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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.

Understanding Asperger's

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."

Jul 10, 2013 06:44 pm
 Posted by  marzs13

Hi, I have an adult son who has a lot of social anxiety. It started around age 16, but has progressed since. He self medicated by getting high all through his teens. He has been in more than a few rehab programs and hospitals. I don't think it's a substance abuse problem as much as it is him just wanting to feel normal or what he thinks is normal. He has problems with noise and crowds. He doesn't have any real friends and never finished high school, although he tried but could never sit in the classroom. The noise and other students talking would distract him or he would think they were talking about him and eventually he would leave. He stayed in school until he was 20 then he tried to get his GED. Unfortunately, because of the bad choices he's made he finally got in trouble with the police. Mostly for stupid things where he was only hurting himself. He doesn't seem to be able to work because he can't deal with people. We're at a loss on what to do and someone said that you deal with mental illness. He has been diagnosed with being bipolar and border line schizophrenia. I don't know if that is what's going on or if it could be something else. What I do know? He's a good person and doesn't want to feel this way. He gets in trouble out of frustration. He feels lost and hopeless and has lost faith that there will ever be anything to help him and I don't know what to do at this point. The last time he was at the hospital, they told me I should be trying to get him on disability. Anyway I guess I just want to know if you can point me in the right direction. Thanks for your time.

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