Creating a Mental Health System for Children in Iowa

Hello Friends!  I am happy to report things are going pretty well since my last post reflecting on Sam’s start to middle school.  He comes home with not a lot to say, but in this case, I am prone to believe no news is good news!  I think the faster pace, changing of classrooms, new teachers and environment are serving him well.

In other news, Sam and I were featured in a Des Moines Register article this week about the state of a mental health system in Iowa for children.  The article talks about Sam’s struggles to find assistance and how he is not alone.  A 2017 report found that Iowa has 8 specialists per 100,000 children, a lower ratio than in neighboring states, except South Dakota. The report, from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, recommends states have at least 47 psychiatrists for every 100,000 children.  I know I have said it time and time again, but we can do better than this!

A new 20 person statewide children’s mental health board, appointed by Governor Reynolds, has been formed to make recommendations for creating a statewide system for children.  This gives me hope, however, I know the battle is still uphill.  Funding will need to be appropriated and the topic of lack of providers is real.

What can you do?  Keep advocating, keep battling the stigma and talk to your elected officials about this very important topic.  Iowa is a great state, but its children deserve a mental health system that provides the necessary support, treatment options, and comprehensive care that mentally ill children need. Good luck to the appointed Board and let’s keep charging!


Back to School: Reflections as my Son Begins Middle School

As I walked a good ten feet behind Sam up to the middle school for orientation this week, our argument about why I couldn’t just walk with him, how I better not embarrass him and how he just wanted to go inside himself could be heard by all. With a tear running down my face, I just kept asking why and what do you need? Finally, he turned around and with a very determined look on his face said calmly and clearly, “I am going to fit in at this school.” And it hit me, there was no why and he didn’t really need me at that moment. This was a new school for him, a new year and time for new opportunities.

After a few rough elementary school years I started saying to myself, “I just need to help this child function and be productive in the world. That’s it.” The days of hoping Sam was going to be a star student, popular or even happy, were fading. It almost feels surreal that a few years later, we have come a long way.

Can Sam function? – Absolutely. With the grace of a team of amazing doctors and the support of therapists, friends, teachers and family members, he is doing great! Do we have rough patches, absolutely, but the good days outweigh the bad. Sam has learned coping skills through therapy that help him manage his emotions and relate better to peers. Our family continues to learn to be kind to each other, be understanding and be patient in times of distress. It’s a lifelong learning process.

Is Sam productive? – It depends on how you define the word. The boy has ADHD and productivity can be difficult. Sometimes the basic notion of completing a task seems impossible. However, everyday, little things I used to have to walk him through with lists or an elevated tone of voice, get done on his own. Teeth are brushed, hair is combed and bags are packed.

Is Sam happy? – I really think so. Last night, we received notification he made a select basketball team. For the child who is in the second percentile in height, this is a pretty big deal. He jumped in the air, yelled YES and had the biggest smile on his face. He then turned to his dad and said, “Do you want to shoot some hoops?” Our whole family went out and watched together. That is happiness.

Today is the first day of middle school for Sam. He wouldn’t let me take him, no pictures, no hugs, no walking together up the sidewalk. So, I guess I will take his lead, let him be the strong independent boy he is and sit quietly with my coffee and work. He is happy, he is ready and he is able to walk confidently into middle school by himself and find his way to fit in. Good luck, my sweet boy!

P.S. – I’ll be picking you up at 3:25 pm and will expect a hug!

3 Tips to Tackle Summer Boredom

Let’s be real. Every child eventually gets bored during summer break. So, imagine if the success of your day depended on a strict and predictable schedule. That’s what we face in our house with our son’s ADHD, bipolar and anxiety disorder. We all long for summers of flexibility, relaxing and slower schedules, but it can be downright rough for my family.

What do you do for summer care when a routine is so important?  You name it, we have tried it. Private nanny, daycare, summer camps and even my husband or myself working from home. For some reason, nothing seems to stick. Through the good and the bad, here are three things to keep in mind while tackling summer boredom.

Remember, It’s Not All About Your Child – It is your summer too! Yes, you heard me right. It is ok to say to your child, “Today we are just going to relax and enjoy the sunshine.” Or better yet, make a conscious effort to find someone to watch your child so YOU can take time to chill out.

Keep a Schedule as Much as Possible – During the summer, we try as much as possible to keep on a schedule even though it is hard.  This means going to bed at the same time, normal meal times and scheduling activities like swimming, Xbox, walks around the block, a quick shopping trip, etc. If you use a daycare, try to find one that doesn’t have huge chunks of “free time” on the schedule, but rather keeps a daily plan of events and activities.

Be OVER Flexible and Ready for Challenges – Summer used to be a time I couldn’t wait to embrace. Now, quite honestly, I hate it. It is consistently the most difficult time of year for my son and my entire household is forced into a state of irritability. This forces me to ramp up my flexibility factor and be “on point” for unusual challenges. It’s not fun, but it is just the way it is. See point number one above!

What do you do to tackle summer boredom? Whatever it is I hope it includes some time for yourself to enjoy the sun and take a little bit of a break from daily challenges. Good luck, it will be over soon!