Imagine an adorable 3 year old boy unbuckling himself from his car seat, leaning forward, and yanking his mother’s hair – while she is driving…Imagine that same little boy, now 7, threatening to kill himself with a knife…and actually pulling a knife on his 9 year old sister Nicole…
His name is Zach and his behavior eluded doctors on the West Coast, where the family had been living. “He’s a boy…he’ll grow out of it” seemed to be the explanation the family had heard for years.
But Zach’s issues went far deeper than his being a mischievous kid who flirted with danger. And his parents, Livia and Ernie, knew it.
Zach couldn’t let his parents or his sister out of his sight. No one was allowed to leave the house without him because he was terrified something would happen to them. Even a game of hide and seek with Nicole produced such a level of anxiety for Zach that he once threw himself down a flight of stairs in his panic to find her. And despite his verbal and physical threats, he would lay down his life for his family – running out into traffic if he thought one of them might get hurt while crossing the street.
The family was caught in a rollercoaster ride of Zach’s fears, his anger, his outbursts, his threats … his emotional pain. And not surprisingly, this wreaked havoc not only on the marriage but on young Nicole, who was already struggling with anxiety herself.
When the family relocated to Massachusetts for work, they continued their exhaustive search for answers and that’s when Livia and Ernie learned about Bradley Hospital’s Crisis Center. Zach was 8 and Nicole was 10.
“Coming to Bradley Hospital was the best decision we ever made,” said Livia recently.
The family finally had a diagnosis for Zach’s behavior – ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And the healing for the entire family could begin.
A tailored medication regimen was prescribed for Zach and this was coupled with a form of therapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. The focus of CBT is to change the thought process that contributes to anxiety.
An example of this was helping Zach to tolerate his parents leaving the house without him. After being exposed to that situation a number of times and using deep breathing exercises that he had been taught…and finally realizing that nothing bad had happened to him or his parents… Zach was able to redirect his thoughts so that he would no longer panic when his parents walked out the door.
Clearly all the family changes that had to be made to help Zach would take time and hard work. And because Bradley Hospital’s approach is a family-centered one, everyone was involved. And then Nicole’s anxiety, which had been controlled, began to alarmingly escalate. She would not go outside alone. She would not eat with her friends at school and was developing a fear of eating. Instead of becoming more independent, she became so dependent on her mother that she wouldn’t leave her side.
Fortunately, the team at Bradley Hospital was already familiar with the family and they immediately began working with Nicole as they continued their therapy with Zach. Nicole too was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, and additionally, ADD. Nicole has been prescribed a tailored medication and participates in CBT therapy.
I am happy to report that both children are doing extremely well.
Jennifer Kittler, Co-Director of Bradley Hospital and Zach and Nicole’s therapist, has said that the entire family is in a better place than they were two years ago and added modestly, “I just helped them to be who they were meant to be without being hampered by the symptoms.”
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