School’s In…At Home

School started on August 25, 2020 and wow, it’s been an experience.

Cameron is in the 10th grade, Julian is in 9th and Lily is in 7th.

Let’s start with Julian, he’s made the biggest adjustment.

Julian has an IEP, which was last completed last October. These have to be updated by the date listed on it, which in his case is October 22. I was a little worried that we would be late on it because of backlog- some schools were starting of end of year meetings when school closed in Kentucky. I’ve got a friend who is a school psychologist in Northern Kentucky and she has 56 meetings to do this year, some of which are catching up. YIKES, Melanie, I wish you luck.

It’s gonna be a hard year for educators

I wouldn’t have been mad if the meeting would have been late- I get it. Since the Kentucky Department of Education doesn’t like late paperwork, I guess the school is trying its best.

I got an email from the ECE director inviting me to a Zoom meeting on October 22. We will be meeting for the first time and discussing Julian’s adjustment to high school and any issues he may have had so far. Thanks to his IEP, he has access to an aide almost everyday and of course, get double time on testing. There are other items listed, but those are two of the most important ones. We also have to discuss his path to graduation because it’s required.

So far, Julian has done pretty well and I am happy with how he is doing. He’s still waiting for that first day flex.

How I really feel about NTI

Meanwhile, Cameron….

I know that sophomore year is rough, but this kid is doing a LOT here. He is fully capable of doing the work, but let it pile up. I’ve gotten numerous emails from teachers and one from his counselor. It turns out that he feels that he has too much work, and he talked to his counselor. He’s back on track, which is good, because he’s not about to fail his classes.

I struggled a bit with Cameron- should I let him fail the classes to let him learn a lesson? Or would he not care and just continue to not do his work? I think talking with his counselor helped, because things seem to be improving. I’m still jealous about his Pop Culture in American History class.

Cameron also wants to go back to school. I think he misses his friends.

Lily is doing great. I haven’t gotten a single email from her teachers about missing work or other issues. She’s become a bit of a night owl, so sometimes she stays up late and completes work for school. I have to remind her of what time it is and that she needs to go to bed. She definitely misses her friends and teachers.

When Will The Madness END?

According to the superintendent of JCPS, if the cases of COVID-19 continue to go down, kids can start going back to school the week of October 22. They will start with elementary school that day, then a week later 6th and 9th grades (because of the transition. These kids haven’t been inside their new schools yet) and a few days later, the other grades.

Julian would go back first then Cameron and Lily a week later.

Is it October 29 yet? I’m just hoping we don’t have to do this all year. My standards have changed a lot during this pandemic, including grades. Everyone has to pass all classes. That’s it. Anything else is really a bonus at the this point. It’s a weird mess to go to school online right now, but we will get through it.

Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and behavior health technician, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What?

This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like.

I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it.

Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure.

My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

Ten Tips for Becoming an Advocate for Your Child With Special Needs

When you are the parent of a child with special needs, there are many things to learn about- the diagnosis, medical equipment (if needed) or adaptive equipment, diets, etc. One of the best things you can learn is how to become an advocate for your child. I can’t stress the importance of this enough.

It can be super scary to speak up sometimes, but your child needs you to say what they sometimes can not- there are many factors that can keep a child from speaking up from their needs- speech and/or language delays, slow processing speed, anxiety, and so on. Being an advocate for your child can make you a stronger parent.

Parent and child

Julian’s Path to Awesomeness

Julian had a 504 plan almost immediately after starting kindergarten. His diagnosis came a couple of months later- severe ADHD, combined and autism.

It was a LOT. There is a post dedicated to finding out about the diagnosis, Looking at the Bright Side

The 504 plan worked- it took until 4th grade to get him an IEP. Why? Somehow, Julian’s issues didn’t really affect his work, but it did socially.

The IEP finally got put into place when he started 5th grade. His 4th-grade teacher (who has since become a friend and neighbor) submitted a ton of data to help the process.

Julian is in 8th grade and working on the transition to high school. According to Kentucky guidelines, he can attend meetings when he’s 14, which will be in July, or in 8th grade. My heart broke a little during the transition part of the meeting.

He makes good grades but still struggles with anxiety- you couldn’t pay him to present in front of a class. At the meeting earlier this year, I asked for accommodations for this. I don’t want that to affect his grades.

Meeting

Ten Tips for Helping

My number one tip for advocating?

I can’t say this enough but know your kid. Knowing what Julian does and doesn’t need has helped so much.

The other tips are:

2. Keep and organize paperwork. I have a binder full of Julian’s paperwork- report cards, the 504 plans, IEPs, everything he’s ever gotten from school. It helps when asking for a new plan if you’re forgetful (like me) or just so you can stay up to date.

3. Create relationships with teachers and staff.

My kids went to a great elementary school. The counselors were super helpful, and almost all of his teachers were great with him. My personal favorite was the teacher mentioned earlier. We love Allison. She’s a wonderful teacher and as an added bonus, she was a special education teacher for some time.

4. Ask ALL the questions.

If you don’t know what something means, ask. That’s what the staff is there for. When you’re starting out, there’s plenty of questions to ask, even the ones you think maybe stupid.

5. Know your child’s rights.

Each state has a different way of doing things in this area. Research the IDEA. The reading can get a bit hard but it’s well worth it.

