At the end of first grade, Jan Tendick began getting e-mails from her daughter Kaiah’s teacher, informing her that the 7-year-old was losing focus and having crying episodes at school.
Meanwhile on the homefront, at night Kaiah had begun seeking self-comfort by climbing into bed with Tendick, which was new, habitual and a probable sign that something deeper was going on with her daughter, says the 62-year-old retired occupational therapist.
Tendick, a biological mother of two children, now is raising three adopted daughters, ages 8 to 21, including Kaiah, as well as fostering a fourth little girl.
All of her children possess a range of chronic health issues, that are being addressed by the health providers at the Infant Welfare Society Children’s Clinic in Oak Park, she says, where medical, dental and mental health services co-exist.
However, last year, at the time of this crisis, Tendick says she was a board member of the nonprofit, and “didn’t want other people to know that Kaiah was sleeping with me every night,” she says.
“I knew that there was a series of things causing her change in behavior, and I finally sought out help out of sheer desperation,” she says. Kaiah underwent a mental health assessment last fall, and then started one-on-one counseling sessions with the clinic’s child therapist. Kaiah, now 8, has learned how to positively modify her behaviors.
“When we would ask her why do you have trouble sleeping, she couldn’t even think of the words,” Tendick says. “That is why the play and art aspect of the therapy worked really well for her.”
Wake up call
Disruptive and disorganized sleep patterns in children, says Colette Lueck, managing director of the Children’s Health Partnership, is a typical way that young children demonstrate distress.
“Sometimes it is connected to a current issue that they are anxious about, or something that happened long ago, and they are suddenly feeling that they are in a safe enough environment that now they can deal with their feelings about it,” says Lueck, who is also an Oak Park village trustee. “So, the sleep disorder can occur way after the precipitating event, and it is not an uncommon pattern at all.”
Lueck adds that anytime a parent has a concern about their child, they need to seek out a mental health professional to get an assessment.
“Maybe it is something that is transitional and will work its way out…but maybe it isn’t,” she says. “A good professional will help the parents figure that out and decide what the best course of action is for that particular child.”
Lueck adds that a parent not seeking out help because of the stigma surrounding mental illness is not uncommon either, particularly in a community such as Oak Park where parents are “so focused on child achievement, and if your child is not above average, it can be very isolating, and very difficult to feel comfortable about talking about the struggles you are having,” she says.
But, talking to other parents who are struggling with some of the same kinds of concerns, whether that is around autism, or mental health issues, or other developmental impacts, can be important and helpful in terms of de-isolation and support.
“Stigma is a major reason that some kids don’t get any treatment, or even get their mental health issues addressed because no one wants to admit that they have a mental health issue because there is so much stigma attached to it,” says Lueck.