Imagine being so extremely sensitive to touch and sound that you can’t hug your closest friends and family, go to concerts, or hockey games. It may be hard to believe, but 13 year old CHEO patient, Jacob Rosser, has struggled with this his whole life. He has a remarkable memory, an incredible ability to learn, and an uncanny connection with animals. But a variety of mental health challenges make it hard for Jacob to connect with other people. Touching anyone but his mother proves to be a major struggle.
Diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Jacob sees the world in a special way. In Jacob’s own words, “my brain is wired differently.” He also falls in the middle of the autism spectrum, which for Jacob means that he has trouble understanding how other people think and feel, and can have a hard time interacting with them.
Thankfully, CHEO has a specialized program to meet Jacob’s needs and help him manage his struggles. CHEO’s Steps to Success program provides specialized care for children across Eastern Ontario who have brain differences. For Jacob, the program became a calming presence in his life and within a matter of days he said he felt accepted for the first time in a long time.
Before beginning the program, Jacob struggled with tasks that many of us wouldn’t think twice about, like touching people, water or even objects that other people had touched. For Jacob, what we might think of as molehills, really are mountains. But with hard work and support from both his family and the Steps to Success team, Jacob is now happily able to do the things that once seemed impossible – like playing dodgeball or even hugging a friend.
Dr. Michael Cheng, a CHEO psychiatrist, has been working with Jacob for the past two years to understand the unique way in which his mind works and to help him develop strategies to navigate his challenges. Dr. Cheng compares Jacob to an orchid – it can be difficult to find the right balance to grow an orchid, but if you put the time and effort into understanding and caring for it, it will thrive.
His mother Jennifer describes Jacob’s growth as a “work in progress,” but she is confident that through hard work he will continue to learn how to navigate life in his own unique way.
Today, Jacob is thriving. Jacob’s mom is truly thankful for the care they have received from CHEO. “Because of CHEO we’re learning coping mechanisms as a family to help give Jacob the tools to get by each day,” says Jennifer.
Jacob wants others to know that anyone can struggle with mental health, even young children. He hopes that by sharing his story, others can find compassion and understanding towards those with mental health issues. Like an orchid, with the right care and compassion those who struggle with mental health issues have the potential to thrive.