When Diana D’Aoust looks back over the last eight years, she is sometimes in disbelief about the progress her 17 year old son has made since he was a young boy living with Asperger’s syndrome. From the age of eight, he has had ongoing psychiatric support from CHEO, a pediatric health and research centre in Ottawa. In the early days of his diagnosis, Diana and her husband felt helpless and lost as they worried about their son’s worsening condition, and tried to navigate the complexities of the youth mental health care system.
Today, the family feels more in control of his care and are hopeful for the future.
“I think it’s important to see how low you can be and how you can get to a good place with the right support and services,” Diana says.
For the D’Aoust family, that low point began when their son was in kindergarten and started to exhibit severe anger and aggression. Diana and her husband were repeatedly called into the school to address their son’s behavioural issues while they were dealing with increasingly violent episodes at home. A year later, they met with psychiatrists at CHEO, and their son was diagnosed with Asperger’s.
But even with a diagnosis and some treatment, things continued to get worse. Diana had to take time off work as their son’s anger resulted in numerous hospitalizations —sometimes for weeks at a time. By the age of 12, he had been removed from several schools for aggressive behaviour. He had also made two attempts to take his own life.
“Everything was just spiralling out of control,” Diana says.
CHEO convened a roundtable meeting with the D’Aoust family and all of the available support services, including agencies and specialists in their community and at their son’s school. Diana began to feel a sense of hope.
“Before that, my husband and I would chase services. We didn’t know where to go, what to do, what was out there and what made sense for us. We were trying to get that suite of services pulled together on our own,” she says.
An important part of that meeting was to identify support options for the entire family, including their young daughter, who was 10 years old at the time.
“Our team at CHEO always made sure that we were doing what’s right for [our son], but also that the whole family stayed well enough to continue to support him,” says Diana, adding that her daughter received counselling — showcasing a welcome family-centered care approach. “People see a child in crisis … but they don’t necessarily realize what it takes for a family supporting a child through that crisis as well. It takes a toll on everybody.”
Just as things started to improve, and their son was benefitting from the right balance of counselling, medication and other services, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Diana worried as her son’s mental health started to decline once again.
“We were on this trajectory of moving forward, and then I saw him sliding … I thought that place in our life was so behind us.”
Fortunately, after bringing him into CHEO and scheduling more regular appointments with a mental health specialist, they were able to help him get back on track. Now, he accesses outpatient services every six months, either in person or virtually. He is in his last year of high school and he has completed three years of air cadets. Next year, he hopes to attend university for computer science or computer engineering.
Diana says she feels proud of his achievements.
“I think people would describe him as a light, wonderful, calm, pretty impressive young man.”
Over the course of her career with RBC, Diana has supported youth mental health initiatives as a team captain and fundraiser for the RBC Race for the Kids, a series of charitable races that supports youth around the world. She hopes that her family’s story might resonate with other families in similar situations, and she continues to advocate for improved mental health services in the community.
One Call/One Click
RBC is committed to ensuring the needs of children and youth with complex mental health challenges are met. A recent $1.5 million donation to the Kids Come First Health Team, which includes CHEO and more than 60 other organizations working together in Eastern Ontario, will help to improve access to youth mental health and addition care through the One Call/One Click service. This service will integrate the system by creating one number to call and one link to click for walk-in clinics, direct booking, coordinated care planning, and support services for youth and their families. This can make the crucial difference between navigating a complex system alone, or having streamlined support every step of the way.
“Our vision is that parents and caregivers no longer need to be system coordinators or case managers and can spend more time with their children and families; and that they have a clear, simple way of getting the right help as quickly as possible,” says Mike Beauchesne, co-lead of the One Call/One Click project team.
A portion of funds raised through this year’s global virtual RBC Race for the Kids event will go towards supporting this new initiative, which is set to launch in spring 2021. To learn more, visit https://www.rbcraceforthekids.com/event/cheo-foundation.
Find out more about how RBC is supporting Youth in Canada.
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