Thursday, June 21, 2012

Briana, another tragic little American girl just like Jani

Jani Schofield has another supposedly schizophrenic little girl in the US as a friend, who has a number and also an item from our solar system as "friends"? So am I supposed to believe that childhood-onset schizophrenia typically involves the personification of concepts typically learned around the age of 5 that are items in set sequences, such as numbers, letters of the alphabet, months of the year, planets in the solar system etc. Would anyone like to explain why this supposed pediatric mental illness manifests in a way that is so astoundingly and strikingly and obviously similar to ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthesia? And would someone like to explain why, among the grab-bag of half-baked labels that poor little Briana has been burdened with, synaesthesia is absent? I guess synesthesia doesn't have a place in the world of child pathology labels because it isn't considered to be a pathology, and pathologizing young children seems to be the only game in town where Briana lives. 

Briana's mother openly admits that she gave the child "some medicine" to sedate Briana after a tantrum. "Some medicine" for a young child in lieu of attempting to establish communication with the child or parental discipline? That is how you do parenting in the United States? And later in the video Briana's mother lists symptoms experienced by Briana which could very well be negative side effects of psychoactive drugs, feelings of insects under the skin, insomnia and hallucinations of rats, as though they are manifestations of mental illness and not the result of inappropriate use of drugs? To be completely frank, I am sickened when I see how so many people regard psychoactive psychiatric drugs as a normal and benign part of life. It is such dangerous and harmful stupidity.

This video is edited so the full story of what is happening can't be seen with any certainty, but I've got to wonder at the coincidence of a young child who has apparently been labelled with "sensory integration disorder" chucking the shits (as we say in Australia) when the mother is trying to organize a trip to the beach. In common-sense terms, kids who are labelled with sensory integration disorder often have hypersensitive senses, which is a trait that seems to often go along with autism and intellectual giftedness. People with hypersensitive senses, adults and children alike, often regard the beach as a sensory torture chamber, and often protest strenuously when family members suggest the beach as a recreational destination. There is no surer way to tip a happy, sensible child with acute senses into the abyss of hysteria and madness than to make them walk in sandals that have sand in them, a typical scenario that happens in the vicinity of coastal areas. I learned this the hard way, but at least the penny eventually dropped, and I now understand that if a family member with acute senses says they don't want to go to the beach, they really don't want to go to the beach. Briana threw a tantrum before a planned trip to the beach. Who could have seen that coming?

Three things appeared to me to be noticeably absent in this video of family life: healthy colour in Briana's skin (I wonder what her vitamin D status might be), rapport between Briana and the other family members, and substantial misbehavior on the part of Briana. She looked just like a terribly lonely and sad little girl, but I guess it must be some solace that at least she has a number, a yellow dwarf star and Jani Schofield as friends. Were I in the same situation, they might well be my choice as well.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. Kelly Schaffer Briana's mother is a hot mess and has ALL of her children diagnosed with something, the youngest being Briana's little brother who has developmental delay. There has been talk in different forums that Kelly was seen posting that she had slapped this young boy in the face and was trying to get people to feel sorry for her. It would also seem that Kelly and Jani's father Michael have become 'friends' and reinforce eachother in this dispicable travesty upon these children. On another note, you might do well to look into what is going on with Jani's little brother Bodhi who is also now diagnosed and on the antipsychotic risperidone. In the same documentary you saw Briana in, you will find Bodhi make the comment "29 is brown!" (A good sign of synesthesia) at which Susan, Jani's mother pushes Jani to believe that him saying this is a sign that he too is schizophrenic. Thank you again for covering this sickening display of child torment and spelling out what it really is rather than what the mind numbing media has portrayed it to be - parents victim to a disease. The reality is the children are the victims of the sick parents.

Lili Marlene said...

The dangerous madness seems to my eye to be in the behaviour of the parents more than anywhere else. I'm so sorry to hear about Bodhi, because risperidone is an evil drug. I'll have to look out for the reference to grapheme-colour synaesthesia. I'm not sure that Jani's synaesthesia has been clearly of that type, so such a reference from Bodhi would not look like mere imitation of his older sister.

I don't understand the thinking of parents who seem keen to get their kids labelled with varieties of madness. Do they not consider how it reflects back on them, as parents and as first-degree relatives of the labelled kids? There are many different theories about what causes mental illness, and almost all of the them can be traced to genes and/or early environment/parenting.

Anonymous said...

I don't know of Briana, or Jani's cases personally but it seems pretty well documented that there are some atypical neurology going on there. These mothers are having an incredibly difficult time, as their daughters so clearly are too. Mental illness can be incredibly crippling, stealing people from their lives. How can you blame these moms for reaching out for help from the only people who use an evidence based knowledge to practice psychiatry? I know from personal experience that it can be profoundly helpful.
Again, I can't speak to these girls' cases other than to that which is available online. It seems to me that by vilifying these mothers, who are reaching out for help for children (who are not coping with lives that have been well examined by psychiatrists and psychologists)you are contributing to the stigma of mental illness.
Perhaps you don't want or need this kind of help at this time, but it has saved my life enough times to get me to the point where I could take care of myself again.
Not being a hater, just wanted to share my perspective. I appreciated yours, definitely got me thinking. I just think I disagree.

