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Does My Child Have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Q&A with Jolene Philo

Jolene Philo landed her first writing agent while working as the Director of Discipleship and Assimilation for her church. Since then she’s published several non-fiction books, including A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Children with Critical or Chronic Illness and Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs. She has several more non-fiction books on the way, including Does My Child Have PTSD, which is scheduled to be released in October 2015. We’re grateful for her time and her willingness to share her insights on children with special needs.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m an ordinary wife and mom who’s lived in Iowa all my life—except for the seven Little House on the Prairie-type years I spent in northwest South Dakota after my husband graduated from college. My husband grew up in Alaska and was born there before it became a state. We met at college and have been married since 1977. We have two children: our son was born in South Dakota, and our daughter was born six years after him, once we’d moved to Iowa. Both are adults making their way in the world now. My husband and I love to spend time with them and their families, which now include three beautiful grandchildren—all of whom we consider geniuses.

I taught school for twenty-five years in a wide variety of settings, including a ranch for troubled boys, primary grades in country school, elementary schools for the gifted and talented, and self-contained third- and fourth-grade classrooms with special needs kids who were being mainstreamed into classrooms. Since 2003, when I left teaching to pursue writing and speaking, I’ve had four books published that focus on special needs parenting, caregiving, and inclusion ministry: A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children; Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs; The Caregiver’s Notebook: An Organizational Tool and Support to Help You Care for Others; and Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs. I also blog about parenting kids with special needs at DifferentDream.com.

What role have disabilities played in your family? How have your experiences shaped your perspective?

Disability has been part of my life as long as I can remember. My father was twenty-nine (I was two) when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1959. The disease progressed rapidly at first; I can not remember him walking—only moving in a wheelchair. Then the course of the disease plateaued, allowing my mom, my older sister, and my younger brother to help care for him in our home until 1983 when he developed diabetes. From then on he required nursing home care. He lived in a nursing home until his death in 1997. He was the youngest resident when he moved there, the youngest resident when he died, and he had been there the longest.

Our son was born in 1982 with a life-threatening birth defect that required immediate surgery at birth, a total of seven surgeries by age five, and dozens and dozens of invasive medical procedures. He had his final surgery at age fifteen, and his physical health has been good since then. Unfortunately, he’s lived with undiagnosed PTSD ever since, which was caused by all the early medical treatment. At age twenty-six he was successfully treated for PTSD, but coping with PTSD will always be part of his life.

My life and my perspective have been shaped by my experiences as a daughter and a mom. Over the years, I have learned that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. As my mother cared for Dad for thirty-eight years, she taught me the true meaning of the vow “in sickness and in health.” I have learned the importance of a strong support system for caregiving families, and I have learned about the dangers of isolation. Without my faith, my church family, my extended family, and my good friends, my family might not have made it through the challenges we faced.

How common is PTSD among children?

The best answer is probably this: PTSD is much more common than people believe. I recently read a new statistic that said PTSD is more common among children of poverty than it is among war vets.

Some common causes of PTSD include physical, sexual, and verbal abuse; natural disasters; accidents; fires; war; terrorist attacks; hostage situations; observing domestic abuse or murder; and longer-lasting situations including neglect, hunger, homelessness, and poverty. Even situations like adoption, invasive medical procedures, or foster care can cause PTSD. With that many causes–and there are many more–PTSD is more prevalent in children than we would like to believe.

How do you hope Does My Child Have PTSD? will help families?

Dr. Steve Grcevich, a child psychiatrist, once asked me the same question. I thought a while before finally saying, “I’m a translator. I take what the mental health care community of therapists, child psychologists, and psychiatrists already know, and translate it into a language parents, teachers, daycare providers, coaches, club leaders, and children’s ministry workers can understand.”

The book provides parents with the basics about PTSD–definitions, causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention–as well as a look at recent research in the field. Does My Child Have PTSD? is not the definitive book on the subject; rather, it is a starting place and is, therefore, rich in resources that parents can pursue in order to learn more on the subject and find the professional help their children may need.

Anything you’d like to add?

For many years, publishers didn’t acknowledge the need to address this subject. So thanks to Familius for recognizing the need for the book and committing to publishing it. Also, research about PTSD is exploding right now. Therefore, I encourage parents who think their child may have PTSD to remain hopeful. Keep seeking treatment and exploring new developments. Therapies are getting better by the year, so never, never, never give up.

Thank you, Jolene, for your much-needed insights!

Visit her website at www.jolenephilo.com.

Like the article? We bet you’ll love this book:

Is it possible that the struggles you have with your child may be because he or she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Once ignored, even by the medical professionals treating…

Does My Child Have PTSD?

Jolene Philo

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