Picture this. A kindergarten-aged boy consistently stuck in the principal’s office. The school repeatedly is calling his mom telling her to pick him up because of his disruptive behaviour. The school reports challenges with listening, emotional regulation, and what they would label as “defiant behaviours”. What the school does not know is that mom is a survivor of intimate partner violence. The school does not know the abuse contributed to an overdose late in her pregnancy and that Mom is also a survivor of brain injury. They also do not know that the only suggestion or support provided to her was to have a late-term abortion. Assessments were never suggested or offered, nor has a pediatrician followed her son as he grew older. She knows what her son needs but has not quite put the pieces together about why he is reacting this way.
As challenges at school escalate, a light bulb moment happens when Mom’s support worker asks, “Has anyone ever talked to you about the potential long-term effects of the overdose during pregnancy?” By simply asking a question, an overdue but important conversation begins. Mom, who is very in tune with her son, connects her own challenges with her brain injury to her son’s experiences: sensitivity to sound, being overwhelmed by environments, challenges with emotional regulation, sensitivity to textures, not knowing how to express himself, and becoming easily agitated. She knows this behaviour is isolated and asks what was missing at school that he gets at home? The answer was clear: he needs understanding, compassion, and time in order to thrive.
Mom consistently advocated for what she knew her son needed, but it wasn’t until someone she trusted asked this one question, that she was able to start connecting different dots. Through empowerment-based conversations, Mom knew there was an important piece of her history that, when disclosed, could help pave a path of success for her son. The intention was not to shame, label or diagnose, but to open the conversation to a much bigger picture. The story of this mom and son shows that the relationships built when appropriate supports are in place are incredibly powerful. With this new perspective, her son is in a more appropriate class for his needs and has support from an emotional support teacher. Mom’s openness was the first step in breaking the cycle and giving her son the childhood she never had, which is her biggest goal since becoming a mom.
By Measha Gallagher – CBIP – Case Manager
Learn more about the connection between intimate partner violence and brain injury here.