To hear Remy Watkin recite selections from his poetry, you might be surprised to learn that the 16-year-old aspiring slam poet didn’t start speaking until he was four.
Creativity, courage and a love of performing are just a few of the qualities that distinguish this funny and outgoing teenager who also lives with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
It wasn’t always this way, remembers Remy’s mother, Laura. “Remy’s difficulties became very apparent around the time he entered school,” she says. “His emotional behavior was erratic, he had trouble concentrating and it was hard for him to make friends. For our family, it was a frightening and difficult time.”
Through Remy’s pediatricians at MassGeneral for Children at North Shore Medical Center, Laura was referred to NSMC child and adolescent psychiatrist Michele Casoli-Reardon, M.D. NSMC’s Child Psychiatry program offers inpatient and outpatient treatment for children and adolescents with other behavioral and psychiatric conditions.
“When I first met Remy, he had limited social skills and difficulty focusing, but he was also very sweet and engaging,” recalls Dr. Casoli-Reardon.
As with many of the patients Dr. Casoli-Reardon treats, Remy was dealing with multiple disorders, including anxiety and facial tics. The complexities of such situations require a multifaceted approach that treats each of the diagnoses and safeguards against possible secondary issues such as depression. In Remy’s case, this meant a combination of psychiatric therapy, medication and social skills training, as well as the development of a 504 plan at school—a federal program that provides accommodations, modifications and other services to meet a child’s specific educational needs.
While such accommodations are designed to remove barriers to learning in the classroom, Dr. Casoli-Reardon notes that children with autism spectrum disorder are commonly misunderstood to be intellectually disabled.
“Kids with autism spectrum disorder are incredibly smart and gifted, and often very verbal,” she says. “They may struggle with social cues and rigidity, but they are bright and loving, and they want to interact and be accepted into groups. With the right treatment and services, they can do very well.”
Remy, who attended Marblehead public schools until middle school, now attends a private school in Waltham and is doing better every year, says Laura.
“When your child is diagnosed, it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” notes Laura, whose elder son, Bramm, also is treated by Dr. Casoli-Reardon for attention deficit disorder. “You wonder who he will be, and what his life will be like. Dr. Casoli-Reardon and her colleagues have not only helped Remy develop skills that enable him to navigate the world with greater ease, but they also have brought comfort and confidence to our family.”
Remy, who calls Dr. Casoli-Reardon more a friend than a physician, describes her effect on his life over the past 10 years in similar terms. “I’m so much happier and less frustrated with myself,” he says. “I have words to explain my thoughts, and I know that I can do what other people can do—sometimes even better.”