Easter Seals Story: Getting Help for Asperger's Syndrome
Was it ADD? Anxiety? The Kozak family didn't know what was plaguing their daughter Abby. But with the help of Easter Seals Michigan, they found out and got the treatment and services they needed.
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For years, Margaret Kozak and her husband, Scott, wondered how they could help their daughter Abby, now 16, who was prone to furious meltdowns and other behavior problems.
"It's been a difficult process to get her diagnosed," explains the Rochester mom. "At 6, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, then ADD, then severe anxiety. But nothing ever really explained why she was doing what she was doing. No matter what we tried to do, nothing worked."
Three years ago, when the Kozaks' health insurance changed, they were referred to Easter Seals for a new therapist for Abby. "I knew that Easter Seals had services for disabled children, but I wasn't sure what they could do for our family. I wondered, 'How is this going to work?'" Kozak says.
That question doesn't surprise Easter Seals Michigan president and CEO Brent Wirth.
"A lot of people know our name, but don't know exactly what we do," says Wirth. "When people think of Easter Seals, I want them to understand that we are a community resource not just for the individual, but for the entire family. You can call us when you need help, and if we don't have the services you need, we'll make sure that we find out who does."
Wirth points out that throughout Easter Seals' 93 years of serving people in Michigan, it's actively sought ways to provide the kind of services that people – both adults and children – need within the community. It's all part of the Easter Seals mission to help individuals with disabilities and special needs, and their families, live better lives.
For Kozak, Easter Seals worked to match her daughter, who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, with a therapist who understood Abby's needs. Their therapist was then able to develop a comprehensive approach to Abby's care – setting her up with additional help at her school, getting her involved with Easter Seals programs and providing support to the Kozaks through individual counseling for all family members.
After several meetings with the Kozaks and their daughter, therapist Marianna Fletcher asked them how much they knew about Asperger's syndrome (also called high-functioning autism). Fletcher diagnosed Abby with the disorder and began treating her with behavioral therapies. Abby's psychiatrist prescribed medication to help, as well.
While life for the Kozaks didn't change overnight, the family began to notice improvements in their lives both at home – and for Abby at school.
"The way to think about all forms of autism, no matter how severe or how mild, is that these children want predictability," says Dr. Richard Solomon, M.D., vice president of medical affairs for Easter Seals Michigan and a developmental and behavioral pediatrician with more than 25 years of experience. "They want to keep the world the same – they want life to be predictable; they don't want surprises. Their brains are not complex enough to handle uncertainty."