Wooo… whoa… Holy crap. Call 911.

Colleen Leduc already had a lot going against her. The Barrie woman was holding down a job while struggling to raise her autistic 11-year-old daughter. She couldn’t afford to give the child the intensive therapy she needed, and was forced to send her to a public school in the area.

So she was completely unprepared for what happened to her and the youngster, an almost unbelievable tale of red tape involving a strange claim from a teaching assistant, a bizarre decision by a school board, a visit from the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and most improbably of all, the incorrect pronouncements of a psychic. …..

Oh, and yes, this is a great example of what is wrong with the school system, so homeschoolers, rejoice. The problem is, of course, that this is also what is wrong with the homeschooling system … in ways that we will never know because it it done behind closed doors and out of sight.


  1. #1 Dawn
    June 18, 2008

    There’s a homeschooling system? We’re consulting psychics? Behind locked doors?

    Total bunk. Not that we didn’t try but the conservative Christians wouldn’t have a darn thing to do with the psychics, the unschoolers didn’t want to limit their children’s spirit of exploration by locking doors and the freaking eclectics got all panicky at the mere mention of some kind of system.

    Can’t even have a decent homeschooling lockdown with a medium these days.

    You missed the real problems anyway:

    1) People who should have had some familiarity with autistic kids misread some common behaviours and made sinister assumptions.

    2) Nobody thought that perhaps, taking the word of a psychic on this matter was really, really stupid.

    3) Despite the fact that none of this went on behind closed doors it all still happened. A whole long chain of it happened when it should have stopped at the moment the aide was thinking, “Should I tell this huckster about my student?”

  2. #2 Cherish
    June 18, 2008

    Tell me how it is that you can take a story about how public schooling majorly screwed up and turn it into a jab at homeschoolers, yet when you bring up homeschooling, pointing out the flaws of the public schools is somehow beside the point?

    The fact of the matter is that public schools regularly screw up, and it’s what leads many people to start homeschooling. If your child is not having his or her needs met by the school, it is incumbent upon you to find some way to get those needs met, with or without the school. That’s what a good parent does.

    Bravo for Ms. Leduc for not putting up with a bunch of idiots.

  3. #3 Mark P
    June 18, 2008

    Lawyer time, I would say. Time for the assistant to find work elsewhere (is something open at the DI?) and for the school principal to retire or at least stop allowing an idiot to work in her place. At least the children’s services people had the sense to recognize the charge for what it was.

  4. #4 Kevin
    June 19, 2008


    Snide comment aside, I’m not sure what the right thing to do here was. [ Well, other than prosecute, if possible, the psychic for making false claims of child abuse and libel and endangering the welfare of a child and lying and stupidity, or at least run him/her out of town. And lambasted and disciplined and ridiculed the assistant who payed for the psychic. ]

    I mean, really, what if the psychic had a boyfriend that was abusing kids at the school and this was her way of turning him in. Or knew the girl somehow and did have insider information. I know I know, damn odd way to pass on a tip, right, over a crystal ball. But no worse than an anonymous phone tip. The school has to take these seriously, right? They have to call the child custody services — legally, morally, professionally — there is no choice. If they have any reason to suspect anything (even just an anonymous tip, I think). And the CPS seems to have been reasonable, just checking up, quickly dismissing the psychic as a loon.

    My mother in law was written up and visited by CPS once, based on some random encounter in a supermarket. Someone saw a realistic doll locked in a car in a carseat, called the police to report the plates. The little daughter (now my wife) matched the description. They had to drag out the doll and everything, separate interviews with the child, multiple visits to clear things up. No harm done — they got the point, saw the doll, consistent stories from the whole family and child, etc., no other evidence, etc.

  5. #5 NickG
    June 19, 2008

    “Take mental illness seriously. But don’t take every single thing the mentally ill tell you seriously, especially when it is obviously … insane…”

    There is a story of a man who gets a flat tire outside of a state mental hospital. He is changing his tire when the hubcap in which he has the lugnuts tips and all of the lugnuts fall down a sewer grate. The driver is flummoxed but after a few minutes one of the patients from the hospital who has seen this happening calls out: “Hey, buddy. You want to know how to fix your problem?” The driver is uncertain, but goes over to listen to the patient who says: “Take one lugnut off of each of the other wheels and use those to put your spare on. Then drive to a repair shop to get some new lugnuts.” The driver realizes this is an elegant solution and looks at the patient with quite a shocked look on his face. The patient then shrugs and says: “Hey, I’m crazy, not stupid.”

