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In September 2012, Dawn Brook and her husband Rick flew to the Ukraine to adopt the beautiful baby girl they had waited, planned, and fundraised for. Isabella was 11 months old, and when they met the blond haired, blue-eyed bundle on September 5, 2012, they fell instantly in love. Five weeks later, the couple was ecstatic when Isabella, who the family calls Bella, became legally theirs and they were permitted to begin the long journey to bring her home to her forever family in Florida.
The Brooks knew Bella had been diagnosed with Down syndrome, but they believe every child deserves a family. Baby Isabella smiled and giggled at her new family, but she also soon displayed some concerning behaviors that Dawn knew could not automatically be attributed to her extra chromosome. The toddler banged her head repeatedly, self-harming continually. She also slept very little.
“By one-and-a-half, she was waking up in the middle of the night and ramming her head on her crib rails over and over,” Dawn said. “She would bang her head on the wall, too, and I thought, ‘I don’t remember anyone telling me this happens with Down syndrome.’ I often told the Lord, ‘I love her and I know you brought her to me, but this is hard.’”
Isabella was diagnosed with autism. It was the one special need Dawn had told her husband Rick when they were in the process of adopting Bella that she would not be able to handle. And here it was. As Bella grew, her behaviors worsened. Despite daily therapies, the Brook family all suffered from the frequent nights of interrupted sleep and the emotional meltdowns Bella displayed.
“With Bella, we were dealing with impulsivity, ADHD, and just a lot of behaviors,” Dawn said. “We came to find out a lot of the meltdowns were anxiety-driven, so if we went out in public she would start throwing a tantrum and displaying a lot of behaviors. We became trapped in our own home. Then she would also wake up at 3 a.m. and act like it was party time. We knew we needed a better life.”
Dawn consulted many doctors, and their only recommendations were to start Bella on a regimen of psychiatric drugs.
“She was not psychotic or a psychiatric patient, so why would I put her on psychiatric medications?” Dawn said. She was against the idea, but doctors offered little else. Dawn knew her family needed a way to calm Isabella and help her manage her emotions, so the family kept trying therapies and Dawn went searching for other options.
Finally, a little more than six months ago, a friend recommended a Facebook Group of moms searching for answers for their kids who struggled like Bella. The private group does not sell anything or offer medical advice, but was started in 2016 as a way to build community and share information with each other about medical cannabis, including full spectrum CBD oil. CBD seemed to be making a huge difference in their kids on the autism spectrum. Dawn began to learn about CBD and decided to try giving it to Bella.
“Through Bella’s ABA therapies, we began to realize that a lot of her behaviors were anxiety-driven, so we thought if we could find something to lower the anxiety, maybe the behaviors would lessen,” Dawn said.
Almost as soon as she began giving Bella CBD oil, the now almost eight-year-old’s behaviors began to improve.
“Bella used to scream and refuse to do things for us,” Dawn said. “One day she would be very noncompliant and grumpy. Then the next day she might be happy. Now she is a happier child. Do we still have noncompliance issues? Sometimes. CBD is not the magic pill that cures all, but she is so much better. She sleeps at night. She seems to be less anxious. She even talks more.”
Dawn said the family recently went on vacation and Bella’s stomach was upset, so she did not give Bella her CBD oil for a few days until she felt better. Dawn noticed a difference immediately and even posted about it on Facebook on August 3:
“Wow, I have to say this … we had to stop CBD oil for Bella the middle of last week for different reasons. At that time I noticed her speaking nearly stopped … we were at one words IF THAT. Mostly no conversations at all. We started her CBD oil back up on Tuesday and she is talking so much more now, spontaneous conversations, thoughts she has in her own mind, and sentences. What a HUGE difference. Just thought I would share, and NO I don’t sell CBD oil … just wanted to share in case it helps someone else.”
Dawn said she rotates between two different CBD oils every two weeks so the effect does not wear off. She also chose to get a medical card in Florida and makes sure Bella is under a doctor’s care.
“Medical marijuana is legal in Florida, and I was advised to get a card for Bella because if someone does not understand that CBD does not get Bella high and decides to report me for giving my child CBD, and if the trace amounts of THC then somehow made a drug test positive, that could wreak havoc on my family if the authorities thought I was getting my child high,” Dawn said. “So I did get a card for Bella.”
Dawn said as a Christian she felt strange at first going in to get the medical card but knew she was doing it for all the right reasons, reasons she thinks God would approve of.
“I did wonder what people would say, and I prayed about it,” Dawn said. “But wit h CBD oil not having the THC, I felt okay about that. Bella is still the same child. It doesn’t alter her. The CBD just seems to make her better off, less moody. She has a better quality of life. It is not zoning her out or making her euphoric. It is just easing her anxiety, helping her sleep through the night, and making her overall a happier child.”
Dawn said Bella’s therapists have even noticed a difference and asked her what she was doing differently.
“Her speech therapist and her occupational therapist both were like, ‘Are you doing something different now?’ and I told them we had gotten Bella a medical card and were giving her CBD,” Dawn said. “They said, ‘Keep doing whatever you’re doing. It’s working.”
Dawn said studies have shown kids with autism are deficient in some of their natural endocannabinoid system, and plant-based cannabinoids found in full-spectrum CBD seem to replenish or activate their depleted systems.
“Bella’s ABA therapist says they think that it kind of opened a door and calmed her mind to receive the information they are trying to teach her so she can bet more receptive to her therapy,” Dawn said.
Dawn said CBD is helping Bella express her needs better without outbursts.
“Before, she might have just said, ‘Drink’ when she was thirsty or give one word to express herself,” Dawn said. “Now she has been working with her speech therapist to say, ‘I want drink please.’ The CBD seems to be helping.
When we were on vacation and I was not giving her the CBD oil, she was not talking at all. When we got home and I gave her the oil on Tuesday, just a few minutes later Bella said, ‘Look at this, Mommy. Daniel Tiger watch train?’ And I said, ‘Yes, Daniel Tiger is watching a train.’ I was like ‘Holy Moley, look at this!’”
The difference has been so great in Bella that Dawn decided to try CBD for her own anxiety.
“When I have been extremely stressed out and cannot sleep because of all the challenges that come with raising a special needs child, yes, I have tried it and it helps,” Dawn said. “It helps me calm down. I don’t have that anxious anxiety with my mind racing, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get all this stuff done.’ I sleep better. When it’s given the right way, under a doctor’s care, it is good. I know it is helping a lot of other families like mine. We are living a better quality of life with CBD oil.”
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