6. Talk to your child. This is the best way to know if the IEP accommodations are actually being used- for example, Julian gets extra time on testing and this is super important during state testing. Teachers have to go by a student’s IEP/504 Plan.

Your child can learn to self-advocate as they advance through school.

7. Communicate with teachers. Try to stay as pleasant as possible. If things don’t go well, speak to an assistant principal. Remember that the main goal is to get the best plan possible for your child.

8. Remember that you are not alone. Millions of other parents are going down the same road.

9. Research, research, and research.

There’s new information coming out all the time about learning disabilities, assorted medical issues and so on. Knowing the newest information can help you feel more confident when advocating for your child.

10. Plan for the future. I try to plan for one school year at a time, but once Julian hit middle school, it hit me that he will be in high school then an adult soon.

Yikes.

I started looking at high school programs last year and we picked a program to apply for. The next meeting to finish his transition plan is later this year.

Getting kids through school is a challenge in itself. Why make it harder?

Information courtesy of

Very Well Family

5 Facts About SVT

Parenting is challenging. Sometimes we are given those challenges out of nowhere. Cameron has been my “easiest” kid so far but yet gave us the biggest scare.

A Bit Of Background

Cameron was diagnosed with SVT in June 2015. This was discussed a bit in The Hardest Parts of Parenting

His diagnosis came after a game of basketball that led to an ER trip and scaring everyone in his elementary school in the process. Heart issues are very common in both Matthew and my families.

Cameron has been back to the hospital a few times since, due to more (smaller) episodes and for a small procedure to stop the episodes in 2017.

Due to some small episodes, he has had to be on a heart monitor for a month twice. I yelled at different customer service people over shipping complications with the stickers both times.

Mama Bear does make appearances from time to time, everyone. I try to be a nice person but when you mess with my son’s health…

Luckily, we live near a hospital that is amazing and Cameron has a cardiologist that spent his many years in school learning how to take care of kid-sized hearts.

The monitor came off both times without any issues being noted. He only goes back if anything comes up and as of yet, nothing. I will karate chop anyone, however, that even thinks of giving him anything caffeinated.

This includes energy drinks- no Monster drinks at this house. He currently takes two medications for migraines. One helps with his heart, so we consider it a two-for-one. The other is just for migraines.

Hospital pic

What IS SVT? Five facts

The last time I talked about this, I either said to Google it (because Google knows all) or I left a link, but this time, I’ll educate.

I decided on this because one of my greatest nightmares with Cameron is him collapsing during a basketball game and dying like I’ve seen numerous times on the news.

Most kids that die in that way during a sports game had a previously undiagnosed heart condition- either Long QT syndrome or sometimes SVT. Please bear with me, everyone, I’m not a cardiologist.

  1. SVT is an abbreviation for supraventricular tachycardia

This means that the electrical system in your heart works incorrectly, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and in some cases, loss of consciousness. In Cameron’s case, he passed out in his first episode because his blood pressure dropped. His school immediately called me and an ambulance.

I couldn’t make it to the school in time, so the principal rode to the hospital with him, where I met them. In his second and more severe episode, he didn’t pass out, but he couldn’t walk and I had to get a wheelchair because I couldn’t carry his 12-year-old self in. I did make him stay awake in the car. He was in the hospital for four days that time.

The last few episodes weren’t as serious- but still not fun.

2. SVT can happen at any time, but episodes can happen years apart or never again.

I didn’t like hearing this part at all. It scared the hell out of me. I was afraid to let Cameron do anything for a while after his diagnosis because I was scared it might trigger an episode but he’s got to live his life, right?

He went from June 2015 to March 2017 between episodes before his procedure. That’s not bad. He’s had a few small ones since the procedure but nothing that required hospitalization.

3. There are some known triggers, but then it can also happen while you’re doing nothing or can wake you up from sleep.

Cameron has had smaller episodes during migraines, which is why he is now on medication for both.

He is also not allowed to drink caffeine except for small amounts if he needs it during a migraine, and he stays well hydrated during the summer. That seemed to trigger both episodes. The last episode was triggered by Ultimate Frisbee in gym class and I think he may have been overheated.

4. SVT can stop on its own sometimes requires action to slow the heart rate.

During one of Cameron’s episodes, his heart rate was well over 200 and I was petrified. I had to stand in the hallway, peeking through the curtain as the nurses and doctors worked on him.

There are small maneuvers that you can do on your own, like blowing through a straw or blowing on your thumb, but sometimes those aren’t effective. In the ER, most patients are given medications through IV.

Cameron had to be given medication three times before being transferred to a downtown hospital, where he was in the ICU for three days before spending a fourth in a regular room.

5. There is a procedure that can stop SVT.

Cameron was eligible for an ablation. His two episodes were severe enough that his cardiologist suggested it as soon as he went into the ICU. Cameron was awake but sedated, and his cardiologist went into his heart, found the tissue that was causing the bad heartbeat and burnt it.

Cameron stayed overnight and was home the next day. He missed a couple of weeks of gym class, but I don’t think he minded that very much. It has a high success rate, but Matthew and I were both very scared something would go bad.

I mean, it is small heart surgery. It went well, and Cameron is an active kid. He can play all the basketball he wants.

SVT can be a scary condition. I still worry when Cameron is outside playing with his friends or at school- his school is well informed. He knows what to do if his chest starts hurting and so does everyone that he spends time with. If you want more information on this condition please go here.