Lili Marlene said...

Anon, you disagree very graciously, but there is nevertheless little common ground on which I can agree with your comment.

I simply don't consider that Jani or Briana are mentally ill, so I don't see your comments in regard to mental illness as relevant to their cases, regardless of the worth of your opinions on the subject.

I'm contributing to the stigma of mental illness? I think you are the one who just wrote about it in a quite emotively negative way.

You believe that the psychiatry that these parents look to for help is evidence-based? Don't be fooled, Anon. Look beyond the media hype and the advertising and the doctor's cosy little clubs, and you might find that the foundations of psychiatry rest on the PR of hugely influential and often unethical drug companies. Please do check out Dr Ben Goldacre's new book Bad Pharma, and also the book by Dr Irving Kirsch about anti-depressant drugs. Also look at the Australian controversies surrounding powerful Aussie psychiatrists Hickie and McGorry and the aborted NEURAPRO-Q study, and the past scandal over ADHD drugs in Western Australia which had a WA govt inquiry.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I have watched this family on TV and Youtube a few times and it drives me nuts that I can not comprehend something so very wrong. It is so difficult to understand unless you were with them in person ( i would love to spend the afternoon with them so I can figure out what is so wrong) A couple of things I note with the mother is how much she LOVES the limelight. Another thing is her suggestive selling to her own daughter as well as the audience. Even Oprah did the whole suggestive selling; which one should not do with a child if they want that child to tell you exactly why "they" are thinking as opposed to a kid telling the adult what they want to hear. Their is such medically brainwashed parents, that use suggestiveness to sell their own reality to others, which alters the reality of the situation. That alone can hurt the child. It hurts me, and I am not even there. I read up on synaesthesia and this child is symptomatic. Sadly, this child is being used as an educational tool, in a dysfunctional situation, when there is a great blessing in there somewhere. Meaning the focus is on the labels, drugs and control as opposed to the stimulation needed to make whatever is functioning in her brain develop in a productive way beyond most adult's intelligence. The gift is the intelligence, yet the focus is on the negative aspect of the labels/drugs and wrongful/suggestive diagnosis. I am not knocking the parents, as I am sure they are struggling raising a difficult kid, but, I don;t think they are helping as it is more of an enabling and embracing something that may or may not even exist? It that were my child, I would be finding the most intelligent people I could find, and have this child challenged- composers, numerologists, mathematicians, scientists.. and not the scientists trying to diagnose her...

Lili Marlene said...

I applaud your criticism of parents who have been "brainwashed" by a medicalised view, but I think you might be a little careless in your own application of this type of thinking to synaesthesia. No one is "symptomatic" of synaesthesia, as it is not a disease. There should be better and less medical language available for identifying syanesthesia than words like "diagnosis" or "symptoms".

I agree that in this video we are seeing a focus on negatives without acknowledgement of positive aspects of this child, who I am sure is a lovely little girl.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone can comment until they themselves have personally experienced such a thing. And unless you are the medical professional who is dealing directly with the child, then you can't assume what the condition might be. Sure, the child may show signs of other illnesses or disorders but you are basing this on what you see in a documentary rather than having all the facts in front of you.

Lili Marlene said...

I'm assuming that the "documentary" is offered for viewing on the premise that it shows evidence that supports the pathologizing of the child. I don't see that in the video. I think I'm within my rights to share my interpretation of the evidence offered.

Anonymous said...

I know it's a little late to post a comment, but I've just stumbled upon this post.

I would like to point out that you have observed this all from what is written on the internet and what you have seen in videos. You are using this limited knowledge to pull out a diagnoses and arguing that the diagnoses which you think these children have is more correct than the diagnoses which a psychiatrist who has had actual personal contact with these children.

You are analyzing the hallucinations too much. Hallucinations don't entirely make up any disorder on the Schizophrenic spectrum. These children also display negative symptoms. Jani can't even shower herself or brush her teeth.

The children would not have been diagnosed with Schizophrenia if Briana was only having those insect tactile hallucinations, or Jani was only seeing numbers and letters.

I just think that because you haven't even met these children, you can't have a valid argument against a psychiatric diagnoses.

Lili Marlene said...

I can think of dozens more likely explanations for Jani apparently not taking care of her own grooming than schizophrenia.

No I'm not analyzing the "hallucinations" too much. There's no "analyzing" to do - it's obviously synaesthesia. It's impossible to miss, and if the psychiatrists still haven't acknowledged the presence of synaesthesia one must ask why.

