Tag Archives: behavioral health

He’s a late bloomer

August 1st, 2016

late-bloomer-quoteMy son graduated high school a year late.  This was mostly due to the large chunks of time when he was hospitalized, which created gaps in his academic life.  He got his driver’s license years after most of his peers.  When he’d envision himself driving his own car, he’d feel anxiety sitting like an elephant on his chest.  It also took him far longer to get his degree at community college than he expected it would.  He’d enroll and begin classes and sometimes become so overwhelmed he had to pare his course load down to one class.  He did it, though, a handful of credits at a time.  Better late than never, I’d say to myself.

I fervently wanted these milestones for him and was (mostly) patient as they slowly happened.  But I worried.  Sometimes it was like watching paint dry or grass grow.  You are pretty sure it’s going to happen but the wait seems interminable.  And I’ll admit that while I waited, there were times when I had my doubts and wondered if he would actually accomplish these goals.

One day a relative said to me, “Relax, he’s just a late bloomer.” A late bloomer?  No one had ever said that before.  We lived in the land of therapeutic frameworks and mental health shop talk.  I thought every day about his mental health diagnosis and how to minimize its impact. I thought about challenges and mentally outlined strategies to overcome them. Late bloomer?  This was a new way, a refreshing way, to think about these things.

We live in a time of early achievers and routinely hear about people who are millionaires by age 30.  Parents enroll their children in carefully selected preschools, trying to ensure they will have a stellar academic career.   In the midst of this celebration of those beating the curve and young people achieving goals far before their peers, late bloomers are getting some attention too.  Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece in the New Yorker titled “Late Bloomers” and points out that “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure.”  Others have written about famous late bloomers including Alexander Fleming, who discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, at age 47 and Harlan David Sanders who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65.  The lesson?  You can’t always tell how well someone will do in adulthood by simply looking at their early years.

When we say someone is a late bloomer, it is often more of an observation than a judgement.  I like that.  It takes a lot of pressure off and recasts slowly checking off your milestones list into a “we’ll get there when we get there” kind of thing.

The attitude behind it can vary too.  Your aunt at the summer reunion can call your child a late bloomer and then compare him to others in the family who turned out just fine.  It makes you feel like it’s a family trait similar to a love of fishing or a knack for cooking. Your co-worker can label your child a late bloomer and you might hear a hidden question such as, “How are things going?” behind the term but they don’t actually say it.  You can point out that your daughter is a late bloomer and imply that wonderful things are yet to come.  It’s not clinical jargon.  It can have dozens of meanings and implications.

Inherent in the definition is the idea that most late bloomers eventually catch up.  I like that, too.  My son got his diploma and his degree in the same order as his peers.  It just took him longer.  Okay, significantly longer, but that was just right for him.

Like the rest of us, some late bloomers burst into incandescent flower and people take notice, while others have more modest achievements.  The range is pretty wide, so I could slot my son right in.  Late bloomers, bloom, that is, they arrive, get there, make hay, pull it off and wind up okay.  It’s just on a different, maybe slower, timetable.

I’m not the first to say we tend to pathologize our children far more than we need to.  As parents, we learn to speak the jargon and frame the issues in the way we need to make the system cough up what our children require.  Most of what’s been written has focused on the tendency to look at normal restlessness or distraction in children and diagnose or medicate it.  For those of us who have children already clearly diagnosed, it’s pretty easy to apply that clinical framework to things that might actually be normal.  If any child missed as much school as my son did, for instance, that child might very well graduate late.

This is the final lesson of the late bloomer: his or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others. In Gladwell’s article, he compares two artists, Picasso and Cezanne.  Picasso was the early genius whose art took the world by storm.  Cezanne was the opposite and his best paintings were done at the end of his career. Both have paintings in world famous museums and have paintings on the 20 Most Expensive Paintings List.  Picasso has several on the list while Cezanne’s lands at #1.  Because his success came far later in his life, Cezanne depended on patrons to support his work and believe in him.  Many late bloomers, Gladwell notes, depend on the same two things – the support and belief of others.   Sounds like a parent, doesn’t it?

Tags: , , , , ,

Posted in Blog Posts | 8 Comments »

Don’t call me an adult ally, I’m a parent. Always was, always will be.

