Chester Dudley was diagnosed with autism at 5 years old. When he reached his late teens, his mother had growing concern about the resources that would be available for him once he entered adulthood. Fortunately, Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center made the transition for Chester easier.
When Chester Dudley was 3 years old, his mother, Stella Ogiale, enrolled him into a child care center located near their home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
After a few months, Ogiale received a startling message from the center telling her that there might be something wrong with Chester.
“They told me I needed to get him checked,” Ogiale said. “When I heard that, I became so emotional and upset that I stopped taking him there.”
She thought her son’s hyperactive behavior was like any other child’s, but to give her peace of mind, she decided to have him evaluated.
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, On the Pulse shares a story about a mother with 3-year-old twin daughters who have autism and her showing of gratitude for the relentless care and support that the Seattle Children’s Autism Center staff has provided her family.
Nataly Cuzcueta felt like a proud parent when she witnessed her twin daughters, Kira and Aliya, smile, laugh and walk for the first time.
Seeing them reach these milestones left no doubt in Cuzcueta’s mind that their development was right on track.
However, when her daughters turned 11 months old, everything changed.
With stories of sexual abuse perpetrated by public figures continuing to be in the spotlight, as well as the rise of the #MeToo movement, there is a growing need for parents and caregivers to educate children and teens about the difficult topic of sexual abuse.
“Before the age of 18, one in every four girls and one in every six boys will be sexually abused,” said Dr. Lynda Lee Carlisle, a psychiatrist and trauma specialist from Seattle Children’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine clinic. “While it can happen to any child, those most vulnerable are intellectually disabled or identify as LGBTQ+.”
Sexual abuse is rarely committed by a stranger. It is often by someone who the child knows and trusts. While some may think sexual abuse only involves physical contact, it can also be done without contact in the form of inappropriate photos or videos, exposure or other behavior.
Sam Foster, 19, has struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder for most of his life. At first he felt ashamed of it, until he began expressing himself through music and underwent intensive treatment at Seattle Children’s. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson
When Sam Foster steps onstage, guitar in hand, he lights up the room with his confident presence.
Yet behind his poised demeanor is a painful truth that begins to unravel as he lets his lyrics flow through the microphone.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, OCD is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder. It occurs when a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts, known as obsessions, and behaviors that they feel the urge to repeat over and over, known as compulsions.
In response to the social stigma that often surrounds mental health disorders, Sam initially felt ashamed of having OCD. That was, until he began expressing himself through writing music and eventually got the treatment he desperately needed.
Julie Munko tried to manage her daughter Annie’s anxiety on her own until she found a therapeutic program at Seattle Children’s that dramatically improved their lives.
Imagine if you had a child who cried themselves to sleep at night because they had no friends; who called themselves “horrible” and drew disparaging images of themselves in their journal; who suffered physical pain when they wore clothes or gave you a hug.
This was once the reality for Julie Munko and her daughter Annie, who suffered from an anxiety disorder. But today, their lives are completely different, thanks to skill-based therapy at Seattle Children’s that pushed Annie outside of her comfort zone.
Crawling out of her skin
Munko first noticed Annie’s anxious behavior in fourth grade. Annie desperately avoided the school library and cried at night if she had to go there the following day. She no longer wanted to sleep over with friends or go to parties.
By fifth grade, it began affecting her school life. Annie became distressed if she unexpectedly had a substitute teacher. She ran out of the classroom if her computer was not working properly. Annie was an excellent student but panicked if her teacher’s instructions were unclear or if she was having trouble with an assignment.
April Merrill is a 6-year-old who loves to sing and dance. Yet, her struggle with an anxiety disorder called selective mutism hinders her ability to do the activities that showcase her vibrant and joyful personality.
“Her voice disappears, as April describes it,” said Kelly Merrill, April’s mother. “She said that she wants to talk but can’t seem to find her voice.”
As April was growing up, Merrill noticed signs in her daughter that indicated something might be wrong.
“When April started to talk, she could only verbalize 20 or so words,” said Merrill. “She was 2 years old at the time and I noticed she couldn’t expand her vocabulary.”
Emily Talbot, 17, shares her story about her lifelong battle with a rare brain disease and how she has overcome the physical and mental health challenges caused by the condition through writing and performing music.
Although I look like any other 17-year-old, people don’t know that I live in pain 24 hours a day.
Since the age of 7, I have had 14 brain surgeries, 12 back surgeries and 6 stomach surgeries. I can’t begin to count how many spinal taps I’ve had.
There is a tremendous need for improved access to mental health care and resources for children and teens nationwide.
At Seattle Children’s, its commitment to helping address this need spans not only within the Seattle community, but throughout the region.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 children have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, such as anxiety or depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, disruptive behavior disorder, and Tourette syndrome.
While early intervention is key in managing mental health issues, only about 20% of children with disorders receive care from a specialized mental health care provider.
That’s why Seattle Children’s is continuously working to enhance access to mental health services, promote education and research, and advocate for families affected by mental illness.
The following describes three of the many innovative programs and initiatives that Seattle Children’s offers to help improve mental health care for all children.
Brendan Bittinger, 9, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder using a team evaluation model developed at the Seattle Children’s Autism Center.
Some say ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ At Seattle Children’s Autism Center, this concept came to life to a certain degree through the development of a collaborative method for diagnosing autism in children that aimed to improve the diagnostic process and increase efficiency, with the potential of leading to better patient outcomes.
Linda Bittinger’s 9-year-old son Brendan found his ‘village’ at the Autism Center in June 2017 when a team made up of providers from different disciplines came together for a thoughtful diagnostic evaluation that would shape his treatment path to progress.
“When we received his diagnosis, I felt a sense of optimism,” said Bittinger. “I had less worries knowing there were opportunities for treatment. And since then, he’s made tremendous strides.”
John Madden, now 22 years old, has referred to his stay as a teenager in the Seattle Children’s Psychiatric and Behavioral Medicine Unit as the 10 most important days of his life.
When John Madden was 16 years old, the growing stress from his demanding academic schedule became a catalyst for larger issues.
Madden had withdrawn from friends and family. His misuse of prescription medication and use of illicit drugs to cope with the stress further aggravated undiagnosed mental conditions. Bouts of depression and mania sometimes left him sleepless for days with little control over his thoughts and actions.
“I had this Hollywood view of treatment and thought it was going to jump from talking to being restraint-oriented, locked in a room and treated sub-human,” Madden said. “I wanted to avoid that stigma about what goes on in mental health hospitals.”
Seattle Children's complies with applicable federal and other civil rights laws and does not discriminate, exclude people or treat them differently based on race, color, religion (creed), sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin (ancestry), age, disability, or any other status protected by applicable federal, state or local law. Financial assistance for medically necessary services is based on family income and hospital resources and is provided to children under age 21 whose primary residence is in Washington, Alaska, Montana or Idaho.