    That was an interesting (ok, actually frightening) article. However equating the belief in ‘psychic powers’ with mental illness is complete bullshit. The only person in the whole article who has a mental illness is the child who has a PDD but who can’t actually speak. The aide, principal, and every school official who are involved are gullible idiots, but unless you think that one or more of them are truly MR, none have a mental illness. (Belief in invisible sky fairies and woo is culturally normative, not a true delusion from the clinical perspective.)

    Now, I am not going to complain if you call those people crazy. They are. I won’t complain if you call them idiots (which is an older clinical term for a certain level of mental retardation.) Its often the case that older clinical terms for illnesses and other terms used to describe groups subject to ridicule and derision are adopted as derogatory terms: idiot (a type of MR), moron (another type of MR), spaz (spastic – person with CP), ‘I was gypped’ (Roma aka gypsies) etc. And past a certain point – when the colloquial use of the term has more meaning, its reasonable to use them. So had you said “Crazy people” I would not have even blinked. But you chose “mental illness” which is a currently used term to describe a lot of people – including me.

    I’m a physician, an LGBT activist, an atheist, and I think I am pretty smart guy. Making the implication that the mentally ill (i.e. myself and many others including a lot of people in academia) equates with being gullible, credulous, and embarrassing oneself in public is neither fair or logical.

    So if you wouldn’t call ignorance and credulity ‘gay’, maybe think again before you call it ‘mental illness.’

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    June 19, 2008

    equating the belief in ‘psychic powers’ with mental illness is complete bullshit.

    NickG: Your attitude sucks so I could just blow you off, but in fact, you have a point here.

    It may not be complete bullshit. The argument that someone has a mental illness because they believe that they here voices coming out of a piece of glass is not too hard to make. However, not everyone who is a “psychic” is hearing voices that are not there. They may simply be frauds.

    A lot of people participate in religion or related activities who are not mentally ill, while at the same time there are those who ‘produce’ the religion … who stand in front of a church or sit in a dark room with a client and interpret voices they don’t hear, or words transcribed in ancient times that were never said by those to whom they are attributed (god, angels, etc.). They might be crazy, they might be con-artists, or they might be seriously misled.

    In my own personal experiences (and I am not a psychiatrist) Westerners who have claimed to hear voices or receive messages of the type described here also exhibited other conditions and were, in my unprofessional but not totally worthless opinion, mentally ill.

    Nonetheless, I do agree with the point that you may be making very subtly, which is that there is not a simple relationship between social behavior and mental illness or state. So I’m just guessing that the lady who heard voices is in need of help, and that her mental illness should not cause rational people to act as though her delusions/hallucinations were real.

  7. #7 El Christador
    June 19, 2008

    The argument that someone has a mental illness because they believe that they here voices coming out of a piece of glass is not too hard to make.

    It’s certainly not a hard argument to make. It might be a harder argument to make stick.

    Note that nowhere in the story does it say the psychic heard, or claimed to hear, voices. The ‘message’ could well have been (purportedly) delivered by some non-auditory channel such as ‘sensing’, ‘feeling’, or ‘intuition’. Not that these are different from ‘made up out of thin air’, but they are different from hearing voices.

    NickG is right. There is no reason to suspect the psychic is mentally ill. I’m inclined to suspect that self-professed psychics will tend to fall into a distribution mostly covering the range of outright fraudsters to gullible, suggestible people engaged in self-deception.

  8. #8 NP
    June 19, 2008

    This is insane. Why are psychics (!) even taken seriously!??

    I think some psychics may be truly deluded. Others are probably just fraudsters looking for a quick buck.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    June 19, 2008

    Fraudulent, maybe. But when self deception (a basic human trait) leads one to believe things like this … which is very very specific, remember. A symptom used in psychiatry is the specificity and “realness” of the belief … then we call the delusion and it linked to mental illness.