May 3rd, 2015

Mother and teenage sonOne day, 17 years and 364 days after his or her birth, your child goes to bed and wakes up the next morning a legal adult. You have a party (okay, maybe just a cake), give presents and feel a flutter of anxiety in your stomach. For many young people, being 18 doesn’t mean much these days. They can vote, sign a contract and register for the draft. They have already been able to drive a car, see an NR-17 movie or consent to sex for at least a year. They have to wait until age 21 to legally drink, purchase a firearm or adopt a child. But if your son or daughter has mental health needs, when they turn 18 you are relegated to a special category. Now you are an adult ally.

Yes, that’s right. When your child went to bed, still age 17, you were a parent. But when they woke up as a young adult, your status changed to adult ally. Or in some mental health circles, that is what the current thinking is. Adult allies, the definition says, partner with young adults, view them as valuable resources and ensure they can speak up and participate.

However, parents are parents and have a completely unique role in their children’s lives. It’s part of parenting to try to balance how we support, interfere, teach, back away or say we are proud, disappointed or relieved. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t. But that’s part of it, too – learning, adjusting, making mistakes and doing it better. No one gets a handbook as if your child is an appliance; there’s an art to parenting that simply cannot be captured precisely.

Sometimes it’s your job as a parent to be the “not-ally.” Instead of allying, you disagree with your son or daughter. It’s learning how to do it while respecting their right to make mistakes and being clear that you disagree with their decision or position, but still love them. That’s the trick. Like all skills, this takes practice.

But there is another reason to choose words that describe the parent role carefully. Parents know how they feel when certain terms are used. Some words make us feel respected while others feel derogatory. Some terms take away power while others make us feel powerful. Describing a family as dysfunctional, for instance, robs parents of their strengths. They feel judged, unworthy and unable to change that perception. On the other hand, when a family is described as a “resource” for their child or a “strong” family, they feel empowered and valued. Unfortunately, lumping parents into a category of adult allies shifts us out of a unique role and into one that limits us.

Not long ago, I told a colleague of mine, who has children in elementary school, about this idea that parents become an adult ally. She listened to me in disbelief and said, “I put my heart, soul, time and money into my children in a way that only parents can. If someone told me that I am suddenly not a parent, but an adult ally, I would be pissed.” When she heard this term she felt it lessened her role, not enhanced it.

There were days and weeks while my son was transitioning to young adulthood (we are on the far side of that now) when I would have happily relinquished my role as a parent to become an adult ally. It would have been far less demanding and a much clearer role. But what he needed was a parent, someone who had known him forever and knew his strengths and foibles. I would say things like, “That sounds great. You are a hands-on learner and this would work for you.” I’d also say things like, “That makes me worried. Sounds like you are putting yourself in harm’s way. ” Sometimes he’d agree and other times he would think I was wrong. But we’d talk it through together, because that’s our mother son relationship. Sometimes the conversations were heated or exhausting but they worked for us.

When providers, emergency services and mental health providers ignore parents of young adults, it can send a message. When adult mental health systems exclude family involvement, that message is even stronger. The message I hear when this happens is, We don’t value parents and family involvement. If I am hearing it, my son or daughter probably is as well. Sure, there are privacy concerns and it’s important that young adults learn to take the lead in treatment and life decisions. But they may not want to do that every time. Sometimes we all need a team and parents can be valuable team members.

Other adults in a young person’s life should be encouraged to be an ally. The Free Child Project encourages adults to be “allies to young people when they work with, connect, partner, and unite with young people in personal relationships.” They encourage adults to take on a partnership and support role and offer guidelines to do it well. But parents are not just any old adult. They are the only ones who can do all the things only parents can do. Why would we want to prune their role and stuff it into this thing called adult ally?

There has been a lot of recent attention, research and thinking about young people who are transitioning to adulthood. We understand better that the prefrontal cortex of the brain doesn’t fully mature until the mid-20s. We now understand that transition is a unique time between adolescence and adulthood. And so, the thinking goes, if this is a unique time, then parents should behave in unique ways. But is that true? Should we just be version 2.0 or 15.0 of the parent we’ve always been?

