Supporting Our Friends With Autism

I have a close friend whose child was diagnosed with Autism when he was in preschool.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot from this family, but one thing has made the biggest impression on me both as a mom and a child psychologist.  It’s simply this: There is no way for any of us to truly understand what it is like to have a child with Autism unless you actually have one.

With the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) recently changing from 1 in 88 to 1 in 50 children, it’s likely that all of us know someone impacted by this disorder.  Given that likelihood, what can we do to support children with Autism and their families? I guarantee that if you walk in their shoes for just a little while you’ll have a much greater understanding and appreciation of both the joys and the struggles of Autism.  Here’s how:

First, educate yourself about Autism.  According to the Autism Speaks website, Autism is “characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.”  Boys are four to five times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls.  Despite difficulties with social interactions and communication, many individuals with Autism “excel in visual skills, music, math and art.”  Websites like AutismSpeaks.org and Autism-Society.org both offer reliable and up to date information about Autism.  Also, NBC’s hit show, Parenthood, features a boy named Max who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder.  This show offers a realistic portrayal of Autism Spectrum Disorders and their day to day impact on families. [Read more...]

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School Shootings: The Sad Reality of Mental Health Care For Children

People everywhere are searching for answers.  Looking for a reason that this massacre occurred.  Guns.  No prayer in school.  Video games.  Violence in the media.  Mental illness.  You name it.  When something terrible happens, it is our natural societal response to search for a cause.  We can’t help ourselves.  It’s a defense mechanism of sorts, used as we try to come to terms with such an unthinkable tragedy.

But if I was the parent of any of these precious children, I can promise you that knowing the cause wouldn’t help.  My child would be gone forever and no answer would change that devastating fact.  No more kisses and hugs.  No tucking them in at night.  No growing up.  Nothing.  Gone.

The parent side of me knows that.  The child psychologist in me knows another story.  I speak from the trenches, not as the parent trying to access services, but as the child psychologist helping parents navigate the system day in and day out.  I firmly believe that our mental health system is not the reason this massacre occurred.  Adam Lanza is.  But he clearly suffered from serious mental health problems.  And this tragedy should serve as a wake up call to change our mental health care system now.  By doing so we could very likely prevent this devastation from occurring again in yet another classroom, movie theater, or shopping mall.

Currently in my community I can count on one hand the number of child psychologists and psychiatrists available to assist children.  That means that if you are concerned about your child and want to access outpatient services then you will have to wait.  For a long time.  I’m talking months.  There are waiting lists in my state that are a year long.  Can you imagine being told that you may have cancer but you won’t be able to be seen by a doctor to discuss your diagnosis and treatment options for six months?  That’s what it feels like to parents who have children with serious mental health issues waiting to be seen.  Unimaginable.  There simply aren’t enough child psychologists and psychiatrists to go around.

If you are fortunate enough to get an appointment after your agonizing wait, you then have to either be wealthy enough to pay for it out of your pocket or lucky enough to have health insurance that covers outpatient mental health services adequately.  Good luck with that.  In my experience, the inability to pay eliminates the opportunity for quality mental health care for the majority of children.  If they can’t pay, parents are told to ask their pediatrician for advice because then it might be covered under their health insurance policy.  They are advised to get help instead from their school counselor because that would be free.  Those options might seem like good ones, but behind the scenes the pediatricians are equally outnumbered by the volume of mental health care patients, and typically one school counselor is responsible for the mental health needs of an entire school. [Read more...]

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How To Help Someone Who Cuts

Last week I answered a question on education.com as a JustAsk expert that really hurt my heart.  The question was posted by a teenager who has been cutting themselves as a way to cope with their bad memories.  I’ve shortened the question a little (you can read the whole question here), but have included enough of it for you to get the gist of the seriousness of the issue.

I wanted to include it here also in case any of you needed more information on how to get help for cutting, for yourself or someone you know.  Unfortunately  cutting is on the rise with 1 in every 200 teen girl having cut themselves.  But cutters aren’t only teens, sometimes younger children or adults cut to relieve their emotional pain.  If you or someone you know has problems with cutting, follow up with the resources below or reach out to a psychologist in your area for help.

The Question:  I need somebody to talk to.  My brain is reeling and the only way I can cope with the thoughts of those bad memories, all of them, that’s all I think about, is by letting them out of my arm. That is the reason for the cuts, for the scars, for everything.  All the pain has caused me to cut myself over and over, leaving the oh so infamous scars.  I’m afraid. My cutting is getting worse.  If I told them my teachers and my “friends” would try to help, but I know there is no going back after that.  They would bring me to more counseling.  I couldn’t take anymore, they would see the scars.  I’m on the verge of suicide, and I have no one to talk to.  Please help me.

My Answer:  Let me start by saying that you have taken the first and hardest step in getting better, asking for help.  You are so brave to have reached out to the online community.  And you have so much insight already about your feelings.  There are so many people that care about you, both people you know and people you don’t even know like me!  And you’re right, talking with someone about what’s going on in your life is the perfect place to start.

Even though it may seem hard, it’s so important that you talk to a trusted adult in your life about your cutting.  Some examples include your parents, a teacher, the school counselor or nurse, a doctor, or a grown up that you feel comfortable sharing with.  Let them know that you have been cutting and want to get help.  If the first person that you tell doesn’t take you seriously or doesn’t help, then try talking to someone else.  Just don’t give up! [Read more...]

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