Caring for a Child with Depression and Anxiety

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Amanda’s story began when she was 10 years old. She began having horrible nightmares and couldn’t sleep at night. She began sleeping with her parents each night since she didn’t feel safe anymore. By age 12, it progressed into panic attacks and depression. In 7th grade, she was depressed, unmotivated, and tired most of the time.

Her parents were very proactive in getting help. They spoke with her teachers and the school counselor. Since Amanda was an excellent student and didn’t look different, at first the school community didn’t recognize she needed help. Plus, she was able to hide it so that others wouldn’t know. Her parents applied for accommodations which give students who qualify extra time to complete homework and tests. They were denied. However, after becoming more aware of the situation, the counselor and teachers were very understanding and agreed to give her individualized attention as needed.

By the 8th grade, she was completely stressed and burned out. She didn’t want to get out of bed.  Based on the advice of her counselor, they agreed there were certain things she must do. She had to shower, eat, and go to school. It was a very difficult time for the family. She had always been a straight A student, who was heavily involved in school activities. However, the stress of this disease had taken its toll on her physically and emotionally, and she was completely exhausted.

Fortunately, her counselor taught her coping mechanisms through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel. The counselor and CBT were a huge help.

It took several tries to find a psychiatrist they liked, and even longer to find a medicine that worked well without many side effects. Several medications, which helped the depression, had a lot of intolerable side effects. She went through many trials before they found the right one. They learned there isn’t a quick fix for depression and anxiety.

Amanda and her family agree that the strongest message is that depression is a disease and shouldn’t be kept a secret.  Her mother says, “You didn’t do anything to get this, and it will not go away without the proper therapy and medication, if needed. As a parent, admitting that you cannot help your child without the proper professionals is a difficult thing to realize, but this awareness is key.”

The family learned that therapy and medication should be continuously monitored even if symptoms improve, rather than discontinuing treatment. This may be a lifelong struggle for some patients.

Today Amanda is doing well. She is now a sophomore in high school. Blessings do come with our trials, and in this case her illness has made her a very compassionate and sensitive person. She has several friends who are in similar situations, and she has been able to offer help to them. She has also volunteered at organizations that increase mental illness awareness.  Depression is such a difficult disease, but Amanda and her family pulled together to get through this with God’s help.

These two quotes from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young seemed appropriate to Amanda’s story, “Bring me your mind for rest and renewal. Let Me infuse My Presence into your thoughts. As your mind stops racing, your body relaxes and you regain awareness of Me. This awareness is vital to your spiritual well-being; it is your lifeline, spiritually speaking.” 1

“It is not so much adverse events that make you anxious as it is your thoughts about those events. Your mind engages in efforts to take control of a situation, to bring about the result you desire. Your thoughts close in the problem like ravenous wolves. Determined to make things go your way, you forget that I am in charge of your life. The only remedy is to switch your focus from the problem to My Presence. Stop all your striving and watch to see what I will do. I am the Lord!” 2

What Helped:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  • Learning coping mechanisms and triggers in her thought processes.
  • Support from family and friends.
  • Cooperation between teachers and her school counselor.
  • Finding a good psychiatrist and counselor.
  • The right medication.

Scripture Verse:

Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Prayer

Let us remember that you are always holding our hand, so we are never alone in our trials. We can always trust You to care for us as our loving Father. Teach us to thank You always even for our difficult times. Help us to relax in your healing presence, so that we can receive Your peace each day.

1  Sarah Young, Jesus Calling (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004) 151.

2 Young, Jesus Calling  148.

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Raising a Precious, Special Child with Autism

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Chase is a beautiful and loving child, who was diagnosed with autism at 20 months of age by a neuropsychologist. But his mother, Tania, knew that something was different much earlier as he wasn’t speaking and had atypical physical behaviors, such as being fascinated by the pattern of light and shadow in a play area rather than the play equipment. Tania was not surprised or devastated by the diagnosis. Instead, she immersed herself into the flood of literature about autism, its theories, and therapies. Tania is a very proactive person who looks for answers. She quit her corporate job as she also had a seven year old child and a one year old child at home at the time. She considers herself very fortunate to have been able to stay at home with all of them, and she credits Chase for that decision.