I am not saying it’s easy to figure out your role when your child turns 18. It’s not. But it doesn’t easily fit into a slot either. Sometimes you are an ally and sometimes you’re the one saying, “Wait a minute here. “ Sometimes you are amazed and astounded at what your child knows and sometimes you shake your head and say, “Really, that’s your decision? Okaaaaaay.” We used to call this a generational gap but it’s more like an experience gap. Our experiences change how we look at things. It can make us cautious or cynical. Youth can have a fresh perspective. We sometimes have to remind ourselves how wonderful that is.

There is room at the table for many voices. Those voices change in tone, in volume and in how often they speak. Transition to adulthood is a time when that happens. As parents, we learn to be less the authority and more the coach or mentor. Sometimes we are not either one but simply the observer until we are asked to participate. That’s okay; that’s what all parents have to learn. What’s different for parents of young people with emotional and behavioral challenges is that we have to learn to set our anxiety or need to impact the outcome to one side and have faith our son or daughter will be okay. My father used to say, “You can’t learn to ice skate without falling down.” We need to believe it’s okay for them to fall down and just be there, when needed, after the fall. That’s what parents are for.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Posted in Blog Posts | 8 Comments »

Reaching Out

April 27th, 2015

rowofkidsReaching out and helping youth and young adults is very important. To give us attention shows us that you really care. Reaching out and helping is one of the best things that anybody can do. Look at all the trouble that happens to youth on the streets every day or that’s caused by youth and young adults.  We search for support with our actions. We speak out to you with no answer. It’s our cry for help.

I am amongst the youth and have done things in the past in an attempt for attention and support. I have set fires and even fought at school. I’ve been to different programs in three different systems. I stuck with a few programs for a while but eventually ran or decided they were not for me. One program has been helping me for five years now. I think they will always be there for me.

I have been going to PPAL and Youth MOVE for five years. It is a wonderful placed to go that reaches out to you. They talk to you, ask you how you’re doing, and offer you help whenever they can. PPAL has helped me a lot. Helped with things such as getting my ID, helping me find a job, and given me people I can talk to.  PPAL has groups every week for youth and young adults. It’s a good place to talk because it’s not run by doctors or people sitting in the corner with a clipboard, it is just youth talking to each other. We have dinner together. I can also hang out with other youth and young adults that are around my age group and listen to their experiences. I can get feedback about how I can deal with some of my experiences in the past or even problems I have now.

Before coming to PPAL I was really scared to talk about anything and when I opened my gates and started talking, I felt so much better. I began coming constantly and kept getting support emotionally and now I help as well. I help set up the groups and run parts of the meetings. Sometimes I stay away for a while and am worried about going back. I worry about how I might be judged. PPAL doesn’t judge me for why I was away. They welcome me back and help me get back on track. They offer to help.

I am a troubled youth just like a lot of youth. Many of us feel alone and like we have it the worst, but you are not alone. Talk to somebody. Open up. You might find somebody who is reaching out to you. I can personally say that a lot of people at PPAL know what they are talking about. We don’t fake it. We know how you feel. We will help.

 

This blog was written by a 19-year-old young adult member of Youth MOVE Massachusetts. They have lived experience in mental health, child welfare, and juvenile justice systems. Their strengths include leadership skills and writing poetry to name just two.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Blog Posts | Comments Off on Reaching Out

Have you experienced patient profiling?

April 12th, 2015

emergency roomHave you ever heard of patient profiling? It takes place when medical–and mental health–professionals make an assumption about someone seeking care based on their appearance, race, gender, financial status or even the kind of illness they have, such as mental health or substance use problems. The first time I came across this was in an article written by Pamela Wible, MD, who recounted patient stories where the personal judgment of a medical person resulted in poorer care. She worried that, similar to racial profiling by police, patient profiling is more common than we want to admit. And it undermines care.

When I first heard about patient profiling, I immediately thought of my younger son. A few years ago (when he was in his early 20s), he woke up on a Sunday morning with horrible vertigo, He couldn’t stand, couldn’t focus and couldn’t drive. I took him to the local emergency room where they asked a series of routine questions: Are you on any medication? (No.) Have you ever experienced this before? (No.) Have you had anything alcoholic to drink? (Yes, one beer last night with friends. I was the designated driver.) Unfortunately, the questions stopped after he said he had had that beer the night before. He was given intravenous fluids, allowed to rest and sent home. The next day, his very irate primary care doctor sent him to a different emergency room where he was treated for inflammation of the inner ear.

