Early Intervention and Prevention: IT MATTERS!

Many of you know my story. You know that Bryce is now doing well. He is in a full-time therapeutic school and gets the support that he needs. It took years to get Bryce at The Frost School. He struggled immensely in elementary school and it was a difficult road. We asked for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) as soon as he started kindergarten and were told that he did not qualify. We tried again in first grade and he was given a 504 plan which is not binding and does not give the same protections as an IEP. Bryce continued downhill – he was not completing schoolwork, he was suspended and restrained repeatedly and he was hospitalized numerous times. It was traumatic. 

website_school_masthead_frost
Bryce feeling good at The Frost School

This summer I saw Bryce’s second grade teacher for the first time in years. We were chatting about how well Bryce is now doing. She told me,The year I had Bryce was the hardest year I’ve ever taught.”

When his second grade teacher said those words to me it devastated me. She did not mean it to cause me pain though. She did not mean to suggest she didn’t want him as her student. She didn’t say it because Bryce was a difficult student. I mean – he was. But she meant it a different way. It was hard on her emotionally. She saw Bryce restrained over 10 times. She felt hopeless. When we did finally have a meeting to try and get Bryce an IEP she told the truth. She did not sugar coat anything. She told the county she spent over 60% of her time with Bryce. She told them that Bryce needed additional services, that he needed smaller class size and could not be safely maintained in the classroom. Yet, since Bryce did not even have an IEP at the time, the county determined that there was more they could try at his home school. They were not willing to fund full-time special education. Although early intervention and prevention would have benefited Bryce, the school system does not work that way. They did not yet see full failure and they believe in a least restrictive environment and maintaining children in their home schools.

Although Bryce was finally able to receive an IEP and a placement at a full-time therapeutic school in 4th grade, it should not have taken that long. The placement was recommended after Bryce spent an hour and a half banging his head on cement walls and breaking the door off of the quiet room at his school. It was finally determined then and only then that the public school could not adequately maintain him. It should never have gotten that far. There were warning signs and Bryce was not making progress in school. Bryce is in 8th grade and even though he is safe and doing well, he is years behind grade level. He struggles with every day tasks and may never catch up to his peers.

If he had gotten adequate support starting in kindergarten, could things have been different? We will never know. We tried. I had him in private therapy early on and I ASKED, BEGGED, PLEADED for services from the school but they were not provided. Why is it difficult to get our children the help they need? Why do our kids have to hit rock bottom, scream for help or hurt themselves before they are given appropriate placements?

I realize it is too costly to give support to everyone. However, early intervention and prevention matter. Research shows that early intervention works and can have long-term benefits. Providing support when the brain is still developing is crucial for children to ensure positive outcomes. Young people who struggle with mental health problems miss more school resulting in lower grades and educational outcomes than students with stable mental health. There is evidence that money can be saved in the long-run if screening procedures are in place to identify those that would benefit from extra support or special education services. That is because paying for long-term disability or hospitalization has significantly higher costs than paying for up-front interventions. However, governments and school systems are not set up to lay out money until there is a problem and need is proven. Once someone is already sick or struggling, costs for treatment skyrocket.

In addition to saving money, we can save children. Evidence shows that early intervention can improve educational outcomes and well as emotional well-being. Many people are afraid to get help for their mental health due to stigma. If teachers and school systems are trained to identify students early in a non-threatening, mainstreamed way similar to hearing and vision tests, it will become commonplace and normalized. Mental health matters as much as physical health and should be part of normal school screenings.

Having gone through the IEP process now, I have counseled many friends on what to do and what to ask for. It feels good to help others in crisis and I am happy to assist those in crisis or who need advice. I can tell you that it helps to have a lawyer or educational consultant but that can cost thousands of dollars. Many people with children that are struggling cannot afford that. We tried early on to get Bryce the help he deserved. We told the school in kindergarten of Bryce’s challenges and his diagnosis. They did nothing. It took years before they helped. It should not have to be that way.

