s a child, Michaela could not understand why she did not fit in. She struggled with social interactions and her behaviours were often misunderstood.
In her early teens, Michaela was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. “I was different,” she recalled. “I find implied rules hard to read so I did things unless I was told not to. People thought I was being difficult on purpose, but I wasn’t.” Bullied at school, her mental health deteriorated. Her parents felt that local school and community supports could not help her, so they took her to a residential centre that specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and mental health. She progressed well and when she was discharged, she came to Lutherwood to continue her treatment and ease her transition back home.
"When I came to Lutherwood, I didn’t want to stay. When it was time to go home, I didn’t want to leave." — Michaela
For nine months, Michaela stayed at Lutherwood’s Children’s Mental Health Centre. “The staff helped me adjust. They were so friendly, caring and welcoming,” she smiled. “They were my family away from home.” She attended Lutherwood’s school during the day, stayed in residence at night, and went home on weekends. “I continued to use my DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) skills to help me manage situations and my emotions,” she remembered. “The program is so family-oriented – the staff included my parents and helped them understand how to support me. One time I really missed my dog Ellie, so my parents arranged for her to come and visit me. She’s my unofficial service dog – she licks my face when I cry and lies on the floor with me when I feel alone.”
Michaela sees a difference in herself. “I learned to advocate for myself. I learned that it is okay to ask for help. When someone asks how I am, we are socialized to say ‘great,’ but I learned that it is okay to say that I am not feeling well or having a bad day. I used to struggle with depression and skip school; I don’t think I have missed school once since going to Lutherwood.”
Four years later, Michaela still stays in touch. Each year she comes to Lutherwood’s Steps for Kids event and reconnects with staff. In fact, she sought the advice of her former clinician along with others when she was deciding on her career path. “I love the idea of working with young kids, so I decided to study ECE (Early Childhood Education) in college. And because of my background, I can really relate to those who are struggling,” she concluded.