Shea was born Nov. 13, 2002. He was given as good of a start as anyone could as he was chosen to play the role of Baby Jesus in the Christmas play.
Shea is and always has been a very bright and intelligent boy… who has struggled to use those God given gifts wisely and for good.
At a very early age, Shea was outgoing… no inhibitions towards approaching and speaking to others. He had not one shy cell in his body.
His “mischievous” behavior was at a higher level than most at his age. It began with the “terrible” twos. Being our 4th child, we expected that to come and go… but it never left.
I should have seen it as a sign when at 3 years old, Shea had observed me replace a door knob. We had one of those “child proof” door knobs for his bedroom so that he would stay in his room for his nap. He struggled with obedience back then. Well he smuggled a screw driver into his room and removed the door knob to escape.
As the years went by, the degree of trouble escalated. We began to receive reports of problems at school… so much so that after his 4th grade here at North American Martyrs, we tried home schooling. It started out well but was only a matter of weeks before his defiance level reached the point that neither my wife nor I could get him to do his homework.
During the period of Home Schooling, we tried counseling at Catholic Social Services, which fell short of the help we needed. We researched and found “Behaven” which is based upon the Boys Town method of behavior modification… they managed to get him to do his Home-school “homework” while he was there. Over time, there was some short term gain and while he “graduated” the program… he slipped back into his old ways and was worse than ever in a short time.
We enrolled him into St. Mary’s for his second semester of 5th grade as an attempt to give him a new start, and trouble escalated. He found new methods to behave poorly… to the point where at the end of the year, we were asked NOT to bring him back.
That summer was extraordinarily bad; he began to express himself using profanity and other vulgar language. Violence escalated against his siblings and his mother. He would damage the house and others’ belongings. He began to steal without any remorse or signs of a sense of right or wrong… Our concern grew and we began to seek expert opinion and advice.
Shea was diagnosed with ODD – Oppositional Defiance Disorder. That is the struggle to respect and obey any authoritative figure. There were other diagnoses as well.
We enrolled him at Goodrich for the 6th grade and matters grew worse. To keep it short… there were weekly reports, sometimes daily, of very bad behavior. At the end of that school year ……… it was in question if he would be allowed in the following year.
Near the end of his first year at Goodrich, Shea tested at grade levels far above the 6th grade, in some subjects his results were at 12th grade level. Shea exhibited a natural talent for music and was in band. Shea has always shown talent for art and is an expert at origami. As a result of his advanced intellect, the staff at Goodrich began the process of enrollment for Shea in gifted studies.
Thus began the horrific summer. Every negative aspect of Shea’s behavior escalated exponentially. His brother and sister would need to hide from him in fear. I began to receive calls daily in the office from my wife who was in fear with the violent outbreaks… outbreaks over issues that were miniscule in nature. His brother touching a loose Lego could result in an all out brutal assault on the household. He would terrorize the dogs. We have holes in the walls, broken doors, etc…, stealing magnified… and reached outside the home. We had to contact the police on several occasions while I was at work to protect the family from his uncontrollable outbreaks.
We began to research Boys Town. After discovering the astronomical expense involved, we began to look at alternatives while pleading our case with Boys Town for mercy. The Group Home program was $6000 a month… well beyond our means.
We were granted a considerable dispensation and while it remained beyond our means… we needed something so we decided to bite the bullet and proceed. We began to process the paperwork, and had everything ready except our signatures on the bottom line. This was the hardest decision that we as parents had ever had to make by a LONG shot. The financial factors while difficult to manage, were the least critical factor. The thought of sending our son away was by far the most overbearing factor we were facing.
I decided I needed something to help my decision so with much contemplation and prayer… I determined that Sandy and I need to have that “Come to Jesus” talk with Shea and express the graveness of the situation that we were faced with. It was a very good conversation that balanced on my comment to Shea that, “Either you won’t alter your behavior into a more positive direction or you can’t. If it is “you won’t”, you have 1 week to convince me that is the case. If you can’t, we have no choice as you… no we, including you, need the help.” Shea assured me it was that it was that he “wasn’t” choosing good behavior and that he could change. The rest of that evening went very well.