As parents, educators, and advocates we must continue to stand up for children and ask for early intervention. We must ask for services, recommend more funding for programs and training in schools. We must make it the norm that all children get what they need. It should not be a fight, it should be a given. We owe it to our kids, our future and our communities.

early_intervention_is_key_postcard-r9678f58642a744cdbd7e2766b08a2269_vgbaq_8byvr_324

What your kids will tell me but they won’t tell you

 

I just took my 500th conversation as a Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line. Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. People of all ages text in for support. The topics that arise cover everything and many of those that text in are teens struggling with life. Volunteering for Crisis Text Line is amazing – it is an incredible experience.

As a Crisis Counselor, I learned to separate my own feelings and experiences when chatting with texters and helping them through their crises. Crisis Text Line provides amazing training to potential Crisis Counselors and I learned so much by going through it. But as a parent, it is also difficult to interact with these young people in crisis.

As parents, we do our best to make sure that our children are happy and safe. We want them to know they can come to us with their problems. We want open communication, we want to protect them for as long as we can and we want them to trust us with whatever is bothering them.   IMG_0173

But often our kids are scared to tell us how they are really feeling. They worry about how their parents will react. As a Crisis Counselor I get to hear the from texters anonymously and confidentiality in a safe space. It is incredible how teenagers open up about how they feel through text. I get to hear from teens that are struggling – that are sad and depressed and feel that there is no hope. I get to hear from teens that are scared because they binged and purged for the first time and are not sure if that means they have an eating disorder. I hear from those that are afraid because they sent inappropriate photos to someone and are terrified.  I hear from teens that cut and want to stop but do not know how.

But mostly during these open and honest chats what is surprising is how often these teenagers reveal that they are scared or worried to tell their parents that they are struggling, having thoughts of suicide or are dealing with self-harm. It is heartbreaking.

It hurts that so many respond saying their parents will get angry if they knew they were depressed. Angry? Yes. That is what they say. So many of these texters think their parents will be angry at them because they are depressed or feeling suicidal. It is devastating to hear that kids do not think their parents care, won’t help or will get angry at them for their feelings.

What it shows it that our children are scared. Our kids need us even if they say they do not. Our children need guidance and someone to watch over them even if they say they need space. I want all parents to know that they need to be compassionate and empathize with their children. That they need to tell their children it is safe to talk to them if they are hurting. That it is ok.

It is awesome to know that through their phones people can reach out for help. I wish that we could connect parents and their kids through Crisis Text Line but we cannot. It does not work that way. The way we can reach out children is by listening to them and letting them know we are there for them.

As Crisis Counselors, we are there for the texters. We are there to listen, to help and be there for the people in crisis. It feels good to help. But as Crisis Counselors, we can only do so much. As parents, we must be there always, unconditionally and no matter what.  We need our kids to know that.  

 

If you want to volunteer for Crisis Text Line, visit Crisis Text Line for more information or Contact Me to find out how AMAZING it is. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, text HELLO to 741741 to text with a trained Crisis Counselor 24/7.  

IEP Review – To Ask or Not to Ask

When I received the letter that it was time for Bryce’s IEP meeting, I knew I had some decisions to make. This was the year of Bryce’s three-year review. In addition to just reviewing Bryce’s goals for the year, a decision would be made if additional tests or questions needed to be answered in order to adequately “program” for Bryce’s education.

An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services. A mental illness, learning disability or autism all can be considered a disability under the law. When you already have an IEP , each year at the review meeting, a large team of people sit around a table and discus the student’s progress and goals for the upcoming school year.img_5237

An IEP meeting can sometimes be confrontational or difficult since the parties involved do not always agree or what is in the best interest of the student. Often the parents want something different than the county or school officials want. At times, educational consultants and attorneys are needed. Luckily, ever since Bryce has been at The Frost School, our meetings have been non- confrontational and everyone has been on the same page.

As I mentioned, every three years, there is a question at the meeting to determine if there is a need for a full review.

Since Bryce’s school – The Frost School -actively participates in drafting the IEP, prior to the meeting, they called me to ask if I had any questions or what I thought about the three year review. They stated that the knew Bryce well and felt they could program for him adequately. I thought about it.

Bryce already gets full Special Education services, Occupational Therapy and Speech therapy. – all fully paid for by our county. He pretty much gets the maximum. Social skills and equestrian therapy are included. He is in a class with a 4:2 ratio. There is a social worker for his program and a behavior teacher. They teach life skills like hygiene and landscaping. I really can’t ask for more.

