It is estimated that between 15 and 18 percent of children have mental health problems and other brain-based challenges that interfere with learning. The most common of these are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity, Oppositional Defiance, Anxiety Disorders and a wide range of Learning Disabilities.
Believe it or not, that is actually a conservative estimate. According to a presentation I attended with Dr. Leonard Sax, it is estimated that approximately 30% of kids struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
While these numbers can be hard to swallow – and certainly daunting for parents of young children – the most important thing to realize is that early intervention makes an enormous difference. Sadly, fewer than one-third of children receive the care and treatment they need in a timely manner to mitigate the long term implications of what are usually manageable, treatable medical or educational challenges.
Why do parents wait to identify challenges and get support? There are many reasons, including:
- Social stigma around receiving mental health treatment
- Pediatricians are generally not experts in identifying or treating mental health
- Identification is complicated and expensive (both for cost of services, and lost wages due to time off work for parents)
- Appropriate referral sources with expertise in children’s mental health can be difficult to find and trust
- Parents are struggling with similar challenges and disabilities to their children
- Hesitance to “label” children causes delays in identification and treatment
As parents, we often get stuck in an ideal vision of what we want for our children. When we run into complex issues, we are slow to change our course. After all, for most of us, this is a new experience, and we don’t really know what to expect.
We knew my daughter had complex health issues starting at 2 weeks, then again at 2 years, then 4 years, then 6. We addressed each health development individually over the years. But to be honest with you – and with myself – I must admit that she was 8 or 9 before I honestly accepted that she has “special needs.”
Seriously, she was diagnosed with ADHD at age 5. But I didn’t understand the full impact of what that meant until she was closer to 10 years old. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was addressing it. And I was, in some ways.
But for many years I swam deep in the waters of denial, lost in the current. I just kept believing that, with a life vest on, it was enough that I knew how to swim.
In hindsight, I think that I was worried that acknowledging that my child had a “problem” would destroy my visions of myself as a parent or of her as the successful child of my dreams. I didn’t realize that dealing with those challenges head-on was actually the solution to staying true to my larger vision.
At the end of the day, as parents we want our children to become independent adults with fulfilling lives. We have no clue what it’s really going to take to help them develop that vision for themselves!
When children with mental health problems are not effectively identified and treated in childhood, they end up struggling to succeed in almost all aspects of their lives: schoolwork, friends, relationships with family members, and other aspects of their development.
Early intervention and treatment leads to brighter futures for kids and their families.
So if you suspect that your child is struggling from a mental health disorder or learning challenge, don’t wait. The more you know about the source of your child’s struggles, the better (and sooner) you’ll be able to help!
The greatest gift you can give yourself, and your child is to acknowledge that life is a bumpy road. Life’s challenges are not usually road-blocks, but they call for careful navigation.
You do not have to abandon your goals and dreams when you accept that things aren’t going exactly as you planned. In fact, hold fast to your dreams! They will help you find the strength and wisdom you need to steer clear of the all those pot-holes that pop up randomly along the bumpy road of parenting.
Share your experience with accepting that your child has special needs and the steps you took to get the needed services.
A writer, coach and public speaker, Elaine Taylor-Klaus is the co-founder and CEO of ImpactADHD.com, a global support, training and coaching resource for parents of children with ADHD and related challenges. An advocate for women’s, maternal and infant, nutritional, and neurological health, Elaine serves on the national board of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). An impassioned voice for parents, Elaine is first and foremost the mother in an ADHD Family of 5.