Checking Up on Emotional Well-Being of Families

Presenting the 2019 Stockman Lecture at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in October, LaToshia Rouse, mother of four, told some 4,000 pediatricians how much it can mean for a doctor to ask, sincerely, “How are you?”

“One pediatrician can make such a difference,” she said. “One pediatrician can help a family feel resilient and able to cope with their children’s challenges.”

The Rouse familyRouse has faced numerous challenges with her children.

Although her first child, Brandon, could count backwards from 10 at 2 years old, she soon noticed that his language skills lagged behind those of other children on the playground.

When Brandon was 3, Rouse gave birth to triplets. Born at 26-weeks’ gestation, the babies spent more than four months in the hospital.

“I personally found that I gave everything I had to everyone else, and I was not on the list,” she said. “I thought eventually I would break, but I couldn’t.”

When Rouse and her husband, William, started caring for the triplets at home, her concerns about Brandon continued. “I wanted to know why this kid could do complex things like read at a first-grade level but not hold a conversation with me,” she explained.

So, Rouse made an appointment with her pediatrician and arrived pushing two babies in a double stroller, holding one in a carrier on her chest, and holding Brandon’s hand. One of the babies had a gastrostomy tube in place to deliver nutrition directly to his stomach. And in the pediatrician’s office, Brandon was mimicking the beeping of a machine in the room.

Rouse said she felt near the breaking point — until the pediatrician stopped her work, turned toward Rouse, and asked, “How are you doing?”

“No one had asked me that before,” she told the audience. “My pediatrician helped make me feel like I was not alone … I had a teammate in her.”

Shortly after that, Brandon was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism, while the whole family received the support they needed.

“We don’t expect you to solve all our problems,” Rouse told the pediatricians at the AAP meeting. “But just having a conversation is supportive. Even if resources are not available, listening helps.”

Watch her presentation.

The Stockman Lecture, honoring former ABP President and CEO James A. Stockman III, MD, focuses on patient and family partnership in pediatrics.

With funding from the American Board of Pediatrics Foundation, Rouse and other parents and pediatricians have created a Roadmap Project that supports pediatric patients living with chronic conditions, their families, and the medical teams who care for them. The Roadmap Project aims to increase awareness about the need and urgency to provide support for emotional health and resilience for children with chronic conditions and their families. Watch the Roadmap Project video.

Photo: The Rouse family, from left to right: Ava, Layla, William, Brandon, Landon, and LaToshia Rouse. Photo by Tom Fuldner Photography.