Lindsey said...

To the person who said hallucinations alone don't make up any disorder on the schizophrenic spectrum-- that's true, but "bizarre delusions" do. For instance, fully believing that your intestines have been replaced with snakes, for a period of six months or longer, would give you a proper diagnosis of Schizophrenia. Know your DSM :)

Lili Marlene said...

I'm not completely sure why that comment was necessary. Hallucinations and delusions are indeed different things (see Oliver Sacks' recent book on hallucinations).

Anonymous said...

This article is based on a huge mountain of unfounded assumptions - it's ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

I've just stumbled upon the series of Youtube videos regarding these chilen and, before even finding this blog, my thought when seeing and reading about Briana, especially, is that there is much more going on than meets the eye. Munchausen by Proxy (if that is the correct term) popped into my mind immediately. And now to read that she has diagnosed he youngest child with a "rage disorder" and herself as being bipolar? On her blog, she thanks people for all of the donations hat allow them to live and eat.....her daughter may have some issues but I think hers are bigger.

thisbedisanaquarium said...

I've checked out Jani's updates and her behaviour has vastly improved, supposedly from therapy and the heavy psychotropics she's been taking the last 5 or 6 years. Just wondering what you think of this?
Also, you doubt very much that she has schizophrenia, but why do you not doubt the assessment of her 146 IQ?
In no way does Jani seem gifted to me, bright maybe, I guess. Many kids could learn the periodic table if their professor-for-dad schooled them to do so. Is it that much different from learning the alphabet? Memorization.
Again, just wondering what your view is?

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for your comment and questions.

As you might guess I'm skeptical of much of what I read about Jani as I don't trust her parents and I also don't trust the media to report with accuracy or objectivity or without spin, so I can only guess how things really are for Jani. All the same, would you be able to let me know where you read this latest news?

Jani's behaviour might have improved, but that does not necessarily mean life is better for her or her health has improved in any way, it only means life is better for those around her.

You ask why I don't doubt the IQ assessment in the gifted range of Jani while I do doubt her diagnosis of schizophrenia. It all come down to numbers. Intellectual giftedness is not that rare among children; every classroom is likely to have a child at least in the low range of giftedness, (most probably bored out of their mind), while schizophrenia in childhood is understood to be exceedingly rare, if it really exists at all. Due to the Flynn Effect, intellectual giftedness is becoming commoner with each generation (yes, this does mean that cultural and environmental factors are in play here). You seem to think that gifted kids can be identified on sight. This is rubbish, and this is why our government tests kids to identify those who will be invited into govt-funded gifted programs. Teachers are notoriously bad at identifying gifted students. Age peers and parents are more reliable, but testing is the way to tell the gifted from the bright or the academic try-hards. I also think sexism is a big factor in identifying the gifted, and I wouldn't be surprised if racism is also a factor. I'm a parent of gifted kids so I write from experience and I've also read up on the subject.

Yes, it is true that Jani's father (a minor academic in English?) or her mother or both could have taight her a lot. So what? A smart child will learn more, an ordinary child will learn less and get bored after 20 minutes of average attention-span.

You dismiss learning the periodic table as a thing that can be taught to a young child. I don't think there are too many young kids who will have the resources to really understand what it is or to keep on task and remember. I know these days that it is the fashion to dismiss human memory as unimportant in education and fallible and flawed. Just about every pop psychology book published in the last 20 years has a section in it about how flawed and unreliable human memory is, and a warning that if people do happen to have great memory they are in some way defective and doomed to mental dysfunction and savant autism. A bunch of rubbish about Luria's mnemonist case study is typically described inaccurately and negatively. So much of this currently fashioniable negative attitude towards memory is exaggeration or outright nonsense. There's no evidence that Luria's memory man went insane or was defective. In fact, I've never been able to find objective test results in Luria's book. Human episodic memory is generally fallible, but that is only one type of memory and it is very open to interference, and there are definitely people who are gifted in this type of memory (Google HSAM). Memory is of central importance in human intelligence. If you don't have memory you will probably be a dementia case. There are many different types of memory, and some can be trained very effectively while other types are inborn, but all are important and you can't learn without memory.

Nicole Schaffer said...

I mean, I'm four years late, better late than never right? I'm Briana's older sister, I'm almost eighteen now, Briana's twelve soon, and I'd just like to say that her mental illness is very real. Without it, she's a different person. Same goes for my little brother, although he's a bit more serve. I can understand where you're coming from, but without the labels and medication, my little sister would be suffering more than she does normally. Just the other day she said she had made a friend at lunch. The teacher said she sits alone and talks to herself. Without the medication and the way my parents have raised her, she would be in residential treatment. I just find it ignorant that you're able to watch one video and assume my mother is a terrible person, or that my little sister is fine. I hope your mindset has changed a little since you wrote this. x