    I have no idea what the ratio of criminal (fraudulent) to mentally ill is among people who make these claims. Perhaps I’m being too kind to think it is often mental illness rather than just plain ill will.

  10. #10 Romeo Vitelli
    June 19, 2008

    Unfortunately, it’s hard to decide where exactly the blame needs to be laid here. As an Ontario health professional, the mandatory reporting rules are pretty specific. If someone came to me with accusations of child abuse, I would HAVE to report it to CAS since the legislation doesn’t allow me any leeway. Even if I feel the accusations are groundless. The psychic and the teaching assistant are definitely at fault but the school board probably didn’t have much choice once the accusation was made.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    June 19, 2008

    I don’t think this is a hard one to decide at all. The law in this case, and I suspect in most cases, states that officials are required to follow up on any reasonable report.

    “I’m a psychic and I therefore know the following” is only reasonable in a society in which pink unicorns are reasonable.

    Well, OK, like the one we live in. But it is still not reasonable.

  12. #12 NickG
    June 19, 2008

    “NickG: Your attitude sucks so I could just blow you off, but in fact, you have a point here.”

    Actually there are two points: the first is what you addressed: the difference between what is culturally normative and what qualifies clinically as psychosis or delusions. It’s sometimes hard to determine even if you have the person in front of you – especially with regard to some of the beliefs at the far end of the spectrum of woo.

    And if that were the only point I made, I would agree that it would be over the top to label it as bullshit. However the bigger issue is whether it is OK to use membership in a despised group as an insult. Its not, and that is what I was calling bullshit on.

    It is not OK to use ‘gay’ as an insult for something you don’t like. It is similarly not ok to deride someone as ‘mentally ill’ because they are credulous or believe in invisible sky fairies.

    Now I won’t suggest that this is an all or none option. No words are inherently bad and it all depends on the context. Moreover, after a word changes its meaning the ‘relative badness’ of using it lessens. For example idiot was used clinically in the 19th and early 20th centuries to describe we would today call profound mental retardation. And its use as an insult predates its clinical use. (ex: Macbeth: ‘Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’) However more importantly no clinician is going to use the term idiot to describe a patient with profound MR *today*. So feel free to use ‘idiot’ to describe these folks.

    But don’t call them mentally ill. And don’t call them gay or queer either. In general be cautious about using *current accepted labels for culturally despised and disenfranchised groups* as a means of insult. You don’t need those terms to make rhetorical fun of idiots like those people in the article. Doing so not only is damaging to those groups whose supposed membership you are hurling as an insult, but also makes you look like a total tool and detracts from what you are trying to say.


  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    June 19, 2008

    Nick, you ain’t from around here, are you? If you don’t want to do the work of figuring out where you are before climbing on your high horse, you might at least read the rest of the comments. Try “Perhaps I’m being too kind to think it is often mental illness rather than just plain ill will.” Could’ve saved yourself the lecture.

  14. #14 NickG
    June 19, 2008

    “Try ‘Perhaps I’m being too kind to think it is often mental illness rather than just plain ill will.’ Could’ve saved yourself the lecture.”

    Well, ‘mistaking’ ill will for mental illness is just about as bad. And regardless of how long I am in any place I refuse to not call bullshit on racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc.

    I also decline to play the game of internalizing homophobia, ableism, etc in response to ‘dude, be cool, its just a joke’ responses like yours. Of course when someone refers to something as gay, it would be a lot easier for me to cave and say ‘heh heh, yeah… that’s funny.’ I know that people hate to be called on this.

    Hell I know hate to be called on it when I am guilty of it, so I would expect no different from others. And while I may despise it at the time, I usually eventually benefit by learning more about my own prejudices.

    And I fully expected the response that he (and you) gave me. I probably would make that same response if I’d made the same sort of comment and was called on it (though my own tendencies are to be more sexism and classism). However I would hope that I would be called on it – because its beneficial to hear despite the discomfort it produces. Sorry if I pissed in your wheaties, but hopefully the next time you think of using mental illness as an insult, you’ll maybe think half a second longer.

  15. #15 JanieBelle
    June 20, 2008

    Completely and totally off topic, but what’s the clinical term for “arrogant, condescending jerk without a leg to stand on”?

