An Unexpected Gift for Barnabas
Mental Health Therapy Helps Barnabas Reach New Milestones
Eight-year-old Barnabas lights up any room with his jokes, loves every cat he meets, and takes a special interest in vacuum cleaners (he can name and identify just about any vacuum make and model). It’s not hard for his parents, Steph and Daniel, to imagine him becoming an engineer someday. Barnabas is also on the autism spectrum, which adds multiple challenges to the way he navigates the world and interacts with others. In 2020, he began receiving occupational and speech therapy at ChildServe to build his communication and daily living skills, but he had behavioral concerns that suggested his care plan would also need to incorporate mental health therapy.
“If Barnabas got upset, he would spiral downward very quickly,” said Steph. “He couldn’t see the future beyond the negative feelings he was experiencing at that moment. Along with autism, Barnabas also has significant anxiety and depression – most of which he can’t verbalize or understand.”
When ChildServe began expanding Mental Health Therapy in Ames in fall 2021, Steph and Daniel carefully considered whether it was right for Barnabas.
“We didn’t know what mental health therapy looks like for kids,” said Steph. “We sort of had this idea it was really best for people after a major traumatic experience. We also thought to ourselves, ‘We are his parents, and we struggle to get him to open up, so it seems doubtful someone else will be successful.'”
When the family met Cassie St. Aubin, ChildServe’s first mental health therapist to provide care in Ames, their perspective began to change. With her special training in art therapy, Cassie quickly found creative ways to engage with Barnabas.
“Kids like Barnabas, who have autism, may find something visual is a better way for them to connect,” said Cassie. “I’ll often have him choose a coloring sheet that depicts the main emotions he felt today. Since Barnabas loves vacuums, we talk about the idea of a vacuum coming to suck up his worries.”
ChildServe’s Mental Health Therapy program specializes in serving children who have special healthcare needs as well as mental health concerns. Therapists like Cassie create customized plans based on a child’s interests, abilities and needs.
“Therapy for kids often looks more like playing than working,” said Cassie. “We have dance parties, make a mess with paint and markers, play house, bang a drum and scribble out what they’ve been feeling. We find activities that meet each child where they are best equipped to communicate.”
“We’ve worked a lot on self-regulating,” said Cassie. “In the past, when Barnabas became upset, he would go from zero-to-100 very quickly. We wanted to give him the tools to stop, recognize what he’s feeling and ask himself, ‘Do I need to take a break or have some alone time?’ He now knows when, and how, to calm down.”
As Barnabas developed these important skills, his family saw an enormous improvement.
“Barnabas is a better friend and brother because he talks through situations with Cassie,” said Steph. “He’s matured, and he knows who he is. He can recognize, ‘I’m feeling frustrated,’ figure out what caused it, and decide what to do next to begin feeling better. We never would have been able to help him do this on our own.”
When it comes to Mental Health Therapy, Steph and Daniel have found it to be an unexpected gift to their family.
“For Barnabas, the world just isn’t built for him no matter how many adaptations and accommodations we put in place,” said Steph. “As a neurodivergentThe term neurodivergent has grown in popularity in recent years as a way to describe someone whose brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered typical. This may include individuals with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other conditions. person, life can be traumatic for him every day. Cassie helps reduce the trauma of living in a world that doesn’t understand him. I never knew we would consider something like mental health therapy for Barnabas, but it is the most amazing support we could have asked for.”
ChildServe improves the health and well-being of more than 5,600 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.