One thing that makes Miriam such a special place is that we do not just focus on academics, or on therapies, or on social interactions. We support the whole child, helping provide the skills to navigate all parts of their lives – including their mental health.
Janine Allen, a counselor at Miriam, says many kids may not have the language to express how they’re feeling yet, and it’s a skill that takes practice.
“Kids mask a lot of things,” says Allen. “You see it come out in their play, or you see it come out in their art, or you just see it in their day-to-day interactions. So we need to give them the words to say what’s going on with them.”
Allen works with students at a classroom level to identify their emotions, find healthy ways to express them, and work on expected behaviors.
“We individualize for each class,” Allen says. “If there is an issue with self-regulation in one class, I’m going to focus on that more. Whereas another class may have more peer-interaction issues that would be more of a focus.”
With a background in art therapy, Allen uses visual and creative ways to make complex ideas tangible for students.
“That helps people to have an extra layer of understanding,” Allen says. “It’s particularly helpful with this population, in that word-processing and the verbal processing is not easy.”
Miriam also offers individualized counseling outside of the classroom. Kirstie Williams, a licensed social worker, works with kids who need more one-on-one help to figure out what thoughts are manifesting in their behavior.
“There is a point in every child’s life where they come to an understanding of, ‘These are my emotions and this is how I manage them,’” Williams says. “Kids who have mental illness don’t always have that point, so they just need some guidance in that.”
Williams also incorporates creative means to reach students.
“I do lots of play therapy, art therapy, or – I even have a kiddo who loves music, and so we do music therapy,” Williams says. “So we break down lyrics and songs that she really likes and focus on ‘Hey, how does this resonate with you?’”
Both Williams and Allen encourage families to continue these types of conversations at home, and carve out a time to connect with their children.
“Kids need that time,” Williams said. “They need one-on-one, but they also need time to see, ‘This is my family and this is a unit, and we can work together with some things.’”