There is nothing worse than watching your child struggle in school and not knowing why he/she struggles. As a Principal of Early Education, and mother of 2 boys, I have seen and felt the agony parents feel when trying to determine what is “challenging” their child. Whether the challenge is physical, academic, developmental, emotional, behavioral, or psychological, seeing a child suffer in school is heart-wrenching. Not knowing why they suffer is even worse. A diagnosis can often lend a sense of relief because even though it doesn’t make life any easier, it helps to ‘define’ the path to intervention a little more clearly. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe a child needs a diagnosis in order to need help. Ultimately, we need to be treating the challenges, not the diagnosis.
But what if there isn’t a diagnosis yet? What if, despite seeing your doctor, your child’s challenges remain undiagnosed? What if there is NEVER a diagnosis? Or what if the diagnosis is one that, in your heart, you know isn’t right?
If there is anything I have learned throughout my years as a parent and educator, it is that getting the right help is critical. But how do you get help, when you can’t define what is wrong? Where does the ‘help’ come from?
Early intervention will be your best bet for helping your child through any delays. Don’t wait to get help if you feel your child needs it. Nowadays, there is therapy for EVERYTHING, from speech and language to potty training (no kidding!). Children who receive intervention at an early age will go to kindergarten better prepared for success. If your child is school-age (often, learning issues pop up around 3rd grade), getting help as soon as the challenges are apparent will bridge the learning gap that may otherwise get larger as the year progresses.
Allow me a quick “Soap Box” before we get into finding the right services and interventions: We are learning now that more and more challenges can be attributed to food and nutrition. For instance, gluten sensitivity can be tied to ADHD-like symptoms, poor attitude, brain fog, anxiety, and more. Those symptoms can then lead to other issues such as reading/writing delays, poor academic performance, and processing disorders (it is hard to learn and perform in school when your brain is being highjacked!). Also, the dye Red 40 (among others) has been linked to hyperactivity, Omega 3 deficiency is prevalent many children with ADHD and autism, casein has been linked to autistic-like behavior, and more. My point is that when searching solutions, don’t forget to research the nutritional aspect of the issue. Removing gluten, casein, sugar or Red 40 from your ADHD child’s diet may be difficult, but it is better than forcing a lifetime of brain-altering, heart-stimulating medication to “cure” symptoms that are actually being caused by a nutrition malfunction.
If you are just on your way to seeking solutions for your child, here is a beginner’s guide to where to start.
- Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns. They should be able to provide advice and/or local resources to help you.
- Talk to the school. Teachers are trained to see developmental issues and they have A LOT of knowledge of what ‘typical’ expectations are for your child’s age. They may confirm your concerns and offer resources/help/tips or they may reassure you that this bump in the road is normal…nothing to worry about (phew!). While parents often “know best,” please don’t discredit what the teachers have to say…even if it is hard to hear. Children demonstrate different skill sets at home than they do at school. Generally, the teachers are just trying to help your child with the issues they see at school.
- Most cities and states have Early Intervention agencies that offer free comprehensive screenings and evaluations to children under the age of 5. These screenings will evaluate speech, language, communication, physical ability, visual/auditory/writing processing, focus & attention, developmental age and ability, behavior, etc.
- If your child is school age, the school district can be a valuable resource. Most school districts are required BY LAW to offer your child a free comprehensive evaluation if you submit a request in writing…EVEN if you attend a private school.
- At times it is easier to have your child evaluated privately. Unfortunately, these services can be extremely expensive and they may or may not accept insurance. Seek out resources in your area, looking for key words such as: Developmental Pediatrician, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Educational Therapy, Educational Psychologist, Neuropsychological Evaluation. Universities are also great resources. Many have evaluation and screening services available for reduced costs.
- Using caution and common sense, research your child’s challenges online or in books. There are some pretty fabulous websites out there with loads of information that may help guide you in the right direction in terms of ‘defining’ your child’s challenge and in noting ‘red flags’ to discuss with the teacher or doctor. Some challenges are much harder to define than others. These are especially true for processing issues such as visual, auditory, visual-motor, focus and attention, dyslexia and dysgraphia. For instance, if you notice your school-age child writing her letters from the bottom up instead of top-down, or writing his “o” clockwise…that is a red flag for a possible writing disorder).
You are not alone in your search. Many parents struggle to find the right solutions to help their child. The good news is that there are more resources out there than you can imagine. Research, question, seek and find. The fact that you have read through this post is proof enough for me that you are doing your due diligence to help your child. I wish you well in your journey and would love to hear about your struggles and successes.