Children in Peril

Indiana mother, son recall tortuous journey to secure mental health services

2013-03-09T23:32:00Z 2013-05-04T17:09:05Z Indiana mother, son recall tortuous journey to secure mental health servicesMarisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

When R.D. Riley was 3 years old, his therapist told him he would become a mass murderer, the boy and his mother recall.

R.D. was kicked out of nearly a dozen schools and programs by the time he was 5. The Batesville, Ind., resident's mother said a special education director told her it was a waste of time to bring R.D. to school because he couldn't learn.

By age 6, R.D. said he was hearing demonic voices that told him to harm his parents. So he did. R.D. stabbed his mother multiple times and hit his father in the head with a flashlight, said R.D.'s mother, Kathy Riley.

Riley said she tried desperately to find solutions to her son's violent behavior, but no one would listen. She said R.D.'s negative behavior continued to escalate as officials either dismissed her concerns or blamed his behavior on bad parenting.

A Times' investigation published last year found a multiagency failure to provide intensive services to some children with severe mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. Children who do not receive needed services may enter the court system as juvenile delinquents or children in need of services.

R.D. was once one of those children. He became a child in need of services in 2001 after Kathy had him arrested to help gain access to mental health services. She believed it was her only choice.

At nearly every turn, there were people who gave up on R.D. — those who thought he had nothing to offer and should be locked up in a state psychiatric hospital.

Now 21, R.D. has defied expectations. He attends college at Ivy Tech Community College while volunteering for two youth groups.

R.D. and Kathy said they believe their family's story shows that children with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities can thrive when they are given appropriate services. Kathy said her son's story is a story of hope.

 

'Scared to death'

Kathy said she and her late husband, Buddy Riley, knew something was different about R.D. by the time he was 18 months old.

The couple adopted R.D. as a newborn in 1991.

As a toddler, Kathy Riley said R.D. would hide for hours in the compartment of an end table at their home.

At age 3, R.D. was kicked out of preschool for biting, kicking and screaming.

Kathy said she took him for a mental health assessment in Indianapolis, but evaluators told her R.D. was "just being a boy."

So Kathy said she brought R.D. to a therapist -- who said R.D. would become a mass murderer.

R.D. was kicked out of nearly a dozen other schools and programs over the next two years and became increasingly violent, Kathy said.

"I didn't know what to do," Kathy Riley said. "We didn't know what we were dealing with. I knew something was wrong, but no one would listen."

He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in kindergarten, but it didn't explain many of his behaviors, Kathy said.

By 6 years old, R.D. was hearing voices. He would see deep scratches in the walls and become enraged when his parents couldn't see what he was seeing, Kathy said.

After R.D.'s second year of first grade, Kathy said Special Education Director Cheryl Corning said it was a waste of time for R.D. to be in school because he couldn't learn. Kathy and Buddy had agreed to hold R.D. back in school because of his maturity, not his intellect, Kathy said.

Corning, who is director of Ripley-Ohio-Dearborn Special Education Cooperative, denied making that statement. She said R.D.'s case file indicates she did not attend a case conference for him until he was in ninth grade.

It wasn't until R.D. was in fifth grade that a school principal asked if he had Asperger's syndrome, a disorder that affects social and communication skills. A psychologist evaluated R.D. and confirmed that diagnosis, Kathy said.

R.D. later also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, conduct disorder and schizophrenia, his medical records show. He wasn't diagnosed with schizophrenia until he was 18.

Knowing R.D.'s diagnoses helped his parents understand his behavior but didn't change it, Kathy said.

"I was scared to death of my son," she said.

Kathy said she and her husband stacked cans of food in front of their bedroom door so they would wake up if he came in the room. R.D. sometimes woke up in the middle of the night to voices telling him to kill his parents.

He stabbed Kathy multiple times and injured Buddy's head with a flashlight, Kathy said.

Kathy attended every support group in the area, even if the topic wasn't relevant to her situation.

Finally, in desperation and on the advice of a psychiatrist and therapist, Kathy asked Batesville police to arrest her son in 2001. He was 10 years old.

 

Shackles

The next time Kathy saw R.D., he was standing in a courtroom with shackles on his wrists and ankles.

"It was the most horrible thing I ever went through," Kathy said.

The judge granted a child-in-need-of-services petition that said R.D. was a danger to himself or others.

R.D. spent the next eight years of his life moving in and out of residential facilities, Kathy said. He spent time in the Columbus Behavioral Center for Children and Adolescents in Columbus, Ind., and in Larue Carter Memorial Hospital and Resource Residential Treatment Facility in Indianapolis.

Each time R.D. came home in between stays in residential treatment, Kathy said she was grateful to have him but scared of what he would do.

Acquaintances suggested Kathy put R.D. in a state hospital and walk away. They told her she didn't have to keep him, because he had been adopted.

But R.D. was and is the son of Kathy's heart, she said. She refused to give up and remained his biggest advocate.

She said she once threw her shoe at a psychiatrist who called R.D. overweight and criticized her parenting skills after a 15-minute session.

"I got tired of being judged," she said.

Kathy also said she argued with school officials over R.D.'s Individualized Education Program when they wouldn't listen and didn't want her opinion.

In 2007, Brenda Konradi knocked on Kathy's door and suggested she consider community wraparound services, which are individualized community-based services that focus on the strengths and needs of a child and family. Konradi is the project director for One Community One Family, a partnership of local agencies working to improve child and family services in southeastern Indiana.

"I thought it was a bunch of crap," Kathy said bluntly.

By this time, Kathy said she was used to people lying and ignoring her opinions on what was best for her son.

But Konradi connected Kathy with a facilitator, who managed people from the various agencies involved in R.D.'s treatment and determined how best to meet his needs.

Konradi also asked Kathy to work on a community advisory group. Through that connection, Kathy attended a state conference where she learned about the power of an Individualized Education Program — a process she now teaches to other parents.

 

Breakthroughs

In 2009, R.D. returned home from his last stay in residential placement.

R.D. said he refused to go back to high school because of severe bullying. School officials agreed to provide R.D. an aid at the local campus of Ivy Tech so R.D. could complete his high school diploma through online classes.

At the same time, R.D. was diagnosed with schizophrenia and put on proper medication.

R.D. graduated from high school in 2010. His high school principal, Sherri Preston, asked Kathy if they could hold a special graduation for him at the Community Mental Health Center. R.D. invited about 40 people who made a difference in his life.

He wore a bright blue cap and gown and a beaming smile. He thanked Kathy for never giving up on him.

Today, R.D. attends Ivy Tech and volunteers for Youth Move Indiana and Finding Improvement by Reaching Empowerment.

Youth Move Indiana is a youth-led organization dedicated to improving services and systems such as mental health or juvenile justice by uniting the people who experienced those systems. Finding Improvement by Reaching Empowerment offers youth throughout the region peer support and community education related to mental illness.

R.D. said he plans to earn a doctorate degree to fulfill a promise he made to his father before his death.

He said he is mentally in a much better place today, though he occasionally has a minor relapse.

"I was taught not to be afraid or ashamed of mental illness or to use it as a crutch," R.D. said. "No matter what, I'm still a living human being. I'm more of an individual because of my experience."

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