At the Compass Health Oak Harbor office, client Amanda Buchanan shows photos of her son to Ryan O’Donnell, supervisor of a team of mental health therapists who visited Buchanan, her son and family at home for the past year. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Amanda Buchanan’s son has tried to kill himself three times.

He threatened to kill his teacher once and spent a week receiving psychiatric care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

He’s only 9 years old.

“He was trying to choke himself, suffocate himself. He was telling us he was going to get up in the middle of the night and strangle himself,” recalled his mother.

“I think he felt very out of control on the inside and didn’t know how to deal with it.”

A physician diagnosed Buchanan’s son at age 2 as being on the spectrum of autism.

“He’s high functioning. Many people don’t even realize it. They just think I’m a bad mother, and he’s out of control,” said Buchanan, also the mother of two daughters, ages 8 and 4.

For more than a year, Buchanan, her son and family received help with a new Compass Health service aimed at children with complex behavioral health problems.

The goal of the program is to keep youth, ages 3 to 21, in their homes and schools by learning how to cope with daily life.

Compass Health is the private, nonprofit organization contracted with the state to provide mental and behavioral health services to Island, Snohomish, Skagit, San Juan and Whatcom counties.

The program, called Wraparound with Intensive Services, or Wise, ramped up what Compass Health already had in place for children. Eight had been the limit of families that Compass Health Children’s Intensive Services could handle prior to expansion.

“Then we added 10 more slots and they filled up very quickly,” said program manager Ryan O’Donnell. “There’s definitely a need. How it looks is unique to each family. We figure out what the needs are and it varies for every family.”

Compass Health also recently placed therapists in three Oak Harbor public elementary schools.

Referrals from emergency rooms, doctors and schools are the usual routes for families to find out about the Compass Health all-encompassing children’s mental health program.

“I was literally told they’d get all up in your life,” Buchanan recalled about being referred to the Wise program. “And that’s not untrue.”

The team involves the whole family and works on goals, coping skills, changing behaviors, parenting skills, and the jealousy and confusion that is common among siblings who feel left out of the swirl of activity surrounding special needs children.

One therapist, known as a youth mentor or peer counselor, exclusively hangs out with the client to try and…

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Mayra Rodriguez

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