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Edmonton program teaches military children about PTSD

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Edmonton program teaches military children about PTSD

Post by Guest on Fri 28 Jul 2017, 16:19

Edmonton program teaches military children about PTSD

'The program taught them it wasn't their fault,' mother says

By Anna Desmarais, CBC News Posted: Jul 28, 2017 7:00 AM MT Last Updated: Jul 28, 2017 11:15 AM MT

Helena Hawryluk tells CBC News about iStep, the program she founded in 2009 to help military children cope with the effects of PTSD. (CBC )

John Semple and his family suffered through episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years while he worked as a supply technician in military bases across the country.

Sometimes the episodes would be small, like going into a panic at a crowded bus stop.

Other times, he would turn his house into a battlefield.

His rage used to scare his wife Jennifer Semple and two daughters Grace, 8, and Claire, 7.

"It wasn't just one thing," John Semple said Thursday, surrounded by his family. "It was a million small things over time,"

When Semple left the military reserves in 2013 for medical reasons, the family settled into a house in the Edmonton area.

Soon after, they enrolled their daughters in iStep, an arts- and sports-based program for military children whose parent or parents are dealing with PTSD.

PTSD is a family affair

"The PTSD really spills out at home," the mother said. "This program taught them that it wasn't their fault."

Rates of PTSD are higher among members of the Canadian Armed Forces than the general public, with 11 per cent identifying with at least one symptom of the disorder in their lifetime, according to Statistics Canada.​

Veterans, serving military members and their spouses can get counselling and other medical coverage through Operational Stress Injury clinics. But there are no specific programs for children, according to Helena Hawryluk, co-creator of a program to address that demand.

Claire, John, Grace and Jennifer Stemple stand together after the iStep program's closing ceremonies. (CBC)

Hawryluk said many spouses asked her for PTSD programs for their children while she worked for the military as a social worker. So, in 2009, she and her twin sister Jerris Popik created the iStep camp program.

Before enrolling children into the program, the sisters sit down with families and work with them to understand their PTSD triggers.

"It's hard to know [what] everyone's going through unless they start talking," she said. "[We have] this conversation at the iStep camp throughout the year ... and then they can talk about it at home."

PTSD can be isolating, Hawryluk said, so this program gives children a sense of community.

"We don't focus on whose family is worse than the other," she said. "Together, if we can find a common bond, we can go through this together."

In the last seven years, the iStep program has expanded across the country and is available for children through their local military family resource centre.

iStep program helps children cope

Sisters Grace and Claire are spending their third summer with the iStep program. The two also sign up for hour-long after-school programs during the year. Over the last three years, the Semples said they've seen huge improvements in their daughters.

"They're learning about their triggers and what's setting them off," their father said. "One thing they've learned is they have more respect for each other, and they are more helpful."

The daughters will sometimes even bring him out of a panic.

"They call me out, distract me when I'm getting riled up," he said. "Like if I'm getting distracted, they'll come over and say, 'Look at this thing I just did!' "

The most important lesson has been learning about what their father is going through, the girls said.

"We learned that there is inside pain, and outside pain," Claire said.

The iStep program will open an after-school program on Tuesday nights at the Edmonton Garrison Military Family Resource Centre in the fall.


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