Kate and her husband tried to start a family for years. She adopted her first baby, a daughter who was glorious, smart, warm and imaginative. The wait was worth it. “As she grew, we loved watching her thrive and when she turned five, she wanted a younger sibling as much as we wanted another child,” Kate recalls. When the time came, they inquired about adopting another baby. The call back came quickly. A ten-week old baby boy was in need of placement after a difficult start. Exposed to drugs in utero, he was taken from his mother at three weeks old and placed with his maternal grandmother. But that arrangement wasn’t working out and he’d been placed in a foster home. The family who was fostering him wasn’t planning on adopting, so he was available to the right family.
Baby Owen joined his new family underweight and fussy, but in a short time, he started growing and developing on track. All continued normally until Kate and his doctor identified a speech delay. The challenges grew from there. By two or three he would have anger episodes, yelling without being able to self-soothe or be comforted by anyone else. “Something was wrong. I couldn’t figure out if it was frustration that he couldn’t express himself or something more,” Kate remembers. Testing revealed that he had some delays. With the support of early intervention, he started at a special preschool when he was three where he had lots of support and, initially, made progress.
When it was time for kindergarten, the school thought he was ready to be integrated. Upon entering the new school, the reaction came immediately. He was distressed, aggressive and out of control. The school quickly decided they couldn’t handle him. He was placed in another program for kids with behavioral issues. While he had a supportive environment there, he struggled in that program too. Yet another program, a more restrictive collaborative didn’t suit him because he couldn’t regulate himself enough to participate in academics. He was distraught and his irritability would turn into rage. He faced dysfunction at home, failure at school and had difficulty making friends. Kate struggled to find help for her son, “We went through this for years, without being able to participate in normal social activities, family events or vacations. We went from crisis to crisis. His behavior affected the mental health of our entire family and it was only getting worse.”
Finally, when he was eight, a doctor saw a video of a rage episode that Kate captured on her phone. The doctor recognized how explosive he was and said he needed to be hospitalized; keeping him at home was unsafe for the entire family. “When your child has a medical issue, you take him to a specialist. But in our case, Owen’s condition wasn’t something that doctors understood or recognized until we got to Franciscan,” Kate shared. “I was embarrassed and isolated, trying to deal with an uncontrollable child. We were suffering every day. There was never peace or calm in our home, but rather the constant stress and uncertainty of what the day would bring.”
Owen was diagnosed with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder while he was at Franciscan. Compounded by elements of Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning disabilities, and sensory integration disorder, his needs were complex. Over the course of the next couple of years, Owen would come back to the Inpatient Mental Health program multiple times. “The care at Franciscan was different because they took our entire family dynamic into account. The team recognized we were all suffering trauma from Owen’s aggression,” Kate shared. “It was like being in a cooling lake after being lost in the desert. The team at Franciscan appreciated that we’d tried to be good parents.” She continued, “After so many years, I felt like I was finally with people who could see Owen as more than just a troubled child. They saw his spirit, his potential and helped connect us with tools and resources that could help.”
Since his last stay in the inpatient program, Owen has started in a new residential school where he’s finally succeeding. According to Kate, “For years he wasn’t getting the support he needed so his emotional and intellectual growth was stunted. Now that he’s receiving the services he needs, his brain has started to catch up.”
Kate has used her years of experience seeking answers to become a spokesperson for access to mental health services. Being Owen’s mom has given her a unique perspective on how desperately high-quality care is needed for children and teens. “My son’s challenges are far from over, but I’ve seen firsthand how life changing the right care can be. There are so many children out there who can benefit from the outstanding care we received at Franciscan Children’s,” she said.
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