Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Prejudice of Poverty

This is the tale of two moms. Two women with large families who are both devoted completely to their children. Both women do all they can to see their children are well fed, clean, educated and healthy.

But one woman is middle class and one woman is poor. Mom #1 has a husband. Mom #2 doesn't have anyone. Mom #1 graduated from college. Mom #2 barely graduated from high school. Mom #1 comes from a good family. Mom #2 has no father and a mom who has been investigated for child abuse and neglect.

I am Mom #1. Cherish is Mom #2.

There are so many similarities. We are the same age. We are about the same height. We have large families. We love our children desperately. And recently, I had the opportunity to have another shared experience with Cherish.

Our sons ADHD.

Cherish's six year old kid, Sammy, is a great kid. He's the kind of kid that looks you in the eye when he firmly shakes your hand and says, "Hi! My name is Sammy." I met Sammy when we did a Safe Families placement for him last year. Cherish told me that Sammy was a handful. OK - in my world, a handful meant a little loud, a little active, a little out of control. Ummm - a handful was an understatement. My host family called me after a few days saying that Sammy was really out of control. A sweet kid..but a kid who would try to climb into the refrigerator and then turn around and throw action figures across the room and then run into the next room to climb on the couch and shout "Geronimo" as he soared through the air! And he did this non-stop for 18 hours a day.

The host mom said, "I think Sammy needs some real help."

So, I stepped in and started talking to Cherish. She told me that Sammy's pre-school teachers had told her they thought Sammy had ADHD. Now, for the record, I have been a highly skeptical observer of all things ADD and ADHD. I had never come face to face with it before..but after spending a few hours with Sammy, I agreed. This child needs some real help.

I encouraged Cherish to make an appointment with her doctor. Easier said than done. Here is a mom, job, no husband, and at the moment, no place to live. She doesn't have the pediatrician's number tapped on a pretty piece of paper to the inside of her kitchen cabinet.

She needed some real help. Together, we found a doctor and I talked to the receptionist to explain why we were requesting an appointment with the doctor. "From observations, we think Sammy may have ADHD."

Later that week, I called to remind Cherish to make her appointment. I then told her to call me when she was done.

"He didn't believe me." Cherish sounded defeated. "He is asking for a letter from the host mom who watched Sammy and then I have to go to this clinical place where they watch Sammy for 5 hours."

"What? All he has to do is spend 30 minutes with Sammy in the examining room and he'll get it!"

"He said I have to take the bus to this clinic 2 times. The first visit we have to stay for 3 hours and then the next week I have to stay for 2 hours. Traci, how am I going to do this? I have 4 other kids! They have to be picked up from school and I can't take the baby, so who is going to watch her?"

All I could do was encourage her to make those meetings and together we thought of a plan for the other kids.

I checked in with Cherish about a month later, wanting to know if she was able to make her appointments. She did and Sammy was put on a medication and Cherish said, "He is a new kid!"

Mom #2 (me) has George. George grew up an orphan in the bush of Ethiopia. He has delays and major attitude issues, but Mom #2 never thought he had ADHD. Until some recurring things starting popping up. And then my dad said something about it. Then George's teacher said something about it. And I started doing research and thought...well...maybe?

So I make an appointment with my doctor. You know, the man I have seen a few times now (after all, we did just move), but who I have a good rapport with. The doctor is able to see me right away. I share my observations, the issues at school, and then say that my father, who is also a physician, had questioned if George had some hyperactivity.

During the 30 minute visit, George was being watched. It probably helped that he interrupted us 25 times in 30 minutes. But wham- bam..."Yes...he has ADHD. What type of treatment would you like to start?"

For the next 30 minutes, we go over all the options ranging from fish oil to stimulants. I make my choice, which the doctor totally supported, and we started treatment the next day.

Now this story is not about ADHD or the type of medicine or the results for both of these boys. I will save my experiences for another entry (but must admit that I am hesitant to share this for fear of strong opinions and judgements surrounding ADHD). This story is about the prejudice of poverty.

Cherish's son was bouncing off the walls. And the doctor still did not believe her observations and experiences. He needed to watch Sammy for a significant amount of time before making the diagnosis.

My son is fidgety, can't sit still, touches everything and interrupts constantly. And my doctor immediately believed all my observations, believed what I shared about what George's teacher said, and believed what my dad said.


Why did Cherish have to work so hard to get a proper diagnosis for her son? Why did she have to jump through so many hoops and delay a much needed treatment? I would suggest that it has to do with her poverty. She probably smelled like cigarettes, I am sure she didn't shower that day, and her clothes are typically wrinkled and bit dirty. She is not educated and so is not a very good communicator. She walks into a doctor's office an is immediately intimated by the diplomas on the wall and the proper etiquette he displays. And so, she probably shrinked back a bit, afraid to share her observations.

But are these reasons for her to be judged? Are these reasons for a physician to not believe her?

This experience has really made me think. In what other areana does Cherish face prejudice? I am sure she does at school...the kids show up dirty, dishevled, hungry. Church? Most churches I know would never SAY she wasn't welcome, but I would ask you when was the last time you sat next to a Cherish in your church service and turned to welcome her? This list could go on and on.

My heart has been changed and God continues to show me ways HIS heart breaks. Cherish loves the Lord. She has been so excited to tell me about reading the Bible with her children. But Cherish faces a much more difficult road than I do...simply because she was born into poverty and has not been able to get out. Just makes me think...

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