At around three years of age, Bailey’s mom and dad knew that traditional parenting methods were not going to work with their daughter. She threw tantrums as all toddlers do, but they seemed to be larger, longer and more intense than what was considered age appropriate. However, it wasn’t until Bailey hit the third grade that things really started to escalate past the point they felt they could handle. She was running out of the classroom, aggressive towards other children, having trouble focusing on her school work, and threatening suicide. It was at this point she came to Mount Saint Vincent to be a part of our day treatment program.
Progress began slowly. The staff discovered that Bailey had a huge disconnect with her body and her emotions. Touch was extremely hard for her. Brushing her hair was difficult. She had a tough time connecting with the other children and other adults. She would give hugs, but they were brief and stiff. Also, she was prone to angry, aggressive outbursts.
“It was almost as if just existing in her own body was too much stimulation for her to handle. Everything was overwhelming,” said Laura Woodward, Bailey’s in-home behavior coach.
So, her therapists recommended she start art and dance therapy as part of her treatment. Art therapy can help children control their impulses and manage their anger, while dance/movement therapy helps children learn how to gain control of their bodies, all while building a relationship with the therapist.
“Bailey made wonderful use of art therapy,” said Valerie Epstein-Johnson, art therapist at Mount Saint Vincent. “She was not only highly receptive to the calming aspects of the work we did, but she was able to connect to the metaphors her images and art-making process revealed about her strengths and struggles. Art therapy gave her the opportunity to be in control, be successful, and be herself.”
After a few months at Mount Saint Vincent, Bailey started to make some really positive strides. She began to develop good relationships with the staff and started to make friends.
“She went from this kid who would walk around slowly and lethargically, dragging her stuffed animal behind her,” said Kaylee Jeffrey, child and family therapist at Mount Saint Vincent, “to a kid who was happy and smiling and really starting to like who she was.”
Soon, she was ready to head back to her neighborhood school, and her family began in-home therapy to incorporate some of the more successful interventions she used at Mount Saint Vincent into her day-to-day life. Bailey’s parents made every effort to change their household to help her succeed outside of Mount Saint Vincent. One of the changes they made was to create a “calm down corner” full of art supplies in the front room of their house. As soon as she gets to that place where she’s starting to feel frustrated, she knows to go to that corner. It’s there and ready for her to color, draw, play with Play-Doh, or do origami—all activities that help calm her down.
Bailey’s school also allowed her to bring the tools she developed at Mount Saint Vincent into her classroom. She has a calm down corner there as well, and they allowed MSV staff to observe her class and attend Individualized Education Plan meetings.
“By passing along those tools, and the school being flexible enough to integrate them, Bailey has reduced her number of aggressive episodes from one or more daily to almost zero,” said Woodward.
After showing such amazing progress, and knowing how well she responded to dance therapy, Bailey’s parents decided to sign her up for fencing lessons. On the last day of her private training, the day she was moved into a group class, they invited Woodward to watch. Bailey comfortably hung out one-on-one with her coach, a person she had only known for a month. Then, they watched as the coach took off Bailey’s helmet, whipped her hair into a ponytail, and put a headband on her head—all without Bailey flinching. Woodward started to tear up.
“To let someone you barely know do your hair, something that’s very sensitive to you, and not show any discomfort—it seems small, but it was a huge thing for her,” Woodward said. “Looking at her in that group, you would never have known that this story was a part of her life.”
Then, Woodward turned to Bailey’s parents and said, “Well, you’re not a soccer mom, but you’re a fencing mom.” To which Bailey’s mother replied, “I am a proud fencing mom.”
Bailey, to put it simply, was just one of those children who made a huge impact on everyone at Mount Saint Vincent.
“Because under all this—or actually, above all of this—she is just one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met,” Woodward said.