    …just for future reference.

    Oh, and while we’re checking the medical dictionaries, can we look up “ostentatious, self-righteous blowhard”, just for my personal edification? Is “concern troll” a clinical diagnosis, or just blogger slang? Is “sanctimonious prick” safe to use in dinner conversation, or does it depend on context?

    Thanks in advance.

  16. #16 NickG
    June 20, 2008

    “Take mental illness seriously. But don’t take every single thing the mentally ill tell you seriously”

    “Is ‘concern troll’ a clinical diagnosis, or just blogger slang?”

    It always amazes me that people who normally would be offended by racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise highly discriminatory and inflammatory language lose that ability to filter when on the internet.

    But I have a question for you: would you be offended if the title of this blog entry was: “Take racism seriously. But don’t take every single thing Latinos and African Americans tell you seriously.” Or perhaps: “Take sex and gender seriously. But don’t take every single thing that women tell you seriously.”

    I really hope you would be highly offended. If that’s the case, then why are women and race off limits while people with mental illness aren’t?

  17. #17 Stephanie Z
    June 20, 2008

    Nick, if you’re looking for any kind of response, you really need to get your analogies straight. That would be “Take racism seriously. But don’t take every single thing racists tell you seriously.” Because if you need to resort to that kind of distortion to make your point, I, for one, am done with you.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    June 20, 2008

    Nick, I’m not insulting the (obviously) mentally ill “seer” … I’m insulting the morons who went along and did not see her statements as most likely being the behavior of a mentally ill person, and thus, victimized the family in question.

    They should not have been victimized as they were. The officials who acted as they did should have assessed the information they had differently. and this assessment should have taken into account the very high degree of probability that a person who claims to have received information through psychic channels as to specific events being done by specifically described individuals as not credible.

    Yes, what happened is Bullshit. Me asking for a re-examination of why and how this family was victimized … not so much.

  19. #19 JanieBelle
    June 20, 2008

    How frackin’ hard is it to read for comprehension?

    “Take mental illness seriously. But don’t take every single thing the mentally ill tell you seriously”

    If a woman walks up to you and tells you that the voices in her head are saying (fill in the blank), that person needs medical assistance. That is serious.

    Whatever is in that blank spot there, should not be taken seriously.

    Where is the difficulty, and from whence comes the arrogance and condescension?

    Nick, listen snookems, you totally suck at analogies. Give them up until you get a handle on how they work. (Now, how did you enjoy being on the receiving end of that little pat on your little head? Not so much? Good, maybe you’ll get the point now.)

  20. #20 Yuri
    June 20, 2008

    Stephani, I am with NickG on this. I think his analogies are fair because there is a difference between racism and sexism on one side and mental illness on the other. Let me rephrase his analogy slightly:
    “Take the problem of gender inequality seriously but don’t take every single thing that women tell you seriously”. I do not think I changed NickG’s meaning — does his analogy make sense now? Would you be offended by such a statement? There is still a difference — belonging to a particular sex/race is (or should be) neither positive nor negative; on the other hand, mental illness is a handicap which ideally we (and, in many cases, mentally ill people themselves) would like to be able to cure. If you carefully think about a comparison NickG was trying to make, I believe you’ll have to agree with him.

    Greg — I think NickG’s complaint was about perceived over-generalization. Mental illness is a clinical term but it is also an extremely broad term. Presumably, there is a large number of mentally ill people whose every single word should be taken as seriously (and sometimes more seriously) as every single word of a majority of non-mentally ill people. In colloquial use we often restrict “mentally ill” to a subgroup whose statements should not be taken seriously, and this could potentially be offensive for many who are clinically classified as mentally ill. Could your initial post be read as offensive? I am not sure I agree with NickG here (it is hard to judge since I do not belong to the group*; *at least I think I do not belong to the group) but it appears to be a valid topic of discussion.

  21. #21 JanieBelle
    June 20, 2008

    “Take the problem of gender inequality seriously but don’t take every single thing that women tell you seriously”. I do not think I changed NickG’s meaning

    I seriously hope you’re not comparing the words of women in general to the words of the mentally ill.

