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Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Last week, Grant Acord, a 17-year-old student in Oregon, was arrested on charges of attempted aggravated murder, among other things, after police found evidence supporting their suspicion that he was planning to build a bomb and blow up his school. Yesterday, his mother said in a statement that her son suffers from “PANDAS, a rare form of OCD.”
A few years back we ran a story about PANDAS, which stands for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections. Our article contained several examples of young children who had been developing completely typically until a strep infection triggered a radical change in their personality and behavior, marked by the same characteristics as a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Though the condition is supported by experts as well established as Susan Swedo, M.D., chief of the pediatrics and developmental neuroscience branch at the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), it’s a controversial one; many doctors don’t believe it exists.
Meanwhile, the parents whose children are diagnosed with it–and the children themselves–suffer terribly. They watch their son or daughter turn into a different child. They struggle to understand how to calm their child’s fears and how to protect their other children from the physical harm the affected child often inflicts. One mom we interviewed for our story had to quit her job to care for her son, and sell her home in order to pay for his treatment. For parents like these, and the parents of Grant Acord, the controversy surrounding the diagnosis isn’t nearly as important as simply finding an effective treatment. (In some cases, antibiotics helps to ease symptoms.)
Researchers are studying and revising what’s known about the condition all the time. In fact, last year, NIMH changed the name PANDAS to PANS–for pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome. The new name was designed to create a broader category of OCD that isn’t directly linked to strep.
The story in Oregon, which technically has a “happy” ending, brings up important points. One is that it’s crucial for children with mental health issues to get the right help. And another is that we need to teach our children to do what Grant Acord’s classmate did when he thought something seemed strange: He spoke up, and may have prevented an awful tragedy.
Image: Girl at the end of a tunnel via Shutterstock.
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Monday, June 4th, 2012
When your child takes his own life, what on earth do you do? For Denis Asselin, the answer has been to walk. For seven weeks and for more than 525 miles, Denis will have stopped along the way at some of the schools, homes, and hospitals that played a pivotal role in the life of his son, Nathaniel.
Nathaniel Asselin, the exceptionally handsome young man at right, suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which is when an imagined or slight flaw in one’s appearance becomes all-consuming. Up to 80 percent of people with BDD attempt or commit suicide; Nathaniel died in April 2011, at the age of 24. As difficult as his life was, it was filled with bright spots and much love. He and his younger sister, Carrie, shared an extraordinary bond, and he had a tight circle of close friends. Nathaniel was also a volunteer with his local EMS, and a middle-school cross-country coach beloved by his team.
Denis has found an incredible way to honor the life of his son and to raise awareness for BDD in particular. You can read a day-by-day account of his journey on his blog—and for those of you in Massachusetts, you might check out Denis’ route and track him down to say hello as he wraps up his final days of walking. This Thursday, June 7, the emotional odyssey will end in Boston, at a rally at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. If you’re unable to attend, you can still show your support for OCD and BDD by making a donation to the International OCD Foundation, and note that your contribution is in the memory of Nathaniel Asselin.
If you worry that you may know someone affected by BDD, look over this list of signs, and learn more about how to get help.
I just love this beautiful map drawn by Nathaniel’s mom, Judy.
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BDD, body dysmorphic disorder, Denis Asselin, International OCD Foundation, Nathaniel Asselin, obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, Walking With Nathaniel | Categories:
Doing Good, GoodyBlog, Health & Safety, News, Your Child
Sunday, May 6th, 2012
This week, speak up for children’s mental health issues. According to Parents advisor Harold Koplewicz, M.D., president of the Child Mind Institute (CMI), “Stigma, lack of awareness, and fear around mental health care prevent many parents and teachers from getting kids the support they need.”
In a joint survey of 1,000 parents between Parents magazine and the Child Mind Institute, 45% of parents said normal children are being labeled as mentally ill or having learning disorders because teachers can’t handle them. In addition, 50% of parents believe many doctors downplay the risks associated with putting kids on medication to treat ADHD and depression. (Read more results from the mental health survey.)
