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Parenthood is a wonderfully joyful, humbling and incredibly hard journey. But it's especially difficult for parents whose children struggle with mental health and developmental concerns.

Kids with behavioral issues often appear to be healthy kids, so their struggles can catch people who don't know them well off guard. Think about a child in a wheelchair at the store who is having a temper tantrum—what is your first reaction? Pity? Admiration? Patience? Now think about the child with autism who has the same meltdown, but without the outward signs of a serious medical illness. What is your first reaction in that scenario? Annoyance? Judgment? Be honest and my guess is that your reaction to those two children is different.

Beyond the often-harsh judgment that children struggling with mental illness and their parents often receive, there is an internal struggle plaguing moms and dads. They often ask:

  • Why can't my kid be normal?
  • Why can't they just behave when we are at a birthday party?
  • What did I do to make them this way?
  • Will my child be okay in school and in life?
  • Can they ever have normal childhood experiences like going to summer camp?
  • Will they ever be able to connect with anyone?
  • Will they be able to sustain a marriage or a long-term relationship?
  • How can I stop losing my temper when they push me past my limits?
  • Who will take care of them when I'm gone?
These questions are similar for parents whose children suffer from any chronic condition, but the stigma seems somehow heavier for children with mental and developmental disorders because of a social perception that the child or parent could make it better with improved discipline, more effort and more intelligence.

Lack of adequate resources
There is also the issue of accessing appropriate medical care. Behavioral and developmental specialists for children are rare in every state in the U.S. Waiting lists for our local child development and rehabilitation center are months long, as are the waiting lists of most local psychologists, if they are even taking new patients, which many are not.

Most pediatric primary care offices lack the personnel to address the complex needs of children with mental and developmental challenges. That is the reason that I integrated child psychiatry, child psychology, developmental-behavioral pediatrics, family therapy and social work into Eugene Pediatrics. We can't take care of kids without addressing the whole person and the entire family.

Even the most understanding doctor may not truly grasp what a huge deal it is to run out of medications used to treat mental health issues in kids. It is just as serious as running out of insulin for a diabetic child, or emergency inhalers for a child having an asthma attack. When your child spins out of control without treatment for their severe anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum rages or other similar concerns, running out of their regular medicine, even for a single day, can result in a child being sent home from school for completely disrupting a classroom. Or it can lead to a night with no sleep for anyone in the house. And it takes weeks to get back in balance once the refill is finally filled. Parents of kids with severe mental health issues can barely get through the day, so they deserve some grace and understanding when they fail to request refills more than a week ahead. This is true for all parents whose kids struggle, whether it's purely medical illness or primary behavioral-developmental disorders.

How do I know, you may ask?
I'm now a step-mom to a child with serious mental health and developmental challenges. I have watched my wife, Jo, struggle year after year as she tries to help her daughter navigate life. I have held Jo in my arms at night as she cried helplessly after years of watching her daughter struggle in school, fail to make friends, spin inside her own head and act out against the people who love her the most. I witnessed Jo's heartbreak when the most that this little girl could do in our wedding was sprinkle flower petals an hour before guests arrived, while our other three kids actively participated in this special event.

This child is brilliant in so many ways, including reading years ahead of her grade level, but her reactions to things other kids can easily handle are often extreme. To those who don't know about her inner struggles, she appears poorly behaved or inadequately parented, but really, it's just part of her disability. Many of the same struggles we are experiencing are felt on some level by parents of all kids who are different in some way from their peers. Other parents standing in Jo's shoes get it. I didn't get it until I lived with this child, whose struggles are like invisible chains and prison bars.

But if there's one thing I know to be true, it's this: kids often surprise us. Children with mental and developmental disorders are the greatest example. They have moments of incredible, sweet and brave victory. And those moments mean so much to those who love them. It may take time to understand the beauty and meaning of their life, but the rewards are great.

May we all lean in and support those kids who struggle with the silent burden of mental and developmental challenges. And as a community, may we offer them our understanding, our patience and most of all, our love.

 

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RunningWithRoss-550X400Dr. Ross Newman is a longtime runner and coach and he wants to share the trail with you and your kids! Join him weekly, starting Saturday, Sept. 29, along with others from Eugene Pediatric Associates. Our goal is to have fun and stay active.

Complete a punch card with ten runs and you will earn rewards, so plan to join us every week!

Runs with Ross

WHEN: Saturday mornings, 10-11:30 a.m.

WHERE: All events will take place at Alton Baker Park, at the start of Pre's Trail. Park on the east side of Day Island Rd. and look for our group at the start of the bark path, near the waterway.

WHO: All are welcome. Show up ready to run. We will divide up into groups based on age and ability. Families are encouraged to run together, but parents or legal guardians can wait at the drop site if they don't wish to run.*

WHAT: We will run for about an hour and then eat a healthy snack while reviewing health tips for good running and nutrition.

"I'm excited to create this opportunity for kids and families to get together with us, get active and have fun," says Dr. Ross. "When kids get regular, physical activity, it builds the foundation for them to live a healthier life."

*All participants must complete a registration form and waiver before running. Please arrive a few minutes early to complete them on the day of your or your child's first run. Legal guardians must sign for children under 18 years of age.

 

 

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Photo-1-550
Bags of Love Executive Director Becky Stenzel talks about the nonprofit's mission with Dr. B.

