I am the father of Casper. He is our only child. Casper went through difficult times at school, after very pleasant toddler and kindergarten years. The problems started in first grade, when it became clear he had an issue with reading and writing. This was also the year in which he was tested for the first time. They diagnosed him with NLD (a nonverbal learning disorder). This was a new concept for us.
Naturally, we wanted to get to the bottom of this and started reading up on it. We did not recognise the aspects of that diagnosis in our child. There were specific characteristics our son absolutely did not possess. The only thing we did recognise was a lack of overview. He did not like to puzzle and was unable to colour inside the lines. Later, we found out this was due to an eye abnormality.
After visiting our GP and the paediatrician, we were told nothing was wrong with Casper other than the fact he was somewhat tense. We thought that made sense, given the pressure that comes with going to school. He did his best to fit in and to keep up with his classmates. At that age, that is quite an undertaking.
As parents, we obviously did not want to ignore the signals his school gave us, so we reached out to a private psychological institute. After quite some time, Casper was extensively tested while in fifth grade and this test determined Casper has ADD and dyslexia.
At that time, we were already preparing for middle school because we wanted him to start fully prepared. After consulting with Casper, we followed the school’s level recommendation and he chose the school himself. He started middle school in good spirits and happy he would have a fresh start. He did less well in the second year and was advised, in the third year, to move down a level.
We noticed Casper had started smoking weed that year. Casper decided he wanted to become a car mechanic. As a father, I was not happy with his school of choice – not because of the vocation he had chosen, but because of the school’s reputation. It went downhill quickly from there. He quit in March of that first school year after he had been seriously threatened by fellow students.
After this, we gave Casper a number of options. He picked one because he did want to get his diploma. Thankfully, he obtained his high school diploma within a year after all. At that point, I was relieved and proud of my child.
After this, he was able to start his vocational education. It became clear that year that Casper was more occupied with smoking weed than before. His behaviour changed drastically, signalled because he retreated into his room more often, he was unreasonably angry, lying and manipulative. He also neglected his appearance more and more. Whenever we talked to him about this, he became aggressive.
The tension in our house was so thick you could have cut it with a knife and we finally reached that point where we felt we needed help. After looking around on the internet, we found Yes We Can Clinics. After browsing the website, we felt this would be a great fit for an eighteen year old with the problems our son had been battling for some time.
We first discussed this with Casper and, thankfully, he realized he wasn’t doing too well. Working on himself with peers and in combination with outdoor activities really appealed to him. Meanwhile, at the end of January he had decided to stop his vocational education. The first call with Yes We Can was a source of recognition and, for the first time in years, we felt as if we were being understood as parents. We had an intake with Casper within a matter of weeks. Mainly due to his enthusiasm about starting this therapy, he could leave for the clinic a week later.
No communication of any kind those first five weeks... Yes, it was quite the adjustment after having put your son first for over eighteen years. As parents, we had to work on ourselves as well and that was really difficult for me being a father. After all, I was used to spending a lot of free time with Casper and sharing a lot of hobbies. Even though the atmosphere grew grim and his behaviour socially desirable, I missed him.
Doubts whether this was the right way to go for my son and shame, feeling I had failed as a parent, were the considerations that kept me occupied those first few weeks in particular. Parent sessions were part of the therapy. I really dreaded this at first, but as time passed I realised my feelings were very human and that we, as parents, had always wanted the best for our son. During the parent sessions, I learned my son does not always need me anymore and that he will grow stronger by making his own mistakes. The recognition of other parents gives you strength in these moments of doubt.
After five weeks, it was really exciting to see him again. It ended up being an emotional but very beautiful day in the clinic. It was good to see my son transformed and enjoying himself. The honesty with which he spoke to us was a revelation and a relief at the same time. Would he have...?
I have always said: come see me in a year and I’ll tell you how it’s going. This was, of course, all related to my lack of trust, which became less of an issue after that day. Five more weeks and my son would be home again.
After the first five weeks he was allowed to call us every week. He faithfully called us every week and told us about his progress. More and more, I believed he was really working on himself. I had adjusted my own vision in the meantime and opened myself up to other insights by visiting those parent sessions.
After ten weeks, a completely different son came home. He had learned to take good care of himself and take his responsibility. Casper had learned smoking weed only worsened his problems and did not offer a solution to the problems everyone faces in life.
He’s been home for over half a year and he does really struggle every once in a while. When he does, he comes to me to vent. He has really gotten to know himself and has learned to deal with various difficult situations. I can now offer him help if he asks for it.
Casper is currently enrolled in the Sports & Movement education program and wants to work as a coach for Yes We Can. He is convinced that, with his commitment, he is able to help other young people when he finishes this education. His future goals have become very clear as a result of his experiences in the clinic.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened to Casper and other teenagers and adolescents had they not received Yes We Can’s help. The urgency of care for these young people is higher than you would probably imagine. If these teenagers and adolescents receive the help they deserve, it would work well on all fronts and increase their chances in society. An education, a good job and the ability to function socially independently is all parents really wish for their children. Many thanks to Yes We Can for their commitment to help our son find himself again.