Or can I?

It took a long time to get Bryces IEP. When Bryce was evaluated years ago and initially qualified for Special Education services, the only disability he qualified under was Emotionally Disabled.

Just like Bryce’s diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder – an IEP coding of Emotionally Disabled has limitations and a stigma attached to it. In fact – in Maryland it is called Emotionally Disabled, but the federal law still uses the term “Emotionally Disturbed.” Talk about stigma! The ED Coding also limits the schools that Bryce can attend. Many schools are not certified to accept children with the ED coding although children with an ED coding may exhibit the same behaviors, symptoms, challenges, difficulties and learning differences as other disabled children. They may also need the same services.

Bryce has changed a lot over the past three years – a lot in part due to the services he has received, as well as due to maturity and medication. His emotional disability no longer seems to be the driving force behind the challenges he faces in school. So, although he gets an excellent education fully paid for by Montgomery County and is doing well, when asked the question, do I think that Bryce needs a full re-evaluation – clearly my answer is yes.

I know that Frost can write adequate goals for him and give him an education and the services that he needs. But I do not think that the tests that were given to Bryce three years ago are an accurate picture of Bryce and his abilities and learning differences currently. I am not convinced that Emotionally Disabled is the correct disability for Bryce at the present moment. His moods are mostly stable. He does not read, write or do math at grade level however. He clearly has a learning disability, but I do not think that at the current time it is his emotions that are keeping him from learning. It is something else.

Testing takes time and money. It is frustrating. It is not a perfect science. It might show something different.
So of course I want to go through with the testing. I want the time taken, the expense taken. I want to put Bryce through the tests. I want to fill out the parent questionnaire. I want to make sure that Bryce gets the right services, is in the right classroom and is taught using the appropriate methods and given the right accommodations.

As a parent of a child with special needs, that is my obligation – my job to fight for my child. To ask the questions, to request the testing, to ask for everything that is possible. It is legally required of the school and it is Bryce’s right to an education that is in his best interest.

Many parents do not want their child labeled as disabled or different or special needs. I encourage you – if your child is struggling or needs help – get them the help that is legally out there for them. It can truly help them grow into the person that they have the potential to become.

Maybe the test will not provide any additional answers – but I want to know that to. I owe that to my child.

Parenting is Hard – Don’t Judge

I know most of my posts are about parenting a child with mental illness, but this is just about parenting. Parenting a child with special needs is really not all that different than just parenting, especially when it comes to parenting a pre-teen and a teenager.

Parenting is HARD. And to make it even harder, it seems that the rules for parenting change everyday, for what to feed your kids, to how much TV they can watch, to how much structure or down time they need. As a parent, you need to do what feels right for you. For that reason, we should not judge others choices.

As everyone knows, a 4-year old boy somehow got into a gorilla enclosure in the Cincinnati Zoo. That should not have happened. The Zoo will need to review all of its enclosures, as should other zoos across the county.Harambe

There is so much judgment online for the mother of the child that fell into the gorilla cage. This is a terrible tragedy. An accident. We have all taken our eyes off of our kids for an instant. We do not know all of the details of this situation. Maybe she wasn’t paying attention. Maybe it was longer than a few seconds. Things happen. Most of us have gotten distracted – especially in today’s world. The kid got away from her. It happens.

I agree that we need to watch our kids, especially in public places and dangerous places. We should be diligent about it. But, I think many people have turned their back for a second and their child ran off? I have. It is extremely scary. It causes panic, fear and lots of other emotions.

If you listen to the mom on the video – this mother stayed Calm, calling to her son and telling him she loved him. That was incredibly brave of her. Other people would have completely panicked in the situation, possibly causing the gorilla to act aggressively. We can commend her for that. We can learn from that. We all need to remember to stay calm as parents because when we panic, we are no good to anyone, especially our children.

As a parent, when times are hard – we must remain calm. We must remember to breath, to take a moment and think about what needs to be done. Ask for help if you need it. It is ok to ask for help.

Remember -Just do your best. Whatever your best is on any given day.do your best. whatever that best is on any given day. from naomi blake

Let’s try and support each other rather than beat each other down. There are enough people out there trying to do that

Thank you.

