The following is based on a true story told to me many years ago.

We begin with an affluent family whose son changes rapidly after his 14th birthday. And not for the better. It started with cutting school, and then he began telling his parents that he was staying at one of his friend’s house on Saturday nights. They learned it wasn’t true when the police called them to ask if they knew he was out at midnight and drinking alcohol.

His grades began to drop. He became very argumentative if asked the most basic questions. He was described as moody, depressed and just plain angry. When he tested positive for cocaine, it was the last straw. The parents had heard about a person who might be able to help.

Upon meeting with the Educational Consultant, they learned a little bit about the world of residential treatment centers, behavior modification programs, achievement academies, wilderness therapy and drug treatment centers.

After some psychological testing of their son, multiple meetings and many phone calls to various programs that specialize in working with adolescents like their son. The Ed. Consultant came up with a plan for their son, who we will call Johnny.

In the meantime the parents became closer with a neighboring family whose son, we will call Mark, just came back from a drug rehabilitation program with great success. They were elated to see first hand the wonderful transformation in the neighbor boy.

Armed with this information they contacted the program that the neighbor boy had returned from and advised them that their son was much like that boy. By the end of the conversation, plans were being made to admit their son to the program as soon as possible. And besides, it was even less expensive than the plan the Ed. Consultant came up with.

Later claiming they were too embarrassed to tell the Ed. Consultant they made other plans, they left a message “after hours” that said we’ve chosen to “go in a different direction”.

Once at the program, there were problems right from the start. You see, Mark was described by his therapist as being low functioning, low I.Q. and having chemical dependency as his primary issue. This fit in nicely with the others in the program.

Johnny, on the other hand was determined to have a very high I.Q., his chemical use was considered a secondary issue, he was thought to be a flight risk and he was said to get bored very easily.

After three weeks at the program Johnny convinced three other boys to runaway in the middle of the night with him. He stole a van and while driving it got into a terrible accident that left the other boys with various yet, not life threatening injuries. Johnny was left paralyzed from the neck down. He was now a quadriplegic.

When the family got the news, they were devastated. The parents were secretly not in complete agreement on if he should have gone to the program. Now the father blamed the mother for forcing him into the decision. The mother countered with blaming him for jumping on the “cheaper way out”. The families of the other boys that were hurt sued them. That and their son’s medical bills drove them into bankruptcy. The stress of all of this drove them to divorce and the mother to a nervous breakdown and finally institutionalized.

We will never know for sure what this family’s “destiny” would have been if they would have followed the professional Ed. Consultant’s advice and utilized the plan she outlined for Johnny.

We do know that at the moment they chose to “go a different direction” they changed the destiny of their family and their descendents for generations to come.

Allen P. Cardoza is President of West Shield Adolescent Services that specializes in crisis intervention and adolescent transportation to many of the specialized programs throughout the country. For more information, go to: or call 714-898-9696.

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Allen Cardoza
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