Services from their school district attended the event. Both Christine and Dave were extremely grateful for his efforts on behalf of Schulyer. They thanked him for having an “open mind” and for his willingness create a partnership with them. Their son had issues that could not be fixed using a “one-size-fits-all” solution. The Director worked closely with the Walkers to choose placements that would help Schulyer at various grade levels according to his needs at that time. Through their collaboration Schulyer was able to attend classes in the public school, alternative day schools, and residential alternative schools. The key was that they worked together to make decisions and then adapted placements as Schulyer’s needs changed.
At one point Christine stated, “All of us will have adversity in our lives and this is our challenge.”
Dave added, “ Both of us have had to evolve as a parent. Everyone knows that a good parent should have patience, kindness, and compassion. However in our case, we have been forced to develop those skills so it truly is a kind of a blessing.”
As they talked, thirteen-year-old Shuyler sat on the floor and played with his beloved trucks, read books, drew on paper, and hugged his therapy dog, Scout. Christine explained that she and Schulyer had gone to Springfield to advocate for a new law to help parents of students with special needs. Residential programs for children with mental disorders are very expensive but they are free if there is proof that the parents have “abandoned” their child. Some parents who cannot afford to send their child to a residential placement have been forced to relinquish custody of their child in order to receive funding for treatment in a residential community. Suddenly, Schulyer put down his truck and announced, “That is so wrong. I spoke the legislators in Springfield so that they can change that law.
It was so powerful to see and hear this family interact and share their passion to assist families in a similar situation. As Christine stated, “You have to deal the card that you are dealt. Raising a child with special needs is like riding on a roller coaster. There are exciting parts and parts that make you feel down or scared. As a parent you need to educate yourself about your child’s exceptionality. Educate your family, friends, and your other children about your child’s special needs. Connect with others who have children with similar issues. Work together with the teachers and administrators in the school. Enjoy the ride.”
Before I left I spent time talking with Schuyler about trucks, trains, and Legos. Christine had mentioned in their talk that they are already thinking about what Schuyler will do as an adult. At this point they feel that he may drive trucks or find work at a train station. She and her husband hope that they can channel Schuyler’s passion and gifts into a profession that
honors his talents and gives him fulfillment. Their hope is that all their children will live productive and happy lives.
There is always hope.
Special Education Teacher