Simultaneously, through family, she was blessed to connect with a graduate professor at the University of North Texas who specialized in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to treat autism, particularly in early childhood. Chase’s program over the next three years consisted of one-on-one therapy for up to 40 hours a week. Tania calls these teachers “angels” as their commitment to Chase and the family was life-changing. Tania believed that the development of language must be pursued relentlessly. Windows of opportunity exist for language development, and the first of these closes by the age of five or six.

As Chase has matured, Tania has witnessed how important it is for him to be able to express himself. She says, “Not only does language allow for further learning in all realms of life, but when a child understands his emotions and can express him or herself, the child can avoid frustration and tantrums.  As a family, we experience the positive impact of his continuing development of language on a daily basis.”

When Chase became school age, she and her devoted husband, Philip, explored the special education program their school district had to offer. They quickly discovered that the quality of services provided by the state isn’t consistent. Tania says, “I know of many families who moved their households, even out of state, to receive adequate support from the system.” She and her husband moved locally to Northwest Independent School District. It was there that they were blessed to make another wonderful connection – Chase’s lead teacher for the next few years was highly effective in the classroom and became one of Tania’s best friends.

Tania admits that she was fearful of Chase being teased or harassed by other children. Personally, she certainly experienced dirty looks from other parents and adults when Chase was undergoing a major meltdown out in public. These meltdowns would consist of screaming, running, jumping, hitting, sometimes cussing, and fortunately no longer, spitting.

Interestingly, when Chase was younger, negative responses from members in the community were more frequent and seemingly more judgmental.  Partially, she attributes this to Chase’s appearance, for his appearance alone does not reveal his developmental disorder. She thinks others might have wondered, “What is wrong with that kid? Why can’t those parents get their kid under control? Geez, get that kid out of here so I can enjoy my dinner out.”

She explains, “But for us, as well as others who have a special needs family member, we don’t want to have to hide at home.  We believe that our family as a whole, as well as the special needs person, deserve the opportunity to be members of our communities.”

Chase is now a sophomore in high school.  The staff and students at his current school are quite supportive.  Last year at Byron Nelson High School, the Senior Prom King and Queen were two members from his special needs class.  Tania believes the culture has changed.  In her high school experience, this would have never happened.  She stresses the importance of inclusion for persons of special needs in our communities and schools.  And she believes in a reciprocal benefit for typical children and adults from their exposure to and experience of what atypical persons can offer.   

For the most part, these days, the community does seem welcoming of Chase’s differences. For example, Chase’s odd behavior includes asking a stranger if they have a Wii, a PlayStation 2, a PlayStation 3, a PlayStation 4, an Xbox, and DVD player, consecutively. At first, the stranger may raise their eyebrow with confusion, but then they do have an “aha” moment and play the game, answering in succession, “No, I don’t have a Wii, no PlayStation. Yes, I do have a DVD player. It’s in my living room.”

Tania says, “Experiences like these make us laugh.  And truly, the emotions we experience as we parent Chase are quite similar to those we have with our now other three children.  Yet, the circumstances themselves are decidedly different and perhaps atypical.  Then again, each of our children, in fact, all children are very different from one another.”

Undeniably and as with all families, challenges exist. Tania’s fears include the possible negative effects her other children have endured surrounding the difficulties of having a special needs brother.  And sometimes she fears for the future of Chase’s well-being, knowing she and Philip will age and will no longer be capable of caring for him.

She says, “Nonetheless, when I consider the impact of having a special needs child, I face that much in life is relative, and one’s experience is hugely dependent on one’s perspective.  I choose to focus on the positives of life whenever possible.  Chase’s birth allowed me to be a “stay at home mom” for all of my children.  Chase has experienced loving and highly effective educational support that has brought friends and families together.  The experiences Chase brings to our family, just as what each family member offers, define us.  I have always wished for my children to be happy and healthy.  And through our combined experiences, I believe this ideal is achieved.”

What Helped:

  • This family’s beautiful perspective on caring for a special needs child.
  • The book, Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic, by Martha Beck.
  • ABA therapy and a good school environment.
  • Teachers who were like angels to this family.

Scripture Verse:

1 John 4:11-12. Beloved, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, help us to remember we are all your children regardless of our differences. You love all of us equally. Help us to embrace our differences and live together with love and gratitude every day.

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