Where to Start
Some children have difficulties in school such as problems with concentrating, learning, making or keeping friends, refusing to go to school, bullying or behavior issues. These types of problems can interfere with a child’s ability to learn and be successful at school. To help your child have the best school experience possible, and be sure that their difficulties are not getting in the way of learning, it is important to find out the nature of the problem that your child is experiencing. Problems can be due to unaddressed emotional, psychiatric and behavioral difficulties as well as learning disorders and disabilities.
Some warning signs to look for include: changes in school performance (changes in grades), mood changes, complaining of illness before school, increased disciplinary problems at school, experiencing problems at home or family situation (stress, trauma, divorce, substance abuse, domestic violence), communication from teachers about problems at school, and dealing with an existing mental health disorder or disability.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health and educational needs, a good first step is to contact a classroom teacher. Often, there are other support staff you can talk to as well, including the school nurse, assistant teachers, school resource staff, guidance counselors, school counselors, social workers and even your child’s gym teacher. Any professional school staff that has ongoing contact with your child can be a potential source of information. You can also talk to your school’s principal or assistant principal if you need additional help. The more you are involved and the more questions you ask will result in you having a better understanding of the difficulties your child may be facing and where to start to address your concerns. If you feel that you have done everything you can to get the best help or support for your child and you still have remaining concerns, you can also contact your school’s district superintendent to discuss your concerns and if needed, request a formal evaluation. Please see the “frequently asked questions,” section to find out more about working with your child’s school.
Screening and Assessment
If you or your child’s teacher has concerns about your child’s behavior or development, a screening may be conducted to learn more about the potential problem. A mental health screening tool may be used to decide if more testing is needed. Screenings are usually brief surveys that you, your child, or another adult at the school that knows your child would complete to see what symptoms may be present. If potential problems are found, an assessment may be recommended to gather more information or to provide a formal diagnosis. An assessment would usually be conducted by the school psychologist or other trained and licensed professionals and would include a review of your child’s medical history, family history, and social development collected through records, questionnaires, and interviews. This information would be combined into a written report with recommendations for services or supports to meet your child’s needs.