as told by his mom, Dot
Jason and I were driving on an unfamiliar road, full of hills and curves, when suddenly everything went black. I couldn’t see a thing. I jammed on my brakes, but they did not work – the car picked up speed, going faster and faster. I let go of the steering wheel and reached out to hold Jason, but couldn’t find him in the dark – so I screamed for him over and over.
Sometimes, raising Jason was like this recurring dream that I once had. I felt lost as I traveled this road – struggling to do my best to parent a child who I loved unconditionally. I felt like we were alone in the dark, he and I, because no matter what I did, how much I believed in him, or how hard I tried, I couldn’t control the path of our lives.
We met Jason in December, 1988
Almost 3 years old, he had already faced traumatic challenges. The details of his birth and early years are hazy, but we do know that Jason was born with alcohol and cocaine in his system. Birth defects kept him hospitalized for months and he underwent major surgery twice before he was a year old. He spent his first 2 ½ years bouncing between foster parents and his birth-mom until her parental rights were terminated.
We adopted Jason in June of 1989.
Jason’s pre-school years were filled with medical appointments, therapy (to address his emotional and self-regulatory issues), and early intervention for learning delays, speech, hearing and vision problems.
Once he entered grade school, it became apparent that the school setting was going to be a challenge, due to his inattentiveness, his sometimes out-of-control behavior, learning disabilities, and physical problems.
One day he told his teacher “I only have one boss that is my mother. I don’t like you”. What she didn’t understand was that Jason was afraid of those in authority and even though he words were disrespectful, they were indicative of a bigger problem, he was afraid to trust other authority. Jason got off on the wrong foot that day and it took some time for Jason to at least act respective even if he didn’t really trust.
We struggled to find a way to help him and encourage others to do the same. Point systems and rewards – they just frustrated him. Detentions, suspensions, time-outs, and trips to the principal’s office only served to make Jason more angry and sad. The punishments reinforced his belief that he was bad, different, and did not belong. He often expressed his remorse over the behavior but, at the same time, was bewildered by it. His behaviors included both inattentiveness, aggressive behavior, and constant lying. He was diagnosed as having ADHD, learning disabilities, conduct disorders and more.
I often heard from Jason’s teachers that Jason just could not pay attention, that he often seemed to be daydreaming and spacing out during school. I was often asked if I made sure he got enough sleep at night because he seemed unusually tired. By middle school he was often suspended or given detention for altercations with his peers or being disrespectful to his teachers. Play dates, summer camp, after school activities and clubs just never were successful. He usually was asked to leave.
Jason felt bullied all the time. He felt no one cared. He was often punished for his behavior because he would become frightened in response to what he perceived as threats to his well-being and he would over-react. (Hyper-vigilence) His peers picked up on the fact that he was often frightened and could be provoked easily. In the early years he was ostracized and picked on by his more capable classmates At recess, he was clumsy and did poorly at following rules and could not see or hear like the other children. To be honest, his behavior was not only provocative but off putting and difficult for me as well as school personal to correct so that he might get along.
The age of 9 was a pivotal year and began a seriously downward spiral for Jason. He was put on a medication that we now know can be activating for a young person by causing strange behaviors and suicide idealization. He began having memories in the form of flashbacks to earlier abuse and his drawings depicted violent images of an adult attacking a child. He told me stories that I found out were true representations of events he he suffered as a toddler. He began a brutal exercise program, doing chin ups until his hands had deep weeping sores. He indicated that he was getting strong because “no one was ever going to get away with hurting him again”. Jason was hospitalized that year. I was shocked with how Jason was spiraling out of control.
Unfortunately, what made Jason feel safe began his period of being the bully. So now the child who felt bullied for all of his life was now the one who was considered the bully. Thus began the middle school years with multiple school suspensions and struggles to find the right help for Jason.
Much has been studied about changes to the brain and mind that occur when abuse and neglect happen in a person’s early years. Stressful experiences early in life have long-term consequences and may affect a child’s learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health. I knew then of some, and now, that there are many people and organizations that dedicate themselves to helping children like Jason, especially in the early years, in the hope that the children they serve will have positive outcomes. I think I was always a step behind in helping Jason. Jason’s life and death touched many people. I know it sounds a little crazy and a little self-serving; but by creating the Jason Hayes Foundation, perhaps in helping other children in a small way will honor Jason’s memory.