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Challenging Children: Getting Professional Help

When to Seek Professional Help
It's time to seek professional help when:
  • Your child does not achieve developmental milestones on time according to standard measures.
  • Your child's behavior results in his calling negative attention to himself on a regular basis. His behavior requires special attention from adults to ensure his or others' safety. Peers avoid your child.
  • Your child's behavior results in his exclusion from a situation or program that he wants to participate in and is a good match for his skills and/or interests.
  • Your child consistently behaves or talks angrily; he is reactive.
  • Parenting this child is an overwhelming, exhausting, and sometimes painful experience that leaves you wondering, "Is it him or is it me?"
  • Other adults with a frame of reference( frequent contact with the child, experience with other children the same age, expertise in child development or child behavior) suggest it.
  • Any potentially harmful or life-threatening behaviors occur. These warrant immediate professional advice.
Education and Research
Sharon: Talk to your pediatrician. Some doctors may minimize the problem and a few too quickly resort to medication, but most are highly knowledgeable and will have good ideas about how to proceed. Because pediatricians have seen many challenging children, they are often an excellent first resource and may be part of an initial evaluation. They may suggest reading material or direct you to other professionals. You should also talk to teachers--not just your child's current teacher, but last year's, too. Talk to friends who are educators. All of these are potential resources for professional referrals.

Before getting an evaluation, and certainly before starting any recommended therapies or services, educate yourself as much as possible. You are about to become your child's case manager. You're going to decide which stranger to trust. You have to determine which of many options are right for you, your child, and your family.

READ! Read books whose titles seem to capture your child's traits. Check some of the books we recommend in our Resources section at the back of this book. Follow the suggestions in other books for further reading. Ask a librarian where to find books that might be relevant for your child's problems. While some do not give specific solutions, most provide direction regarding professional consultation. They can help clarify what information you need to know before proceeding. In addition, most help give parents perspective on the situation--and perspective is important.

Internet Research
Do some research on the Internet. If your child has been recommended for testing for something like ADHD, or depression, anxiety, or autism, search the Internet by typing in a keyword, such as autism, and check out the sites that crop up. Bookmark whatever looks like it could be useful because you may want to go back to those sites after the testing has been done. Be sure to use multiple search engines to ensure broad coverage of the Internet's resources. The best sites provide linkages to other sites for further information. Many also provide lists of recommended books, some of which have ratings that may or may not be useful for your situation. Often a keyword search will lead you to organizations or support associations for parents of children with behavior problems. These can be very useful.

Internet sites come and go so don't rely solely on the following list. Try www.conductdisorders.com for conduct disorder (CD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Try www.autism.org for autism. Government sites, located by typing in "National Institute for Mental Health," can provide information on behavior disorders, current research, and sources for further help. The site for the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (www.ndmda.org) can provide information on childhood depression and bipolar disorder. Try www.chadd.com, the site for Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

The information you gather in this early phase will help define the problem. Equally important, it will help you develop a list of questions to ask a professional, such as the following:

  • Does this behavior warrant a diagnosis?
  • How will this affect my child at school?
  • What types of services have proved successful?
  • Who can best deliver these services?
  • What steps do I take first?
Often it helps to draw up a list of questions even before you begin your research and revise it according to what you learn. Sometimes, once you begin the process, there's so much new information you can't figure out what you need to know. A list of questions keeps you focused on the kind of information you originally thought important. As you read and speak to others, you can modify the list.

From From Chaos to Calm: Effective Parenting of Challenging Children with ADHD and Other Behavioral Problems by Janet E. Heininger and Sharon K. Weiss. Copyright � 2001. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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