Developmental Heartbreak

22 Jul

Dear LetterBalm: I’m concerned for my brother’s family. He and his wife have three children. The middle child is 15 and developmentally disabled, with the mental age of a four-year-old. My sister-in-law has always been his caretaker at home. But in the past few months, my wife and I have witnessed some alarming behavior. He’s going through puberty, and he’s suddenly grown tall and almost 180 pounds. His personality has changed from cheerful and sweet to angry. He yells and throws things when he doesn’t want to obey simple commands, and we’ve seen him punch and kick family members when he doesn’t get his way. We’re afraid something terrible will happen. Should he be removed from the home? What can we say to help?  In the past, they haven’t wanted to listen to our misgivings.

–Alarm Bells

Ms. L.B. won’t presume to diagnose what’s happening here, but puberty certainly is playing a part. The boy is going through natural changes that are challenging for any young man; he must be confused and mystified. But there may be other contributing physical and psychological factors. You and your wife clearly see that your brother and sister-in-law must take immediate action. And, you’re right – delay could be tragic. The four of you must sit down with no distractions or children around. (Is there anyone who can take the boy for an hour or so?) This family is in jeopardy. Be calm, but pull no punches and don’t be worried about hurt feelings:

Seth and Jill, we’ve asked you to sit and listen to what we have to say. Please don’t interrupt and please try not to get defensive. Seth, you’re my favorite brother. We love you and Jill and the kids. But Robin and I are worried about you all. We’ve always admired how both of you have taken on caring for Bart and his special needs. We know it hasn’t been easy for you and for the whole family. His care takes up a lot of time and energy. But now we have to speak up. Bart is bigger, bolder and angry, maybe because he’s going through puberty. Jill, he outweighs you by 60 pounds, and he’s been punching and kicking, which is alarming. He could seriously injure – or, worse – any one of you. We have to insist that you schedule an evaluation, speak with Bart’s doctors, whatever must be done, and right away. You can’t look at this as a criticism of your care or your previous decisions about your son. Those were the right things to do at the time. But this is a whole new ball game. You can’t delay or think this will go away. It will only get worse if you don’t tackle it. You know we’ll be with you all the way. And, after all, the most important thing here is what’s best for Bart.

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