10 Reasons Not to Avoid Intervention for Your Child’s Academic, Behavioral or Emotional Difficulty
Amy V. Maus, MSW, LCSW
When starting a family, few parents anticipate that their children may one day experience significant problems in school or with their behavior or mental health. When those challenges do arise, it can seem easier to delay or avoid altogether seeking diagnosis and treatment. However, many problems that affect students’ learning, behavior, and social interactions do not go away on their own, without intervention. If you, or a parent that you care about, are considering allowing a child to receive professional evaluation or intervention, here are ten points to keep in mind.
- Evaluation might show something you didn’t expect. It’s easy for all of us to procrastinate when we want to avoid “bad news.” Evaluation, however, can 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 rather than a reading disability. Until your child is evaluated, the true source of the 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 intervention 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 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.
- Many medication myths have been disproven. A reluctance for medication use can seriously hamper a student’s recovery, when medical treatment is warranted. Some of this reluctance is based on inaccurate understandings of medication’s risks. 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 medications are warranted.
- Suicide and physical injury are real concerns. Mental health and substance abuse problems often carry an increased risk for physical harm to the child or adolescent involved. Suicide is currently a leading cause of death among young people ages 10-14 and 15-21, and is most 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. Diagnosis and treatment are important steps toward physical safety for the child or adolescent.
- 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.
- Early intervention can make all the difference. Early intervention is often key to inhibiting a problem’s progression, building skills that provide resilience and confidence, and preventing co-occurring 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.
- Substance abuse and ADHD are inextricably linked. A significant body of recent research is showing what many clinicians have believed for some time – substance abuse and ADHD go hand in hand. A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, published online recently in Pediatrics, stated that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and substance use disorders are “inextricably intertwined,” and parents and patients should be informed of this. The report concluded that stimulant medication may reduce the risk for trying drugs and developing substance use disorders.
- 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. 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 classroom friends who receive help ranging from reading support or speech therapy to counseling 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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Maus, MSW, LCSW
Amy Maus 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 provides training to educators, parents and students, Care Team consultation, and direct intervention with at-risk students. In the office, she provides psychoeducational evaluations for issues including ADHD, anxiety, and other mental health and learning concerns that impact the classroom. She enjoys working with students of all ages and their families.