Darek at home with his parents, George and Jan Alexiou

Specialized Treatment Changes a Life | Spring 2011 Spotlight |

UPDATE: After returning home, Darek got a part-time job, volunteered and re-enrolled in school. In June 2012, he graduated high school. |

It can be hard work parenting a child who has a developmental delay or mental illness. Imagine, then, what it’s like to parent a child diagnosed with both life-altering conditions.

Jan Alexiou of Raleigh can tell you: “It’s bewildering.” She and her husband, George, decided in January 2005 to place their 14-year-old son at FACT Specialized Services, a residential treatment center in Jacksonville, after he was hospitalized with crippling anxiety and depression. Because Darek also has autism, his parents had struggled for six months to find a program with the right expertise to treat him. A social worker at UNC Hospitals finally pointed them to FACT.

“It was an answer to our prayers,” Alexiou says.

Darek spent 32 months in care at FACT Specialized Services before he returned home to his parents. Today, he’s on the honor roll in high school, with plans to graduate next year, and he’s singing in a vocal group and playing tennis and volleyball. FACT helped when others couldn’t because it is one of the few facilities specializing in treatment for children who are dually diagnosed with mental illness/severe emotional disorders and an underlying developmental disability.

People with developmental delays are thought to be up to five times more likely than others to develop mental health issues, but community-based services for this population of children were nonexistent in North Carolina when FACT was founded in 2001. Today, they’re part of the continuum of care at Methodist Home for Children. A January 2011 merger with FACT expanded MHC services to include outpatient therapy, diagnostic evaluations, psychiatric services, day treatment and Level III mental health group homes.

“Methodist Home for Children is devoted to serving children, but especially those on the margins—children who have run out of options,” MHC president/CEO Bruce Stanley says. “The need among children who are dually diagnosed is great, and this work calls for highly effective and specialized services.”

In his case, Darek had always been a naturally outgoing kid who did a good job managing the symptoms of autism and anxiety, Alexiou says. But by 8th grade, with the pressures of adolescence building, he became overwhelmed and suicidal: “He was afraid to go to school,” she says. “His anxiety was so gripping that it became depressive. It was a very serious point in his life where he talked about running in the road.”

FACT staff took time to know Darek and build a highly structured therapy and desensitization program that helped him control his anxiety and rebound from depression. Through home visits and a carefully choreographed return, Darek has been able to reclaim his life in Raleigh.

“Anxiety is going to be part of who he is for the rest of his life, but he manages it much better,” Alexiou says. “He learned at FACT to build on strengths and to know what he’s good at. He has confidence that he can do this now.”