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Like his namesake, the Greek god of hurricanes and earthquakes, 6-year-old Poseidon struggled with behavior at home and in school. His great-grandmother Khamlome, a survivor of trauma herself after fleeing the communist regime of Laos, was given custody of Poseidon after his mother’s substance abuse exposed him to unsafe situations and people.

Khamlome, whose own difficult journey included swimming across the Mekong River with her children to reach a refugee camp in Thailand, suddenly found herself the sole caretaker of Poseidon and his brother, Travail. “Because I was a single mom, life was very difficult,” she says. “No husband to raise children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Despite the hardship, their safety and wellbeing were always the driving forces that propelled her, a sentiment echoed by Ryanne, Poseidon’s therapist. “[Khamlome] want[s] to make sure [her] great-grandkids are safe,” she says, “and that has spurred every decision that great-grandma has made since.”

If a kid raised their hand faster or if a kid looked at him or if the teacher couldn't immediately attend to him, he was like, That's it, I'm out, and he'd run out of the classroom.
Ryanne, Metal Health Therapist, St. David's Center

For Poseidon, part of his familial inheritance included a legacy of intergenerational trauma, reaching back through generations all the way to his great-grandmother’s forced exile from Laos. Competitive by nature, everyday routine situations were a trigger for Poseidon. “If a kid raised their hand faster or if a kid looked at him or if the teacher couldn’t immediately attend to him, he was like, ‘That’s it, I’m out,’” describes Ryanne, “and he’d run out of the classroom.”

A highly social child, Poseidon was caught between the push and pull of wanting to be amongst his peers but being unable to connect with them. As a first grade student, most days he was only able to be in his classroom with peers for one hour, virtually unable to self-regulate. “He was spending maybe an hour in the classroom a day, between running out, [and] going into our behavior intervention room,” explains his therapist, Ryanne. “He just could not be.”

His inability to process the myriad sources of stress in his daily life manifested in outward expressions of aggression. “Every part of his day was an explosion,” says Ryanne. At home, Khamlome felt like she was fighting a losing battle trying to manage Poseidon’s volcanic behavior by herself and worried that the long-term outlook for him was increasingly dire. “He will be lost,” she recounts, “because me, by myself, I cannot do it.”

Poseidon & Ryanne

Poseidon’s current 4th grade teacher, Mary Sue Lem, attests to the potential trajectory of kids like Poseidon without critically needed intervention. “Kids who don’t get access to these kinds of services fall behind grade level,” she maintains. “They don’t have positive relationships with adults or peers. They are often left on the outside; they aren’t included. They’ll have a lack of self-confidence, and that often continues throughout their adult life.”

Khamlome’s initial attempts at outreach on behalf of Poseidon were unsuccessful due to the barriers involved in accessing and navigating systems of care, especially as a non-native English speaker. Overwhelmed by Poseidon’s outbursts at home and the constant calls regarding behavior from his school, Khamlome enrolled him in the School Linked Mental Health Program. At long last, she felt that she had found a true partner, working with her toward the common goal of Poseidon’s academic and social success. Ryanne recalls hearing her say, “I finally am seen and heard. Poseidon is finally getting the help that he needs.”

Ryanne’s presence provided a reassuring thread of consistency in Poseidon’s daily routine that helped to alleviate his fear of rejection, while giving him coping skills and problem-solving strategies to regulate the explosive reactions occurring within his physical body. “I intentionally choose things that will push his buttons to help him notice what happens in his body so that he can make some different choices,” she explains. “I’m going to help contain all of those feelings…so that [he] can use [his] brain to do to other things.”

There is nothing that can compare. It's just like giving my great grandson a new life.
Khamlome, Poseidon's Great-Grandmother

Those “other things” included a revelatory new world of academics, which Poseidon was now cognitively available to engage in with confidence, and the transformation was remarkable. “I’m incredibly proud of Poseidon,” enthuses his teacher, Ms. Lem. “It’s incredible to see him grow academically and just that drive that he has now to succeed. It’s just wonderful.”

Ms. Lem is particularly grateful for the in-classroom support that is tailored to each child. “Ryanne is a fantastic resource,” she states. “She doesn’t believe in a one fix for everybody because every child and family is so unique, and she’s a great resource for strategies. I wish more students would get involved with St. David’s.”

Ryanne was able to calm the storm inside Poseidon so that he could make the connections with peers and the adults in his life that he so desperately wanted, and channel his innate kindness and perseverance into academic and social success. Poseidon, says Ms. Lem, is “very empathetic and caring, so students are drawn to him.” Ryanne agrees wholeheartedly, tearing up. “He’s just got such an amazing heart and such a beautiful spirit.”

The outlook for Poseidon’s future now is a far brighter one. “I’m incredibly excited to see what he’s going to become,” says Ms. Lem. For Khamlome, the child that once seemed on the verge of being lost to her is firmly back on the path to success. “I would like to thank St. David’s Center, Fair Oaks School and the staff that are helping Poseidon and me,” says Khamlome. “There is nothing that can compare. It’s just like giving my great grandson a new life.”

Early intervention is critical.

Help children like Poseidon, give today.

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