Father of five shares what it’s like to raise a kid with special needs into adulthood
Stephanie Giese
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At first glance, Eddie Giese seems like a typical, middle-class American dad — average height, big smile, loves his wife and kids, enjoys fishing and video gaming in his free time.

But Eddie's daily life looks quite a bit different than most. When he married his high school sweetheart Stephanie in 2006, neither of them expected that the family they'd build together would be so unconventional.


Eddie soon found himself entering the world of adoption, something he wasn't sure about at first. "As a young newlywed just getting rolling in my career, I was...reluctant," he told Upworthy. But Stephanie was determined, and he eventually agreed to attend the training classes and begin the steps to get the required certifications.

"Once in the classes, my entire perspective changed and I realized how much I wanted to adopt, too," he said. They fostered, and later adopted, Nicholas in 2008 when he was 18 months old. A few years later, after having two biological children, Eddie was the one who pushed to foster, and later adopt, two additional kids who came from backgrounds filled with trauma, bringing their family to a total number of five children ranging in ages from 8 to 13.

Nicholas, now 13, keeps them on their toes. His official diagnoses are Intellectually Disabled Disorder with Sensory Processing Disorder and a General Mood Disorder, although it's next to impossible for kids with severe trauma backgrounds to get accurately diagnosed. The clinicians don't know if neurological differences are from trauma or autism, and the behaviors can mimic each other.

However, despite Nicholas' struggles, Eddie believes in his son and advocates fiercely on his behalf. He knows how critical it is to extend endless amounts of patience and forgiveness, even when it feels like there is nothing left to give.

Eddie Giese

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, on any given day, there are nearly 437,000 children in foster care in the United States. The average age of children entering the system is 8, generally meaning that they've been exposed to significant trauma before finding placement in a foster home. And even then, children can be subjected to further abuse or neglect in a system which was designed to protect them, something that weighs heavy on Eddie.

Fatherhood is all about balance, and Eddie tries to expend as much energy enforcing rules as he does showing his kids that "no matter what happens, they have someone who loves them dearly." He shares a special bond with his eldest son—they go fishing together, and since he is now officially a teenager, Eddie's been showing him how to do things around the house like mowing the lawn.

And then, of course, there's the whole business of Nicholas becoming a man. Autism Speaks recommends that parents begin talking to and preparing their child for the transition to adulthood around age 14. A few weeks ago, Eddie got to experience what he calls "a key rite of passage": teaching Nicholas how to use a razor.

"I'll admit it was hard not to get a little emotional...since he has an intellectual disability, I tried to break it down for him as slowly as possible and emphasize what to do and what not to do, and I shaved alongside him, as well. I also know I'll have to coach him through it a few more times before he's ready to do it on his own without my help. Come to think of it, he's actually due for another shave already!"

Abbey Saxton photography

Eddie's wife Stephanie thinks her husband is pretty amazing. "He's always been the kind of guy to take equal responsibility for everyday tasks like cleaning the bathroom, diaper changes, or waking up in the middle of the night, and full responsibility for any and all puke-related tasks… When we foster, he is typically the one who will attend court appointments. But my favorite thing about him is that he understands that the very best thing he can do for our kids is to show them in practical ways how much he loves their mom."

Looking towards the future, Eddie worries about Nicholas' ability to control his impulses and manage his emotions as he moves closer to adulthood. The lack of control can be alarming, but today, their fears are outshined by hope.

Eddie Giese

"We've seen so much progress in him, especially this year, that gives us hope… that he will be able to live an independent life and one that affects others positively. He has a hidden knack for music, so I hope that one day he explores that more and shares his gifts and his story of trials and tribulations to reach people for good."

Here's to the dads like Eddie, who keep showing up for their kids, even when it's hard.

Turn your everyday actions into acts of good every day at P&G Good Everyday.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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