There are many wonderful nonprofits in our community working hard to care for and support children. I recently visited an organization called Bags of Love and, after seeing the vital and heartfelt work they are doing on behalf of kids, I am committed to lending my support.

Bags of Love was founded in 2008 with the purpose of providing necessities and items of comfort to children who are in crisis, due to neglect, abuse, poverty, homelessness and disaster. They give children who desperately need help a hand-sewn bag filled with age-appropriate things, including socks, pajamas, underwear, school supplies, toys, books, toiletries and a hand-made quilt or fleece blanket.

Bags of Love works with over 50 agencies that request help for kids, such as the F.B.I., Department of Human Services, CAHOOTS, Centro Latino Americano, and Relief Nursery.

It is alarming that over 7,000 cases of child abuse and neglect occur annually in Oregon. And in Lane County:

  • 23.1 percent of children live below the federal poverty line
  • 44 percent of households are in poverty or cannot afford basic household expenses
  • More than 2,100 children are homeless

I became emotional as I walked through the Bags of Love warehouse, which is filled with donated clothes, books, toys, coats and blankets. Volunteers worked as I listened to stories of how this loving place is making an impact—about the child who celebrated after finally receiving her very own toothbrush after living so long without a way to clean her teeth; about the 90-year-old volunteer who made 70 quilts by hand for kids in need; and the fact that 4 part-time employees and over 200 volunteers distributed 2,244 kids Bags of Love over the last year.

I would like to help Bags of Love grow and continue its amazing mission of service. This year, during the month of December, we will invite families of Eugene Pediatrics and Thrive Behavioral Health to donate new or lightly used items for this charity.

How can you help right now?

  • Donate clothing: new socks, underwear, coats and other items (sizes newborn to adult XXL), toys, toiletries and school supplies.
  • Make a cash donation of any amount.
  • Give your time and talents by volunteering in the warehouse, or sewing quilts, knitting or crocheting blankets and making bags.
  • Attend the annual Bags of Love auction on October 4th at the Valley River Inn. Contact Bags of Love for more information)

To offer your support or to volunteer, call 541-357-4957 or click here.

Thank you to Bags of Love Executive Director Becky Stenzel and her staff and volunteers for their diligent efforts and energy on behalf of children who desperately need all of our love.

...

vaccine

Your team at Eugene Pediatrics is always looking for ways to address important health concerns for kids and families, and we lead our community in efforts that we believe will protect everyone's health, most of all our precious children.

Starting Monday, we will be recommending that your child's "kindergarten shots" be given at age 4 years instead of the current community practice of giving them to children at age 5. Why?

Here are our top reasons:

1. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approve these vaccines to be given as young as age 4 to safely and effectively boost children's immunity to potentially life-threatening diseases, and to protect babies and those with decreased immunity who live in the community with these kids.

2. Our region is in the midst of a whooping cough epidemic – there has been a 220 percent rise this year, compared to the same time last year –which means 4-year-old children entering pre-K are at much higher risk this year.

3. This new vaccination schedule will help ensure that every single kindergarten student is protected with the recommended vaccines, prior to entering kindergarten.

As pediatricians and parents, your medical providers at Eugene Pediatrics believe vaccines are one of the most important ways we can help protect babies and children from serious or life-threatening illnesses. We believe in the safety and efficacy of currently recommended vaccines, and we worry about low vaccination rates in our region.

Hopefully, other medical clinics that care for children will follow our lead and join in a community-wide effort to vaccinate at age 4.

Our desire, at Eugene Pediatrics, is to help parents take the best-possible care of their kids. Because we love your kids, too!

Please talk with us if you have questions about vaccines. Call today to get your 4-year-old scheduled for their wellness exam and shots, or schedule a nurse-only visit to get vaccines before your next scheduled visit.

 

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food-safety

IMPORTANT FOOD SAFETY INFORMATION! The American Academy of Pediatrics just released a policy statement addressing food additives, the use of plastics to heat and store food, and pregnant mother/child health. Please read!

Today, more than 10,000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food or food packaging. But a growing body of research suggests many of these chemicals may contribute to human disease and disability. And the safety of many of the other chemicals is not established.

For example, the AAP notes, a recent evaluation of 3,941 direct food additives revealed that 63.9 percent of these had no feeding safety data whatsoever. Only 6.7 percent had reproductive toxicology data. And only 2 of the 3,941 chemical additives to food had research on potential toxic effects on developing fetuses.

In a scathing policy statement, the AAP noted that the FDA's current programs "cannot ensure the safety of existing or new additives." Further, it states that "the FDA's toxicological testing recommendations have not been updated on the basis of new scientific information." Overall, the AAP finds that the FDA guidelines for food additive safety "may not be adequately protective for children."

Also, of great concern, plastics used to store or heat food may transfer harmful chemicals to people of all ages. Although modern baby bottles are BPA-free, many other chemicals in plastic may be harmful.

What is a parent to do? The AAP policy recommends the following steps:

  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as much as possible. Always wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Avoid processed meats, especially for pregnant mothers and young children.
  • Avoid microwaving or heating food or beverages in plastic, including infant formula.
  • Avoid placing plastics in dishwashers; high heat can release more chemicals from plastic.
  • Use glass and metal as alternatives to plastic for heating and storing food, as often as possible.
  • Entirely avoid plastics with the following recycling codes: 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols).
The full policy statement and all references is available here. Please talk to us at Eugene Pediatrics if you have questions.
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