Do Special Needs Kids Carry More Shame?

When a teenage son gets caught lying, his mother wonders about his level of shame.

Crystal Perkins April 12, 2014
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think of driving a girl_rMy 15-year-old son has given me reason lately to wonder whether he carries more shame than his peers. About a week ago, I found my husband’s iPhone upstairs where the kids bedrooms are and where it definitely did not have permission to be. I asked all three kids and all three kids denied using (aka stealing) it. My husband asked all three kids and they denied it to him. We asked all three kids together and they still all three denied it.

It was quite a dilemma since they all lie. Who to believe? Or rather, who not to believe? Sleuth that I am, I called AT&T to get as much info as I could. They told me someone had surfed the web for a few minutes but they couldn’t tell me which pages so I was only slightly further ahead.

My 8-year-old doesn’t know how to get on to the Internet with an iPhone so I figured it had to be one of the older two. Just by happenstance, my husband found the search history and guess what it said?? “Teenage girl naked boobs.” I wish I could say that narrowed it down to my son, but…my 13-year-old daughter has been very concerned that she isn’t developing as rapidly as her friends, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had wanted to see what other girls look like. (As an aside, who are these teenage girls and what are their naked boobs doing on the Internet?)

I asked my oldest son and he swore (literally) with his hand in the air that it wasn’t him. I told him he had better be telling me the truth because it would be unacceptable for Kaylyn to be accused unjustly. He swore up and down it wasn’t him. I told him if I ever found out that he had sworn to me he was telling the truth when he was really lying, it would hurt our relationship. He insisted he was innocent so…we told my daughter that we suspected her and she hotly denied it. She usually folds after half a day or so, and the next day when she was still insisting that it wasn’t her, I started to doubt my son.

I put my kids in a room and told them they couldn’t come out until someone was willing to tell the truth. Since they hadn’t been willing to tell us parents the truth, maybe they would be more motivated to tell their siblings. I asked Gavin and Kaylyn if, out of decency, they would excuse Justin from this exercise since, as he said, he doesn’t even know how to spell “naked.” They graciously agreed.

So there they were, slugging it out verbally, and after half an hour, they were still just arguing back and forth. I went in and turned up the heat a little. I said that they both knew who was truthful and who was lying and that the dishonest person was keeping the honest person prisoner here in this room just because he/she was too scared or ashamed to tell the truth. I reassured the honest person that sooner or later the truth would come out, and for every hour they had to spend in the bedroom because their sibling refused to tell the truth, they would get to have their sibling as their slave for one day.

Half an hour later, there was still no progress and by now, my husband and I were both convinced that Gavin was the culprit. We decided to divide and conquer. I sent Kaylyn to my husband’s office and I went in to talk to Gavin. I picked a choice humiliating story from my own life where I had once lied to my dad and told Gavin all about it…the shame, the fear, the consequence and how finally telling my dad the truth had made us closer.

A little softening…

Then I told him that if he thought he could intimidate or bribe his sister to take the heat for him, he didn’t know her very well and she was actually made of steel, under all that soft little bunny exterior. I finally told him that if he didn’t confess, it would fester inside him like a heavy burden. Then I sat back and waited. It didn’t take long.

Gavin’s head slowly lowered until his chin was on his chest and he mumbled, “I’m sorry.” I hugged him while he cried and I told him I loved him and all the rest of the mushy stuff. Then I asked him how in the world he thought he would be able to get away with lying about it. He said he was too ashamed to admit it. I guess so. That was a very tight corner he backed himself into and I can’t help but wonder if his shame is so much more pervasive than that of his peers.

He knows that he has some cognitive problems from the drugs his birthmom did while she was pregnant with him, and he has ADHD. And probably worst of all, no matter what parents and counselors tell him, doesn’t he naturally wonder what was wrong with him that his birthparents didn’t want him- didn’t work to get him back after he was taken away?

We all do shameful things at times, especially in adolescence, but I’m becoming convinced that it’s a much bigger problem for special needs kids. The feelings seem to be magnified 10-fold because of a core sense of “something wrongness” and it seems to be much harder, at least for my son, to break from the problem, admit it, learn from it, and move on. If I weren’t so clever (some would say manipulative), would he ever have confessed? It’s a lesson I’ll take with me in the future when I suspect him of questionable behavior.

But life does go on and the consequences have been dispensed and fulfilled. Gavin felt so bad about himself that I asked Kaylyn if she would be willing to forgive him his slave duties. She has a good heart and she agreed. I also suggested she might tell him she admired him for telling the truth when it was so hard. I listened at the door and when she said it, I heard Gavin respond, “I know” in an impatient big-brother voice. So life does go on just like before.

Today he drove for the first time with his learner’s permit and is giddy with self-congratulatory analysis. I took a picture of him for his scrapbook and just before I snapped the shutter, I said, “Think of driving a girl on a date.” I think his face says it all.

Photo credit: Donna V.

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Crystal Perkins

Crystal is the content manager for Adoption.com. In her free time, she enjoys honing her outdoor photography skills, going on hikes, and hanging out with her husband.


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