Taking a quick look around Sierra Jardine’s St. Catharines home, one’s attention is quickly drawn to the number of locks on the doors, the fridge and the freezer.
“We live in an autism prison,” Jardine, the single mother of seven said.
“We have to lock down everything. Including the children’s bedrooms. He will get into things and wreck it.”
The “he” she speaks of is her 10-year-old son, Remi Ranger.
Ranger has autism, is non-verbal, rarely sleeps and can be prone to violent fits.
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“It usually starts with hurting himself, which could mean biting his wrists to the point of blood. Chewing through his lip,” Jardine said.
Her Facebook page contains multiple photos of the injuries Ranger regularly inflicts upon himself. On Friday, he wore the remnants of a bruise on his right eye.
But sometimes the violence is directed at others.
“He will attack basically anything that moves. He’s frustrated. He has things to say but he can’t.”
Jardine said her other children live with their father for fear of being harmed by their brother, who she said seems to grow stronger and harder to manage every day.
During our interview, Ranger spun a shoelace in front of his face and smiled at times. He alternated between sitting in his mother’s lap, hugging her and playing in another room.
But the interview was interrupted several times as Jardine rushed from the kitchen table to check on the boy after hearing a loud thud elsewhere in the house, or when she saw him stealing the water bottle from the cage of their pet rats.
Those are the issues Jardine can chuckle at.
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She hasn’t been laughing for the last 23 days, though, as Ranger has been staying in the psychiatric ward of McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton.
For 13 days he refused to eat. After being stabilized by hospital staff, there wasn’t much more they could do for him. Ranger was discharged and sent back home Friday morning, but Jardine doesn’t know what to do next.
“I’m at the end of my rope … He’s just going to get bigger and stronger and I’m not. I’m not enough, so there needs to be more.”
Jardine said her son needs constant supervision and monitoring.
If it keeps him and his siblings safe and allows doctors to get a better understanding of his condition, she is willing to make the heartbreaking decision to relinquish custody of Ranger and allow him to live in a facility that specializes in such cases.
“It is a horrible thing to think about. I wouldn’t (wish) this life on anybody … But the fact is my other six kids also need me. They need to feel safe. Remi needs to feel safe.”
Ranger’s case has drawn the attention of the Hamilton Neuro-Immune Treatment Centre of Excellence.
Adopting the theories of California paediatrician Dr. Michael Goldberg, the HNITC believes conditions like autism, ADHD and OCD are actually curable diseases called Neuro-Immune Dysfunction Syndromes (NIDS).
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The agency pledges 24-hour care for children like Ranger, promising to at least mitigate the symptoms through recreation, nutrition and medical treatment.
“Mostly it’s behavioural therapy for children like Remi who are in a tremendous amount of pain. They’re terrified,” Executive Director Lisa Stephenson, whose own son has been diagnosed with autism said.
The centre filed an application with the city of Hamilton to purchase a large home on Queen Street South in which they could open Canada’s first NIDS treatment centre, but they said the application was shot down at the Committee of Adjustment, which refused to allow a zoning bylaw variance.
The HNITC plans to appeal that decision at the Ontario Municipal Board and will file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
“That’s just one violation of human rights. There are human rights violations galore with these children,” Stephenson said.
Dozens of Canadian families who can afford it have flown to California to have their kids treated by Dr. Goldberg, but there are many more who can’t. Sierra falls in the latter group.
Feeling like she’s out of options, she hopes sharing her family’s story will help in some way.
“(Remi) needs to have the best quality of life he can possibly have and I don’t know exactly how he’s going to get it.”