Mary K is a middle-aged single mother with strawberry blonde hair, and twinkling blue eyes.

She is generally seen wearing a sweatshirt and baseball style cap. She has a background as an elementary school teacher with training in special education. Currently, she works with mentally ill adults. She has two children. Her husband died when their second child, daughter Katey, was 5 years old.

Mary K knew that there was something different about Katey when she brought her home from the hospital. Katey's behavior was very difficult to handle at school. She wouldn't stay still and she would throw a tantrum when she was startled or told to change activities. Diagnosing mental health problems in children is difficult. Katey was referred for assessment by Head Start-the first of many evaluations Katey underwent.

They gave her a diagnosis of severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and early childhood bipolar disorder. The latter diagnosis resulted in medications, which caused Katey to hallucinate. An assessment given through the school system in fourth grade placed Katey's intelligence in the borderline range, and the school urged Mary K to put her in special education.

"Halfway through they gave up on me," says Katey, "and stopped trying to teach me."

The Special Education Co-op recommended Katey should be put in a quiet room and left alone. "Don't get her excited."

Subsequent evaluations by a neuro-pediatrician and another doctor revealed diagnoses of pervasive developmental disorder (characterized by autistic-like symptoms) with mid-level functioning, visual processing disorder, and dysgraphia (trouble writing). An intelligence test considering the visual processing disorder demonstrated above average intelligence.

Mary K insisted on keeping Katey in mainstream classes. During the summer after fourth grade, Katey was enrolled in two reading programs. In fifth grade, she switched her to the Pine River School system.

Mary K and the school social worker gave Katey tours of the school and the routes to her classes before school started. They helped her figure out what to do when she felt overwhelmed. There, the teachers were willing to use adaptations, such as placing Katey in the front of the classroom where she could see better. While some teachers were negative, other teachers there were willing to try some novel methods, such as allowing her to move about when trying to learn new things. Mary K would follow up with the school 3-4 times per week.

During Katey's last quarter of fourth grade, Mary K was taking classes in special education. From that year on to 11th grade, Mary K took classes from Pacer. This enabled her to participate in individual education planning, and use and advocate for new teaching methods, such as using large letters in the sand to teach writing, and exposure to a variety of different environments to desensitize Katey to new stimuli.

Starting from the end of fourth grade, Mary K and the county health service requested extra help for Katey, including in-home cognitive behavioral therapy, a personal care attendant (starting at age 7-8), a paraprofessional at school (none of which she presently requires), and individual therapy. Mary K asked the PCA to watch the in-home therapy so they could use the same behavioral methods. The advantage of cognitive-behavioral therapy was helping Katey understand how her behavior affects others and alternative ways to handle the situation. These methods reduced Katey's screaming fits from days at a time to half-hour sessions.

Mary K got the state of Minnesota involved in IEP planning starting in seventh and ninth grade focusing on Katey's strength through important adaptations, like an aide to help her respond to the fire alarm, use keyboarding instead of handwriting, and learning to ask for help when it's needed to be successful.

Katey was re-tested by the neuro-pediatrician and found to have high functioning autism. By Christmas of fifth grade, Katey went from the second grade reading level to fifth grade reading level, and is now reading at her age level. In the seventh grade, she was writing like a college student. She still has a diagnosis of ADHD, but the diagnosis of bipolar disorder was removed by specialists at Gillette Children's Hospital when Katey was in seventh grade.

It turns out that Katey was misdiagnosed as a young child, but thanks to the persistence of her mother, she was re-assessed and received the kind of therapy that was helpful. Mary K gives the most credit to cognitive behavioral therapy, and working with Katey's strengths rather than dwelling on her weaknesses.

Katey today

Katey is a 20-year old college student with wavy, red hair and blue eyes. After being told for so long that she wasn't capable, Katey was unsure of her ability to do well in college. Mary K talked Katey into starting with just a few classes. She also receives help from the TRIO program and Accessibility Service.

Last quarter she made the Dean's list at Central Lakes College, with a 3.02 GPA. She has a Deaf Studies Certificate, and her plan is to become a social worker who will help children with disabilities.

Katey has been an advocate for people with disabilities since junior high. When Katey was in the hospital in seventh grade, she wrote up suggestions on how the medical people could help kids with autism, and her paper was posted for the staff to see. One of the innovations initiated by Mary K and Katey is the use of the judge's tent as a quiet area for people who are overstimulated at the state fair. She wrote a letter promoting people with disabilities being more involved in 4-H.

Katey is a well-rounded person. She did well in speech in high school and participated in high school and community theater. She received two purple ribbons on her 4-H projects and is a Minnesota State 4-H ambassador, helping at the fair and at 4H Leadership Camp.