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For most children, nightmares fade upon waking. For 4-year-old Kai, however, deep-seated fear was something he carried with him into the real world. When Kai was 3, a terribly traumatic experience impacted him profoundly. While sleeping at daycare, he was struck by a two-by-four wielded by his daycare provider’s boyfriend — a blow intended for his caregiver — and then witnessed brutal violence against her. 

In the aftermath of the incident, it became clear to his parents, Monica and William, that Kai needed help. While his physical wounds healed, the emotional scars did not. Prior to the incident, Kai was a happy-go-lucky, confident little “daddy’s boy.” Recalls Monica, “He had no issues prior to that incident; he was a very confident, loving child. He was just a normal child that enjoyed childhood things.” 

After the incident, however, he experienced severe separation anxiety, feared sleeping alone, and regressed developmentally. Triggered by sightings of men that resembled his assailant, he would become hysterical and inconsolable. “People that look like him [his attacker], he holds on to me,” states William. “I can’t put him down, his arms and legs around me.” Adds Monica, “He would get frantic.”  

Monica and William realized that they, too, needed support, as they grappled with feelings of helplessness, anger, and guilt at not being able to protect their child in that critical moment. Says Monica, “It’s hard for parents to think that your child got hurt and that you couldn’t be there for them. As parents, we’re here to make sure our kids are secure and safe — and we couldn’t do that.” 

Their decision to reach out to St. David’s Center was an instinctual one. “St. David’s was a wonderful provider for our older child, so it was just natural that we decided to see if they could help Kai.”  

Starting with family therapy at Harman Center, the staff guided them to a better understanding of how the trauma lived in Kai’s brain and body, and provided them with the tools and language to reassure and support him. “St. David’s did help me understand how trauma affects children and ways to deal with the trauma and how play can resolve it,” affirms Monica. “They taught me a lot of skills that I didn’t have and gave me better ways of making sure to be supportive of my child and encouraging, talking about it and playing, and just making him feel comfortable and very supported and secure.”  

Equally impactful for Monica and William was the support they received to process their own feelings of guilt, anger, and helplessness. “They help you understand yourself, personally, what feelings you’re going through and understand that it’s okay to have those feelings and to be upset that your child did experience this trauma — and that gives you that support [so that you’re able to] be a better parent for your child,” states Monica. Adds William, “They answered the questions that you ask yourself: ‘What do we do, and where do we go from here?’ “ 

In tandem with family therapy, Kai began occupational therapy services, focusing on improving his regulation. “Regulation is the capacity to know where your body is in space and time and to feel comfortable in your body — comfortable enough to sit and attend to a task or to a relationship or to an activity,” describes Lisa Brennom, Senior Director of the Harman Center. Confirms Monica, “[Kai] just didn’t know how to control his body.” 

Initially, as Occupational Therapist Sondra Tryan recounts, “Kai would flit from activity to activity. He didn’t really know how to join other kids, and then once he started playing with other kids, he didn’t know how to sustain that. He would get distracted.” However, she has worked consistently with him on “regulation and attention so he can attend to an activity for a more reasonable amount of time, and then closing that activity before we move on to the next one. Now what we’re seeing is he’s able to join play with less disruption. He’s able to engage in cooperative back-and-forth play, and he’s able to sustain that play for longer periods of time — skills [that] will help him as he gets ready for kindergarten in the fall.” For Monica, the improvement is tangible. “OT [occupational therapy] was amazing because now I feel like he can focus more on some things where he didn’t have those skills before,” she declares. “He’s still very energetic, but [it has given him] ways to be positive energetic.” 

It sounds cliché, but it takes a village. When you have an occupational therapist alongside a mental health clinician alongside a speech therapist, who all are working on goals with one family and one child, that is an adrenaline shot into the treatment.

Part of the “secret sauce” that has been so pivotal in Kai’s progress is, as Monica puts it, the “collaborative” nature of St. David’s Center’s multidisciplinary approach. Lisa Brennom elaborates, “It sounds cliché, but it takes a village. When you have an occupational therapist alongside a mental health clinician alongside a speech therapist, who all are working on goals with one family and one child, that is an adrenaline shot into the treatment. You are hitting a child in a developmental phase that won’t be repeated again.” 

And as for Kai, after two years of family and occupational therapy, he is making great strides — learning to trust again when his parents can’t be right at his side and discovering how he can control his body. “I feel more optimistic now and confident that he’s going to succeed,” affirms Monica. “If it wasn’t for St. David’s, he definitely would not be where he is today.”

Kai's Story

To learn more about Kai, watch the video on the left, created for our 2022 gala.
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