    It would not bode well for the remainder of this conversation. Perhaps you’d care to rephrase your analogy.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    June 20, 2008

    This is clearly a case where the intention of a very brief remark has been derailed and is lying beside the tracks transmogrifying into a straw man that is being kicked while it is down.

    It is not my responsibility (though I am sometimes told that it is) to anticipate such (presumably accidental) derailments and inoculate my writing against them. But, I am happy to make clarifications (which I have, see above, no need to repeat).

    However, it is very good to have this OTHER conversation … about mental illness in a broader social context. So, certainly keep going on this.

    In the mean time, I would like to know this: Does anyone know … are there data on 911 calls related to this issue? Are police cruisers automatically dipatched regardless of the nature of the call? Or are some calls disregarded based on the nature of the source.

    Dispatch: “911. What is your emergency?”

    Caller: “I had a dream last night that a woman would be run over on the corner of fourth and main at lunch hour today. She was a blond or brown haired woman in her 40s carrying a bag from a local store, like she had just been shopping. You’ve got to send someone out there to make that not happen. You must trust my dreams. They often come true. I’m very psychic.

    Dispatch: “Click” (dial tone)….

  23. #23 Yuri
    June 21, 2008

    “I seriously hope you’re not comparing the words of women in general to the words of the mentally ill.”

    JanieBelle: No I am not making that comparison (at least if “mentally ill” in your usage is restricted to morons, idiots etc.) — I explicitly stated afterwards that analogy is imperfect since being a woman (or a man) is, by itself, neither a positive nor negative while being mentally ill is, well, an illness. I was, however, looking for an analogy which would be offensive in a way similar to the (unintentional) offensiveness NickG saw in Greg’s original comment. Apparently I succeeded except I did not make it clear that I would also be offended by my analogy. Again, this is to stress that I see why people like NickG could be offended.

    I know nothing about the world of mentally ill people, but according to NickG (and I will take his word for this, it sounds reasonable) there are many mentally ill people who are reasonable, smart etc. etc. I see no reason that I would give different weight to the words of such people (taking NickG as an example –I do not know him, he appears quite intelligent and articulate, and he says that he is mentally ill) compared to the words of some other unknown to me yet apparently intelligent people — be they men or women.

    Is it reasonable to be so sensitive to words as NickG is? I am not sure; but I know that when prejudice touches me, I can be quite sensitive and therefore I would give a lot of leeway to NickG’s sensitivity.

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    June 21, 2008

    Yuri, you know someone who is mentally ill. The reason you don’t know that they’re mentally ill is this stigma. They may be afraid to be diagnosed. They may know exactly what is going on but not want to tell anyone. They may, like me, have mental illness in their past and forget to mention it because it’s not all that relevant today and it can make others uncomfortable. But you know someone–or you’re a statistical anomaly of a magnitude I don’t want to contemplate.

    Nick is bugging me for for two reasons. The first is a question of etiquette. People should really know what their push-button rants are. Not to say they shouldn’t indulge them sometimes, but it’s polite to identify them as internally motivated instead of trying to pin them on things that haven’t actually been said.

    The second is that what Nick is doing and what he’s trying to do are two different things. He wants the stigma gone, but he’s treating–without, I think, meaning to–“mental illness” as a bad word that shouldn’t be said. He’s ignoring the idea that mental illness is the mitigating factor that could make the psychic one of the few people not behaving stupidly here–because if the psychic believes it because of illness, telling someone in a position to help is a very smart thing to do.

    So Nick has picked a poor place to indulge in his rant, and by continuing to insist that it is an appropriate place, he’s alienating people who are on his side. Instead of fostering open discussion on the topic, he’s shutting it down and continuing to make mental illness something people don’t want to talk about. I have no problem with him being sensitive, but on this topic in particular, I have no tolerance for him being ineffectual.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    June 21, 2008

    I probably should have said “severely mentally ill” or just “delusional” now that I think about it. I mean who isn’t mentally ill now and then? But the case at hand has specific features.

    The sigma has to go. It should become possible to call in to work and say “I’m mentally ill today. Not coming in. Probably contagious” ….

    (This is acknowledged in some professions already, of course.)