What you don’t see on Facebook

Facebook. Instragram. Twitter. Snapchat. We have all gotten used to sharing our lives with our friends on Social Media. And it all looks so nice.

Everything looks great in those moments. You can even “filter” things so that they look even better. Some people are experts at how to take the best selfies.

I love how my family looks in those moments. Everyone is smiling. My family looks perfect.

A lot of these moments happen when we are on vacation. These “perfect” family moments.

When you have a child with anxiety, a mood disorder, developmental delays, etc., vacations are not always easy. When you have a child with a mental illness, things do not always go as planned. Don’t get me wrong, I love vacation and I love being on vacation with my family. I post a lot of great family photos from our vacations.

Here are some things from our vacations that did not make Facebook –

1. West Coast Road Trip – Last summer went took a road trip from Seattle to LA. We had a great time. This was a fabulous trip. And a long one. We did a lot, including Yosemite. Our pictures are amazing. The trip was amazing. We did not take any pictures of Bryce screaming at us throughout Yosemite, “I hate you all. I hate my family.” Our pictures do not show Bryce threatening to jump from a bridge at the waterfalls in Oregon. I can’t even tell you why he was screaming or why he got mad during any of the trip. I can tell you that Bryce loved Chinatown in San Francisco because he got a stuffed animal and he loved LA because he met my friend Ashley. That is all he remembers from our trip. That’s it. But that is ok. That is all he needs to remember.

2. Spring Break in the Shenandoah. Wait. That vacation never happened. We had to cancel it because Bryce was in the hospital. Instead we spent everyday driving back and forth to Towson to spend our one hour a day visiting our son (Did you know when your loved one is in a psychiatric hospital that you can only see them for one hour a day at a designated time?) There should have been pictures of staying in a cool cabin, hiking, etc. Nope. The pictures from our drives back and forth to Towson did not make Facebook.

3. Deep Creek SummerIMG_0384Here is a picture that did make Facebook. But right before this Bryce hit me and threatened to jump off the mountain. He was upset about something I cannot even remember and it escalated. We had to calm him down and make him safe. So, we did what any parents would do. We bought him ice cream. The pictures of him screaming and hitting me didn’t make Facebook. Neither did any pictures of parents telling us what we should have done instead. I cannot tell you the amount of times other people have tried to give me advice because they do not understand – I have learned to just politely nod or ignore them. Maybe I will take a picture next time. People also speak to Bryce directly – “Don’t talk to your mom like that, young man.” That isn’t really a good idea. When in a rage, Bryce tends to spout out some not so nice words.

4. Trip to Dutch Wonderland – One of our least thought out decisions was to stay at a quaint family farm in Pennsylvania near Dutch Wonderland. It was a family friendly farm that had tours, a trampoline, breakfast, etc. They had kittens. Bryce didn’t exactly know how to play with the kittens. He didn’t exactly know how to act at all. We basically left in the middle of the night. It’s a long story. It was a failed vacation. There are no pictures on Facebook.

5. Float Trip – Let’s just say one of my kids wound up in the water because the kids were fighting too much. That’s all I will say about that. Not on Facebook.

Basically I will just sum up and say that most of our vacations have good moments and bad. I didn’t even mention our cruise from last December. Bryce had an amazing time for 85% of the cruise. The first night, however Bryce had a meltdown and we had to restrain him. He was screaming and threatening to jump off the balcony.

I say all of this tongue in cheek and jokingly. But all of these stories are true and were terrible, scary moments. We got through them all and we managed to have great vacations. We show you the good and not the bad.

So if you are a parent of a child with mental illness or a disability, and you are struggling – Don’t worry. Relax. You might think everyone else is having more fun or having a “perfect” vacation, but just realize – they are only showing you their best moments.

We don’t know what goes on in other people’s lives. We only see the good and we all project that our lives are wonderful.

No one’s life is perfect. Some of us struggle more than others, but everyone has their struggles.

Life will not always be perfect, but it will be wonderful.

By the way, there are great places to go on vacation with kids that have special needs, especially all inclusive resorts. I will save that for another blog post!

IMG_0848
Our West Coast Road Trip – Bryce is smiling at Yosemite.  But this is before we are hiking. We drove to this spot!