The LA Times did a story on a 6 year old girl named January Schofield who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia–a shockingly uncommon age for an already uncommon diagnosis. The reporter, Shari Roan had an interesting take on the story, but what was even more striking was what she chose to omit.
The father, Michael, is a writer and has a blog detailing his life with a supposedly schizophrenic child. In brief, he admits to some horrifying behavior in the way of parenting and if this child is excessively violent, it doesn’t seem as though you’d have to go far to find the root of the problem.
“…We tried starving her. We did EVERYTHING we could to try and break her…at times Susan and I both lost it and hit Jani as hard as we could. We hit in impotent rage…We saw Janni today and she was at her most psychotic in several weeks. I have a nice welt on my arm where she hit me when I refused to call her toy rat “99.”Of course, I was goading her, but I wanted to see if she could deal with it. Of course, she couldn’t”
He later removed from his blog the part about starving her , oddly leaving the hitting in. He also appears to have gone from doctor to doctor until he got the diagnosis he wanted which now gives him carte blanche to administer an alarming amount of drugs to her including high doses of Thorazine and Haldol.
Children are complex and I don’t think you can take all of the undesirable behaviors of a child, find one cause, label it and medicate it away. It’s harder but I think you have to treat each behavior as its own action. Encourage imagination even if you don’t understand it, treat violence as violence, develop social skills even as social structure is questioned.
I urge you to read the story and the later commentary regarding it on both Furious Seasons (scroll down to it) and The Trouble with Spikol. That for me is where it gets particularly interesting and ugly. A number of readers on both of these sites are quick to defend the parents and condemn people for rushing to judgement. I have to wonder where we are as a society if we are not willing to judge people based on their actions. I don’t think we need reasons or mitigating factors here. We’re talking about adults hitting a six year old with all of their strength and starving her, talking about breaking her, referring to themselves as staff when they are in her presence, the list goes on. Some things are always wrong.
Upon being asked by a reader how Shari Roan could have written this story but omitted the abuse that both parents admit to she said, among other things:
“They have also hit due to sheer exhaustion and loss of self-control…I am certain this is not the case of a normal child who has been abused. This child has a horrible mental illness that has destroyed her and her parents.”
This sounds a lot like this supposed mental illness in some way makes January’s abuse more acceptable or understandable. “This is not the case of a normal child that has been abused.” No, of course not, you’re not allowed to abuse “normal” children. I am not saying The Schofields are horrible, loveless people through and through. I do not know them. I am simply saying that they have abused their own child (prior to the diagnosis, if that makes a difference) in a manner that may have gotten her removed for her own safety if she were not labeled with schizophrenia. If we can’t judge people, may we always at least judge actions.
I have to believe it’s a statement about how we view people who are diagnosed as mentally ill. Treat them as you wish, you will not be held accountable. If we are to accept the notion, and I do not, that mental illness is a type of biological disease like cancer or epilepsy, then standards of care should be universal. I know of no disease that is routinely treated punitively and no sickness that makes it more tolerable for this to happen, if anything, less so seems to be the trend.