This is an open letter to Governor Mary Fallin and the entire Oklahoma State Legislature.
Ladies and gentlemen:
From the outside, it looks like a crumbling building where poor people might go for what might pass as mental health care, and that has been just fine with you for many years. But what, or mainly, who, is inside is indispensable. The Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center, and specifically, the Child and Family Services at 1120 E. Main St. in Norman, houses professionals on whom my son and my family have come to rely. Please indulge my sharing an anecdote before you investigate and surely verify the absolute necessity of this institution.
Fourteen months ago, I entered with my son, who has autism, to begin evaluation for treatment. We had been through a year of absolutely worthless (perhaps counterproductive) treatment at a private practice. I had fresh wounds on my forehead from being head-butted by my then 6-year-old. We entered the therapist’s office, and my son began screaming, kicking, and overturning furniture. We emptied the furniture from the office and settled in on the floor along the brick walls. My son proceeded to grab my head and slam it against the bricks. Our therapist remained calm, and eventually, my son calmed enough to talk to her. It was the first time my son had ever spoken to anybody on the first meeting with him/her. It was, in a word, astonishing. Before we even really got started.
Fast forward to today. Fourteen months of weekly psychotherapy and semi-monthly psychiatric visits later, my son is a straight-A student. At school, he still has a paraprofessional who recognizes his precursors and his triggers and whisks him away when necessary. He still has occasional outbursts of uncontrolled and unprovoked rage. But day in and day out, you wouldn’t guess that he has a debilitating condition. If you can get him to talk, you will quickly see that he is charming, funny and sweet. Who would have guessed that at meeting one?
I sit in the lobby at the Child and Family Services from 3:05 to 4:00 p.m. every Wednesday. I see a parade of similar outcomes — patients I thought I would never see smile now openly sing and laugh; kiddos who drove me crazy with their behavior in the lobby are sweet and manageable. Some have finished their treatment and I never see them anymore. I am sure some have ended treatment, not with success for one reason or another.
But I am also sure that the professionals there are highly dedicated and talented. Our therapist and our family counselor attend my son’s IEP meetings. They speak with and listen to the professionals at my son’s school. Our principal chased us down last night at parent teacher conferences and gushed about how well-behaved Oliver has been.
What happens in this modest building in east Norman is every bit as important as what happens in your grand dome. I am being generous to you with that statement. The problem of funding such vital community services has not snuck up on you. Your apparent, collective incompetence or indifference (Who am I to judge which?) leaves us at the eleventh hour with funding in grave doubt. Just to let you know, inaction will directly lead to the long-term misery of many more people who currently have hope than you might imagine — too many, I suspect, to allow you to proceed in your lavish careers. Heads up, or (as the expression goes) heads roll.
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