By David F. Rooney
Our compassion and willingness to sacrifice in order to care for aging parents or handicapped children and siblings are admirable qualities. But who helps the caregiver when the stress of doing just that becomes too much to bear?
That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a fact of life for many people who have family members struck by dementia or autism-spectrum disorder. So what can they do?
Counselling helps and few people in town understand these stresses better than professional Counsellor Kristal Bradshaw.
“You’d be surprised how much easier it is to ask for help for your child than it is to ask for help so you can deal with your child or parent,” she said in an interview last week. Kristal has also worked as a counsellor in the field of violence against women and family and marital therapy. Much of her career has been spent working for different agencies, most recently Community Connections.
And now she is offering her services in family and marriage counselling, relationship counseling and support for those with autism through Kristal Bradshaw Counselling.
Autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) is an area that has always interested her and she has worked extensively with vulnerable children born with this disorder. According to Wikipedia, ASD is “a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. It is one of three recognized disorders in the autism spectrum, the other two being Asperger syndrome, which lacks delays in cognitive development and language, and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (commonly abbreviated as PDD-NOS), which is diagnosed when the full set of criteria for autism or Asperger syndrome are not met.”
Parents usually notice signs in the first two years of their child’s life. Children with ASD may lack verbal skills and show signs of repetitive behaviour. The signs usually develop gradually, but some autistic children first develop more normally and then regress. Early behavioral, cognitive, or speech interventions can help autistic children gain self-care, social, and communication skills. There is no known cure.
An ASD diagnosis is tremendously upsetting for families but children afflicted with ASD can be helped to gain success in life.
“It takes time and a lot of effort,” Kristal said, adding that ASD children cannot be taught in the same way as other children and require a lot of one-to-one assistance. Some, however, have gifts — an insatiable thirst for history or some other field, perhaps, or an ability to work with numbers. Those may help them succeed but not by themselves. ASD children require patience and tremendous effort to learn basic social skills.
“Learning those social skills is really, really challenging,” she said.
Her proven skill with ASD children is not the only thing Kristal Bradshaw has to offer. She has a Master’s Degree in Family and Marital Therapy. Helping adults work their way through troubled relationships is another challenge, usually because the men and women who seek counselling walk through the door to her office on the third floor of the Provincial Courthouse bearing all kinds of baggage.
“For me, I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong,” she said. “It’s about making the relationship work.”
The fact that a couple seeks professional help is often a good sign. They’re willing to explore the underlying causes of their relationship’s ills but it’s not an easy process. It requires the courage to be honest, open and vulnerable, and to accept the possibilities offered by personal growth and change, Kristal said.
No matter what the relationship, be it one with an autistic child, a sick parent, a troubled teen or spouse, dealing with it through professional counselling generally pays off in one way or another. Other areas of concern she can help people with include anxiety, depression, women’s issues, eating disorders, parenting, stress management and learning challenges.
Kristal Bradshaw Counselling is located in Room 308 in the Provincial Courthouse located at 1123 Second Street West. You can contact Kristal Bradshaw at 250-683-8180 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.