Speaking from experience: Parent Support Specialist can relate to clients

Emily Farley News & Notes

As the parent of an autistic child, Kim Turner has had her own struggles. Which makes her really good at her job.

Turner is a parent support specialist for the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, where she works with parents of children who are receiving mental health services.

“It helps to be a parent and it helps to have a child who has had some special needs,” Turner said. “That really lends itself to being able to support other people. I’m able to share from my own experiences. When I have a parent call me crying because they’re having a really rough day, I’ve been there; I get it. I think that helps a lot.”

Kim and her husband, Jeremy, benefited tremendously from the help they received at Bert Nash for their son, Heath, 13.

“We both started going for services,” Kim said. “I was dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), with being overwhelmed and anxious. We both needed that support.”

Even though Kim had worked in social services, she knew she needed help to deal with the challenges of having a special needs child.

“Years ago, I had been a foster care manager, but despite my knowledge, I was at a loss with my child,” Kim said.

Heath started receiving therapy and med management services in Topeka, where the family lived at the time, when he was 5.

“He was having a lot of out-of-control behaviors,” Kim said. “It was very ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyper-activity Disorder), but there was always something else. Heath is very high functioning, so the autism thing kept getting missed. It was really frustrating for several years, because there was a lot of focus on us as parents. As a family we were struggling, and it was really rough on us as parents.”

When the Turners came to Bert Nash four years ago, they received the help they were looking for, for their son and for themselves.

“The first time we walked into Bert Nash, we saw a therapist and we got a plan,” Kim said. “She thought Heath would qualify for the waiver, which he did, and we needed to get him assessed for autism. As parents, it made us feel relieved, validated, like it wasn’t our fault.”

Heath was diagnosed with autism and he also qualified for the SED waiver, which is a federal Medicaid program. Community mental health centers, like Bert Nash, provide services covered by the SED waiver.

“When kids are on the waiver, it means they are at risk of hospitalization because they are putting themselves at danger, either through self-harm or their behaviors in general,” Kim said. “Being on the SED waiver qualifies them for extra wrap-around services. They have access to groups, they have access to respite care, which gives the family a bit of a break, and they have parent support, individually and/or as a group.”

Heath turned 13 last fall. He graduated from the waiver several years ago when he no longer met the clinical eligibility, due to the improvements he made.

“He’s doing really well. He struggles socially and he’s had some struggles with bullies, but he’s definitely learned some good tools and he’s been advocating for himself. He even started an anti-bullying club,” Kim said. “And things are a lot better at home.”

Then last year, Kim received a phone call from Elizabeth Day, who is the Bert Nash Child and Family Services waiver facilitator team leader. She had interviewed Kim in the past and held onto her resume.

“A parent support specialist position had opened and Elizabeth called me and said I hope this isn’t awkward, but we have this position open and I think you should apply for it,” Kim said.

She applied, and she got the job. Kim started June 11. It’s been a great fit.