In March 2007, 10 year old Johnny S, a third grader in a suburban public school, contracted a severe stomach virus. While he recovered physically from his week-long ordeal, he struggled afterward. His family and doctors didn’t think much of it at the time, but after his illness, Johnny experienced high levels of anxiety and intense phobias about germs. His symptoms quickly worsened until he refused to leave the house or go to school. He became so afraid that his family couldn’t go out to eat, visit friends or go to the movies.
A behavioral medicine specialist diagnosed Johnny with a condition called PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus) which causes significant behavioral and psychiatric problems. In addition to PANDAS, Johnny was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety and Tourette's syndrome—all of which had been mild and manageable before his stomach virus. He went through multiple medication trials but nothing seemed to relieve his symptoms. Because he missed so much school, he'd also fallen significantly behind academically.
Johnny's public school system referred the family to the STEP program at Dearborn Academy. Elizabeth Goldmann, one of the STEP clinicians, visited the family at their home. After multiple visits, Johnny became more comfortable with Elizabeth. She finally coaxed Johnny to go to school on his own. Before long, Johnny was spending the entire day in the STEP program, making new friends and enjoying himself.
Johnny spent the following fourth grade year at Dearborn Academy as a student in the Elementary/ Middle program. With support from teachers and staff, he gained the confidence to overcome his anxieties and increase the amount of time he could spend in the classroom. For the first time in what seemed like years, Johnny began to go outside and play with friends—he even had them come to the house to visit. He began to catch up to grade level with his academic work, and his family slowly returned to normalcy.
By 2009, Johnny was ready to return to his public school for the fifth grade. He didn’t miss a single day of school for the entire year. Today his anxieties are nearly gone, and he remains successfully enrolled in his home school district.