The next day at around 11:00 am, I received a call from my very frantic wife while hearing Shea pound on doors, walls, etc… while displaying his knowledge of the Dictionary of Obscenities in the background over a missing tablet of Post It Notes. I asked Sandy to put Shea on the phone … and after several requests for him to get on the phone, he finally got on.
I asked him if he remembered our discussion from the night before to which he angrily responded “Yes”. I asked him if he was willing to sacrifice his continued residency in our home over a tab of Post It Notes, to which he even more angrily responded “YES!” and threw the phone. The stage was then set.
We signed the paperwork that night. The next week we drove Shea to Boys Town for the Group Home program. As I exited the car, I told Shea this was the hardest walk I have ever had to take.
Shea struggled mightily over the next three months. He was sent to and spent a good portion of his time in the “I&A” lockdown building, the Group Home version of jail, because of his inability to comply with the rules. There were several serious offenses and eventually, he was kicked out of the program.
He was slightly better at first after his return. This was 1 week before the beginning of the school year so we re-enrolled him at Goodrich. As we had told them Shea was at Boys Town, they had stalled the application for the Advanced Studies program but once informed of this, they expedited his application. He was accepted.
The escalation began again in short time. There were numerous accounts of aggression, harassment of female and male students alike, disruption of classrooms, etc… He stole another student’s cell phone, broke into another’s locker, and stole a very expensive book from the principle’s office while he was there for other violations. His level of vulgarity increased and there was no inhibition against using the vilest language in class.
Shea thrived on being the center of attention and found bad behavior the quickest means to get that attention. If he was bored and wanted out of a class, he knew what buttons to push and actions to take that got him out of the class and used those tactics frequently.
We had found a counselor for Shea and that was going well … but for a short period of time. It is impossible to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped and Shea had no interest in improving his behavior.
We tried everything we could to find a way to get Shea to see the ramifications of his behavior and help him, nothing worked and he continued to escalate. Things were growing worse at school and at home… we had to consider options.
Boys Town had a level above the Group Home and we began to research that as an option. Unlike the Group Home program, which was fully voluntary thus no insurance coverage, the Boys Town Residential Treatment Center was partially covered but still required a significant out of pocket expense…. It was no joy working with the insurance company as there was a weekly threat they were going to deny coverage.
We decided this was the next step and began the process. Once approved, we decided to inform Shea at his counselor’s office. It was not received well and Shea de-evolved into a destructive tantrum and made a mess of his counselor’s office.
Shea’s second Boys Town stint lasted just over 2 months and finally the shoe fell and the insurance company denied coverage. Of course they waited to inform Boys Town, and us, 2 days after coverage was terminated… so that resulted in an additional $900 out of pocket expense for the extra 2 days.
This was just prior to the Christmas break. Goodrich refused to re-admit Shea and began the process to send him to Don Sherrill Education Center here in Lincoln. Don Sherrill is where children with significant behavioral problems are sent.
In summary, Shea’s behavior issues have resulted in outright or near expulsion from 4 Schools. He has been expelled from other school programs as well. He seems to be determined to sabotage himself at every opportunity.
While Shea’s behavior is much better today since his second return from Boys Town, he still struggles and has a long road to travel to get to where he needs to be. I have nothing but positive comments for the commitment those at Boys Town have to help these troubled children and would recommend the program in a flash to someone in need. Had we had the resources to extend Shea’s treatment, I feel we would be ahead of where we are today.
Shea is still going to Don Sherrill and next year, he will be enrolled in the new Richard Nuernberger Educational Center here in Lincoln for troubled children. He is not considered to be ready to be returned to the normal student population.
When Fr. Connor initially asked us if we would be willing to accept this assistance, we had trepidation for several reasons. At the top, we felt there was likely others in far greater need than we were. Then there was the … embarrassment factor. I think it is generally safe to say that with other medical needs, there is no sense of shame for having the physical disease. However, for good or bad, mental issues tend to generate a sense of shame. Folks will share openly with others about family members with cancer or other physical ailments but tend to be very secretive and quiet about mental problems.
Ultimately it was something Fr. Conner said that helped us make our decision. Father indicated there are others with similar difficulties and that sharing our experiences may provide some level of comfort and knowledge that they are not alone. We often felt that way and if by accepting this assistance we can offer that consolation to others, I feel good about the decision to accept.