Journey of Support
May 10th, 2018
By Angela (In order to protect the identity of the student involved, this Parent Post has been published using only the first name of the author).
Mental illness has been a very real journey for our family over the past eight years. My daughter was internationally adopted when she was two years old. She had spent the first two years of her life in an orphanage with a significant lack of quality care and attention to her needs. As a result of these early experiences, she struggles with her own mental health.
At the age of five, she was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and a Generalized Anxiety Disorder through the Child and Parent Resource Institute (CPRI) in London. At that time, I thought that having a diagnosis would help make sense of things and then they could get better. However, in reality, the diagnosis was just the start of a very, very difficult journey.
Following diagnosis, we made connections with therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and accessed many of the community’s local children’s mental health services. As time went on, our knowledge and understanding of the supports and services our daughter needed became more clear.
For a number of years, our family functioned in a perpetual crisis. If she didn’t sleep, we didn’t sleep. If she didn’t leave the house, one of us didn’t leave the house. If she was distressed, the rest of the house was in chaos. For about a year, we hardly took her in public to try to save us all, her included, the embarrassment of a serious public meltdown.
Although our family and friend’s were helpful and supportive, there was an overall lack of understanding of just how difficult it was to live like this. We felt isolated and misunderstood as parents, because we wouldn’t just ‘make’ her do things, go places or see people. I finally found an organization called Parents for Children’s Mental Health (PCMH) that offered support and a listening ear. Talking with other parents who were experiencing the same things as me drastically reduced my feelings of isolation and shame.
One of our most significant challenges was the transition to school. After four years of encountering significant behaviours and aggression when trying to get her into the car to attend school, we formally requested the school’s support to help ease the stress she was experiencing in getting to school. After considerable discussions, the school agreed to put a ‘transition to school plan’ in place to help her. I cannot stress how much of a difference this made in helping her not only get into the building without a significant outburst, but also to help her learn. For young people with anxiety, their brain is on overdrive thinking about all the possible things that can go wrong. As the brain is over focused on these possible catastrophes, it can’t focus on learning and retaining information that is being taught in the classroom. Having this plan in place helped dramatically and was no longer needed by Grade 3.
The school has been a huge partner to our family in really putting the right supports in place for her (including an Individual Education Plan). Accommodations such as allowing her to take breaks from class when needed and identifying specific support people within the school, allows her to have the confidence to know that when she’s at school, she always has a supportive back-up plan in place.
My daughter has considerable resilience for all she’s experienced and is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. I’m at the point where I recognize that my daughter really is my hero. Anyone who wakes up with this amount of anxiety, and still tackles the day like she does, is my hero.
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