Yesterday the New York Times ran a feature story on the launch of a new film, The Indigo Evolution, that touts the indigo child thesis—that kids like ours are special intergalactic or interplanetary messenger souls sent to the Earth to save the planet. Our children and their disruptive behavior will shake up the system so significantly that the world will be saved from the death spiral it is currently swirling in. Or so this narrative goes.
Back in November 2005 ABC's Good Morning America featured the indigo idea in the soft launch for the film. This film company has clearly conducted an exceptionally effective public relations campaign. And fortunately MOM-NOS gave us the heads up about another film on this topic about a month ago. So even if the indigo children aren't coming, as has been claimed, the indigo thesis is gaining traction. One wonders whether to give this topic additional airtime in our blogs, but since it's definitely not going away, I guess I must address it.
My first encounter with the indigo child thesis came in the dark winter of 2002. We had just decided, after a year of turmoil, to see a psychiatrist and perhaps pursue psychopharmacological interventions for Sweet M. and family therapy for all of us.
It was just a few short months after the airport terminal disaster, and M's meltdowns had continued on, increasing in intensity. They were, at this point, a source of real physical danger—such as the morning she discovered that her father had made the coffee without letting her count the scoops of coffee. (Counting the coffee scoops was one of her rituals that had to be maintained for there to be any sort of household equalibrium.) He'd gotten up before her, and just had gone ahead and made the coffee. When she saw the coffee was already dripping she grabbed the carafe of hot coffee and threw it to the floor, with scalding hot coffee and broken glass swirling out around her little bare feet.
One evening Sweet M. was sitting on the living room sofa with me. She was just about to turn five. She turned to me and with a bereft look said, "Mama, I hate myself."
Stunned, I asked, "Honey, why would you hate yourself?"
"Mama, I have to call on the black phone."
I could not have been more stunned. The black phone was the phone in the St. Thomas airport where we'd had that spectacular social catastrophe. By now it was the middle of October—it had been two month since the black phone incident—and apparently she'd been thinking about it ever since. She'd mentioned the black phone once or twice when we were on vacation, but not since we'd been back in New York. Apparently she needed to go back and get it right—she needed to go back and make a call at the too-high pay phone in the St. Thomas airport.
Could anyone doubt that this was agony for her? Could anyone doubt that this sort of obsessive thinking is a form of illness?
We had already begun exploring treatment opportunities at the NYU Child Study Center—we were considering participating in an ADHD clinical trial so that we could afford treatment. The Child Study Center can be excellent, but it is not inexpensive, and our insurance at the time was completely inadequate with regard to so-called mental illness. But with this—with Sweet M's obvious plea for help—we escalated our efforts and made an appointment with a psychiatrist immediately. She started on Zoloft, which did not work for her, near the end of November. Then in December she switched to Paxil, which despite my concerns about the instability of the liquid suspension formulation, I credit with saving our lives.
After the airport terminal disaster, after months of screaming and obsessive behavior, after hearing Sweet M. tell me that she hated herself for her obsessive thinking, and, of course after the events on 9/11 in our neighborhood, I was in a very dark place.
A friend urged me to go see a spiritual healer, a reiki practitioner, whom she said could help me. At the end of my rope, I had little to lose except the rather expensive hourly rate. And in all fairness, I would say that this person did do something to help buoy me, though whether through "reiki energy" or simply listening to my troubles we'll never really know.
But then one day I reported to this woman how thrilled I was at how well M. was doing now that she was on Paxil. Her speech therapists were amazed with her language progress. Her tantrums had almost disappeared. I was so relieved. She looked horrified and exclaimed, "How could you do that to her? How could you poison your child like that?"
I stammered something.
"You," she said, "Have an indigo child. You have to protect and nurture her."
Needless to say, that was last time I saw this individual.
Of course I can't deny the appeal of the indigo-child thesis. It is certainly very seductive to imagine that Sweet M. is not disabled, but that she is actually special—not as in needing special education, or special services—but as in being gifted. How lovely it is to imagine that she is just as valuable—maybe even more valuable—than a neurotypical child. The aching appeal to one's parental narcissism is obvious.
The danger of the indigo-child thesis, as MOM-NOS points out, or of the certain anti-psychiatric elements of the left, as Toby Miller and Marie Claire Leger point out, is that these versions of reality can cast parents like ourselves as evil drug pushers, rather than as parents who are doing abolutely everything we can to help make a home for our children in this world.
When we struggle to make meaning of the nature of our conditions as parents of children with these neurological differences and behaviorial challenges, it is critically important that the meanings that we spin—whether a new age tale of interplanetary messengers, or the political story of the FDA and CDC asleep at the wheel as big-pharma poisons our children with thimerosal, or the social activist narrative of neurodiverity—don't interfere with our children getting everything they need to thrive.
Keywords: autism • childrearing • parenting • psychiatry