A Parent’s Call to Action: 10 Reasons Not to Avoid Evaluation and Treatment For Your Child’s Academic, Behavioral or Emotional Problem
Amy V. Maus, MSW, LCSW
- Evaluation might show something you didn’t expect. Many times, parents avoid evaluation out of fear or dislike of a certain diagnosis. Of course, lack of a formal diagnosis does not make the problem itself go away, but it’s easy for all of us to procrastinate when we want to avoid “bad news.” Evaluation can, however, sometimes show that the source of your child’s difficulties is something you never expected. A sleep disorder or anxiety problem instead of ADHD, for example. A language disorder instead of Autism. A visual processing disorder instead of a reading disorder. Until your child is evaluated, the true source of difficulty remains unknown.
- The longer you wait, the worse it may get. It’s a clear rule of thumb: mental health, learning, and substance abuse problems tend to 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. With problems that are impacting classroom learning, for example, waiting another year for evaluation and treatment often results in a child who is further behind his or her peers at the end of the year than at the beginning. Another year’s instruction has been missed, and peers are quickly moving ahead.
- Your child’s friendships could be at risk. Many behavioral and emotional conditions are known to impact a child’s social 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 with untreated ADHD are often avoided by peers, who view them as troublemakers, difficult to play and converse with, and likely to overstep social norms and boundaries. 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.
- No one avoids being labeled. “I don’t want my child to be labeled,” is commonly heard by teachers and school counselors. This makes a lot of sense, as no one wishes for their child to carry negative stigma due to a diagnosis. The problem, however, is that no one is able to avoid being labeled by others. Children – ALL children – will be labeled by their peers, teachers, coaches and others. When they are not provided remediation or treatment for their difficulties, sometimes childhood 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 usually less stigmatizing in the long run.
- Many medication myths have been disproven. Effective help comes in a variety of forms. Different problems require different remedies. Of course, many families are understandably reluctant for medication in particular. This reluctance can seriously hamper a student’s recovery, when the problem experienced is one that benefits from medical intervention. Some of these concerns are based on inaccurate understandings of medication’s risks. New research is bringing into serious question the traditional belief that stimulant medication, often prescribed for ADHD, affects growth or adult height. Other medication myths include that students are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol if they have taken a medication for behavioral or emotional problems (the opposite, in fact, may be true) or that drinking caffeinated drinks can effectively mimic a prescription stimulant (research shows they can’t.) It is important for parents to obtain accurate, up-to-date information before arbitrarily ruling out the use of medications, when warranted.
- Suicide and physical injury are real risks. Mental health and substance abuse problems often carry an increased risk for physical harm to the child or adolescent involved. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among young people, and is often preceded by unrecognized and/or untreated levels of depression. Individuals suffering from eating disorders are at particular risk for early, sudden death due to the bodily stress from such disorders. Individuals with untreated ADHD 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. For these and many other emotional and behavioral concerns, diagnosis and treatment are important steps toward physical safety for the child or adolescent.
- Substance abuse and ADHD are inextricably linked. A significant body recent research is showing what many clinicians have believed for some time, that substance abuse and ADHD seem to go hand in hand. A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), published online in Pediatrics, stated that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and substance use disorders (SUDs) are “inextricably intertwined,” and parents and patients should be made aware of this. Stimulant medication may reduce the risk for trying drugs and developing an SUD, the report notes, and there is no evidence that stimulants increase the likelihood of developing an SUD.
- Early intervention can make all the difference. All kinds of emotional, behavioral and learning problems respond best when intervention is provided early. Early intervention is often key to inhibiting a problem’s progression, building skills that provide resilience and confidence, and preventing co-occuring difficulties like social problems, underperformance in school, and low self-esteem. Children with learning challenges, for example, 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, such as pencil grasp, become almost intractable past the primary grades age.
- Special education services “ain’t what they used to be.” No doubt, some parents have memories of unhelpful, embarrassing, or even abusive school experiences in their own youth. It’s easy for any loving parent to assume that their child may have a similar, negative experience if allowed to receive special services at school. Parents who share this concern can ask for a meeting with one of the special education providers at their child’s school. Services today are normally provided within a general education curriculum, and separate classrooms for students with disabilities are far less common. Most students have many friends who receive help ranging from reading support or speech therapy to counseling sessions or testing accommodations.
- Your child deserves help. Ask any teacher, and he or she will be able to share stories of students about whom they were seriously concerned, but who were not allowed to receive evaluation or interventions. It is always troubling when a student is having academic, emotional, behavioral or social difficulties, but it is particularly disheartening to see a child going through unnecessary problems that could be successfully treated with the right support. Every child and adolescent deserves to have his or her needs and challenges taken seriously and deserves help where help is needed.
Schools have permission to print and/or distribute this article, as long as WCPA is credited.
Amy Maus, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in both Missouri and Illinois. She specializes in services to schools, including work within public and private schools in urban, suburban and rural settings. Amy is trained to provide psycho-educational testing and she evaluates students for ADHD, anxiety, depression and other mental health and learning concerns that impact the classroom. She enjoys working with students of all ages and their families.