Colorado Center Focuses On Mental Health Problem Affecting Young People With Down Syndrome

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Down Syndrome Linda Roan and Miah
Miah Yager, far right, had electroconvulsive therapy to treat her regression. She's pictured with her mom and two sisters.

Three years ago, when Miah Yager was 20, something unexpected happened. Yager, who has Down Syndrome and had always been a happy kid, became withdrawn and began talking to herself.

Her parents suspected her behavior was triggered when she left her home in Boulder for the College of Charleston to take part in a special program for kids with mild intellectual disabilities. When Yager came home for Thanksgiving break, her parents noticed a dramatic change in her behavior. She went back to school but when she returned for Christmas her mother, Linda Roan, says her condition had worsened: Yager was shuffling around, not responding to questions, and wasn't getting any sleep.

Roan said it was in sharp contrast to the young woman who just a year earlier had given speeches about Down Syndrome to large audiences.

Yager withdrew from college and sought treatment. Turns out, she had a mental health condition called regression. It's often characterized by childlike behavior and a loss of language and social skills. While regression is not unique to Down Syndrome, young people with the genetic condition are especially vulnerable to it.

Yager tried anti-depressant medication, but what really helped was electro-convulsive therapy, or ECT, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain. Roan says it was like a miracle: her daughter returned to her old self.

Mental health and regression are getting more attention in the Down Syndrome community. The Sie Center for Down Syndrome in Denver has developed a new concentration in mental health therapy and doctors report seeing an increasing number of patients with regression. According to the center, regression is often under-diagnosed because some physicians think it's a side effect of Down Syndrome.

Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner spoke with Yager's mother, Linda Roan, and with Lina Patel, who is director of psychology at the Sie Center and one of Miah's therapists.