For my son, staff at the first emergency room decided that a young adult in his 20s experienced vertigo because he had been drinking. They made a snap judgment and his treatment was delayed. To this day, he feels a general mistrust of emergency room staff.

For children and youth with mental health needs and their families, patient profiling happens far too often. It happens in the emergency room and it happens in visits to medical specialists. One mom, whose daughter had both a diagnosis of depression and frequent migraines – for which she was seeing a specialist – waited four days recently in the emergency room because no inpatient beds were available. She was told that her daughter couldn’t receive migraine medication while waiting because that was drug seeking behavior And it was probably part of the bipolar anyway. The mother was frantic when she called us and very frustrated that her daughter’s care was all being lumped under mental health. She felt the emergency room staff had stopped their assessment of her daughter’s needs after they heard about the bipolar disorder.

This doesn’t just happen in emergency rooms. It happens with medical specialists who think that mental health concerns have caused medical symptoms. It happens when doctors call parents “enmeshed” or “co-dependent” and don’t see them as a resource and partner but instead as part of the problem. It happens when young people are seen as their diagnosis and not as a valuable self-reporter and critical thinker.

That said, there is a fine line between patient profiling that can help or harm. Doctors, nurses, therapists and other workers often form an initial impression based on their experiences or their training. They often need this starting point to determine a course of action. But – and this is the crucial piece – that starting point needs updating as new information comes in. A second impression or a third is often in order. When the initial judgment is incomplete or inaccurate and it is not revised, it can be harmful.

A cornerstone of good care is excellent communication. While this is often characterized as the doctor or medical professional communicating to the patient, it should be a two-way street. Mutual exchange of information is critical but so is mutual listening. In any human interaction, the only way we can truly connect is when we get past our snap judgments and see who is actually there.

When a child is in crisis or when her need for care is urgent, parents are rarely at their best. Most often, there have been many stressful days or weeks before this point which have worn them down. We rely on medical staff to see beyond the diagnosis to the whole child, teen or young adult. We trust them to see our committment and strength in the midst of the frenzy. We hope they will see us as a key member of the team, not as a “less than” parent to be held at arm’s length.

When this doesn’t happen due to patient profiling, we all lose.

Tags: , , , ,

Posted in Blog Posts | 7 Comments »

How PPAL has Helped Me

March 4th, 2015

leaveshouseI know that Youth MOVE and PPAL are specified as a non-therapeutic group. That is because clinicians are not allowed to attend the groups or meetings. There is no therapy involved, yet they have helped me through a lot. They gave me a place to go when times were tough. I looked forward to going to the Youth Groups and attending the conference each year. That was possibly the only thing that kept me looking forward.

I’ve been home schooled for the past 2 years of my life because of issues with bullying. I remember being so afraid the first time Lydia and my sister Bella, also an intern, talked me into going to one of the youth groups. I hadn’t been close to kids around my age for awhile. I remember saying to Lydia that I was too scared and shy to be there.  Their exact words to me were, “Oh good, you’ll fit right in!” So with that I went into that youth room scared out of my mind but came out a completely different person.
I started to get excited to go to group each week! If I missed one on my own accord I’d feel bad – like my week wasn’t completed. It gave me a sense of hope in myself. I thought I’d never get to go into a place with other teens and come out alive. Without PPAL I may never had been able to fully go to a place surrounded by people and actually feel safe.

I started my internship at the age of 13.  I was glad I could be a help to the staff there. Lydia, Meri, Britt, Beth, Chandra, Pawel and others are all like a family to me. I’d gladly spend more time at the office than sitting around at home! I did simple things such as fold brochures, set up the room for group, make copies, clean up after group, and yet I was always thanked with so much enthusiasm.  It was nice to finally have something to do and I actually felt useful for the first time in a long while.

The main way PPAL has helped me is the support they have given me. I was able to pick myself back up thanks to the support I got from PPAL and Youth M.O.V.E.  I never could’ve accomplished so much without knowing that they were right there cheering me on.  Also, another important fact is they provided a place to go to get out of my house.  So to those whom it may concern, I do not go to the group for the pizza. I don’t even really like pizza. I go to see the family I have made there.

Ally C is an 8th grade student from Worcester, MA. She has been writing since a young age. Some of her hobbies include writing poetry and drawing. This is her first blog for PPAL.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Blog Posts | 6 Comments »