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Twenty years ago when my daughter was in pre-school and kindergarten, her teachers repeatedly told us that her severe shyness was “an issue.” This pattern continued throughout her school years. No teacher, doctor or counselor ever mentioned pediatric occupational therapy, (at which point, I had no idea existed nor would I have known how an occupational therapist could have helped change the trajectory of her coming years.)

Hearing the news that we should consider therapy would not have been easy but I knew in my gut she needed more than I was able to provide. Fortunately, times are changing, the stigma of mental health issues is diminishing and recommendations for help are more common than during her younger years. Occupational therapy offers tools for both child and parent to support regulation of root emotions. If I achieve one thing by sharing our story, it is to implore other parents to get help for their children when they need it most. It’s never too early and it’s never too late.

I was painfully aware, as she spent the first years of her life hiding behind my leg and holding on for dear life that shyness was impeding her social and emotional growth. We did everything we could to get her involved in activities and make friends to “overcome” her shyness. What I didn’t know then is she wasn’t just shy or introverted (nothing, by the way, is wrong with being either) but that she suffers from an anxiety disorder. It wasn’t a phase or something to “get over” but rather a part of her to love and accept.

Eventually, she made friends, thrived in sports and learned to cope when feelings of panic arose. She was a good student but battled severe testing anxiety. This lasted until circumstances forced her to choose between softball and academics. She chose the latter and her grades excelled during her college years. Hindsight alert! In our efforts to fill life with activities to help her, she was overscheduled and treading water just to keep up. We’d unintentionally exasperated her anxiety without knowing it.

Unfortunately, she‘s inherited my migraine headaches, has stomach issues and a myriad of maladies, which the doctors never find an exact reason behind. Individually, it seems like it is one thing after another. Holistically, I’ve come to understand just how tricky anxiety can be, often disguising itself and manifesting in unpredictable ways.

We found a counselor who provided her tools to use when panic attacks or overwhelm begins and taught her how to self-regulate her emotions. Today, she has a good career, friends, a boyfriend and is beginning graduate school soon. But, as they say, the struggle is still real.

I may not have had all the knowledge to make perfect decisions along the way but we never gave up. She is loved for exactly who she is. And, what’s most important is that she knows I see her, I hear her, and whether she is four or twenty-four, I’m listening.