To help dispel the stigma, we’ve worked with the Child Mind Institute to bring you resources for helping kids with psychiatric and learning disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, OCD, and more. Watch a video of Dr. Koplewicz talking to Diane Debrovner, Deputy Editor of Parents magazine, about the survey results and ADHD. And go to our new Children’s Mental Health page (parents.com/mental-health) for more information on specific disorders and to watch videos from CMI.
Visit childmind.org/speakup to show your support for mental health awareness and to find events near you.
For more on Children’s Mental Health:
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Friday, February 24th, 2012
Sudden OCD in Kids? Culprit May Be Strep Throat, Other Infections
Brendan Wooldridge, 10, of St. Louis, was diagnosed with PANDAS nearly a year ago after suffering with OCD and other disorders linked to strep throat infections he had as a toddler.
Trying to Find a Cry of Desperation Amid the Facebook Drama
Mental health experts say that dark postings by adolescents should not be hastily dismissed because they can serve as an early warning system for timely intervention.
Over-Reactive Parenting Linked to Negative Emotions and Problem Behavior in Toddlers
Researchers have found that parents who anger easily and over-react are more likely to have toddlers who act out and become upset easily.
Seattle Boy Who Accidentally Shot Third-Grade Classmate Charged, Judge to Decide Whether Case Proceeds
Preliminary charges have been filed against the third-grade boy accused of accidentally shooting his 8-year-old classmate in their Seattle-area school.
Colleges Worry That Court Could Make Diversity Harder to Maintain
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The Supreme Court’s reconsideration of race as a factor in college admissions comes only nine years after a case that upheld the practice.
Thursday, February 16th, 2012
We’ve been hearing a lot these days about a disorder called PANDAS. Maybe you’ve read about 15 teenagers in upstate New York who suddenly developed what was originally described as a tic disorder? It’s now believed to be PANDAS.
PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infections. Essentially it means that for some children, being exposed to a bacterial infection such as strep can trigger severe symptoms of OCD. How? The infection triggers the immune system to produce antibodies intended to attack the infection. But the antibodies attack the brain instead—specifically, the basal ganglia, which is the part that controls emotions, behaviors, and physical movements.
It’s turned out to be a very controversial diagnosis. Some doctors say there just isn’t enough evidence to prove that strep or a similar infection can lead to OCD. Or that the studies proving its existence are flawed. They’ll say that the children who are “suddenly” acting vastly differently have probably been showing signs of OCD for months or years, and the parents just haven’t picked up on them.
We’ve just published a report on PANDAS, and the moms in our story would beg to disagree. They say their child’s personality radically changed—from one day to the next, literally. (PANDAS researchers say that’s the number-one hallmark of the disorder.) Can you imagine your previously well-adjusted second-grader becoming terrified of, say, radiation poisoning from the electronic devices in your home? That happened to one of the families in our article. What would you do if your happy-go-lucky 5-year-old started regularly kicking, hitting, and spitting at you and her siblings? That’s another example from our piece.
Despite the growing body of research behind PANDAS, and from organizations as esteemed at the National Institute of Mental Health, there’s lots that experts don’t know. For one thing, no one knows how common it is. Some experts say it affects up to 30 percent of all children with OCD (which affects between 1 and 2 percent of children). Others will go so far as to say it’s as prevalent as autism, and that doctors just don’t understand the condition well enough to diagnose it. Another sticking point: treatment. While some kids with PANDAS can be successfully treated with an extended course of antibiotics–because it halts the antibodies going after the brain–others take the meds long-term (as in months or years). This brings up the problem of antibiotic resistance, and doctors are not in agreement as to how risky long-term antibiotic use is.
When children don’t respond to antibiotics, parents can consider giving their child intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy, thought to boost the immune system by delivering concentrated amounts of antibodies from healthy blood donors. But IVIG is expensive and not usually covered by insurance, and not studied well enough for doctors to know exactly how many treatments are needed. And it doesn’t always work.
Some parents don’t buy PANDAS, either. When we posted our story on Facebook, some moms and dads expressed concern that PANDAS is just another way to excuse a poorly behaved child. Others said that there’s nothing odd about a kid who acts differently when he’s sick–though our story explains that the children don’t show signs of OCD until after their illness. We know this much: The topic generates a lot of passion, a lot of theories, and a lot of misinformation. When you read our story, let us know what you think.
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