Worried About Having Your Child Evaluated For a Specific Issue? Here are 10 things to consider
10 Reasons Stop Avoiding Assessment of Your Child’s
Academic, Behavioral or Emotional Difficulty
Amy V. Maus, MSW, LCSW
Rarely do parents anticipate that their child may one day experience significant issues with their behavior (in school or otherwise) or mental health. When these challenges arise, it can seem easier to delay or avoid altogether finding a diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, many issues that affect a child’s learning, behavior or social interactions will not go away on their own, without intervention. As a parent, if you are considering having a child evaluated and possibly receiving intervention by a professional, here are ten points to keep in mind.
1. Evaluation might reveal something unexpected. It’s easy for us to procrastinate when we want to avoid possible “bad news.” Remember that news is not bad news simply because it is unexpected. A sleep disorder may be caused by an anxiety problem instead of ADHD. The diagnosis may be a language disorder instead of Autism or a visual processing disorder rather than a reading disability. Until your child is evaluated, the true source of the difficulty remains unknown and cannot be effectively addressed and hopefully alleviated.
2. The longer the delay, the worse the issue may get. Many issues relating to mental health or intellectual or social functioning worsen over time, unless treated. The “wait and see” approach, while tempting, can result in a problem that is more serious, longer-lasting, and difficult to treat.
3. Your child’s friendships could be at risk. Many behavioral and emotional conditions are known to impact a child’s social interaction skills and ability to make and keep friends. For example, young people who use alcohol and drugs normally begin to associate only with others who also use substances. Children and youth with anxiety problems often suffer very significant social consequences, as their peers prefer to interact with students who are relaxed and self-confident. Friendship difficulties create further disappointments for an already struggling child.
4. Many medication myths are just that: myths. A parental resistance to medication for a child can seriously impair a child’s recovery, when medical treatment is warranted. Some of this reluctance is based on inaccurate understandings of medication’s risks, possible side effects and risks. The positives and negatives should be discussed with the prescribing doctor and not based on what you read on FaceBook or elsewhere on the internet. It is important for parents to obtain accurate, up-to-date information before arbitrarily ruling out the use of medications, when medications are indicated.
5. Suicide and physical injury can and should be real concerns in some situations. Mental health and substance abuse problems often carry an increased risk for physical harm to the child involved. Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people ages 10–21, and is most often preceded by depression that goes unrecognized and/or untreated. Children suffering from eating disorders are at particular risk for early, sudden death due to the bodily stress from the disorder. Children with ADHD that is not treated with medication have significantly impaired driving abilities and are involved in considerably more accidents, including fatal accidents, than non-disabled peers and peers with ADHD who are taking stimulant medication. Diagnosis and treatment are important steps toward physical safety for the child or adolescent with certain mental health conditions.
6. No one likes their child being labeled. This wish to avoid a label for a child is commonly heard by teachers and school counselors. This seems to make sense, as no one wishes for their child to carry a negative stigma due to a diagnosis of a mental health or behavioral condition. The problem is, however, that no one is able to avoid a child being labeled by others. Children – all children, not just those with a formal mental health or behavioral disorder – will be labeled by peers, teachers, coaches and others. When they are provided remediation or treatment for their difficulties, or not, sometimes their peers may label them as bad, dumb, or weird. Teachers and coaches apply their own judgments, often wondering why a family is refusing to get their child help. An official “label,” in the form of a diagnosis that comes with treatment, is helpful because it is usually less stigmatizing in the long run.
7. Early intervention can make all the difference. Many times, early intervention is key to slowing or preventing the progression of a problem by building skills that provide resilience and confidence, and preventing co-occurring difficulties like social problems, underperformance in school, and low self-esteem. For example, children with learning challenges report more significant gains in academic skills when their problems are recognized early and targeted interventions are provided. Many speech difficulties and fine motor difficulties, become almost intractable past the primary grades age with appropriate evaluation and treatment.
8. There is a strong relationship Substance abuse and ADHD. A significant body of research is showing what many clinicians have believed for some time – substance abuse and ADHD go hand in hand. In fact, a clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics published recently stated that ADHD and substance use disorders are “inextricably intertwined,” and parents and children should be informed of this fact. The report concluded that stimulant medication may reduce the risk of a child trying drugs and subsequently developing substance use disorders.
9. Special education services “ain’t what they used to be.” Some parents surely have memories of unhelpful, embarrassing, or even abusive special education-related experiences in their own youth. Services today are usually provided within the general education curriculum, and separate classrooms for students with less than very severe disabilities are not the norm. Most students have many friends in the classroom who receive extra help in forms ranging from reading support or speech therapy to counseling or testing accommodations.
10. Your child deserves extra or different help if he or she needs it. Any teacher will be able to share stories of students about whom they were seriously concerned, but despite the teacher sharing those concerns with the parents, were not allowed to receive even an evaluation, much less any intervention. It is always troubling to a teacher when a student is having academic, emotional, behavioral or social difficulties, but it is particularly disheartening to see a child going through problems that could be successfully treated with the treatment, as determined by appropriate evaluation. Every child deserves to have his or her needs and challenges taken seriously and deserves help where help is needed.