By Kristen Shultis, Psy.D.
Have you ever noticed a child who seemed to have endless energy? Always bouncing from one toy to another, trying to get involved in others’ conversations, becoming quickly bored on one topic before wanting to move to the next one? While it may be easy to assume the child is simply energetic, at what point does this high level of activity become a distraction? What amount of energy is considered normal versus too much? Many parents and teachers find themselves asking these questions as they observe their children or students in their day-to-day routines.
Frequently, a teacher will contact a student’s parents when they notice certain behaviors that hinder the child’s learning ability or cause other students to be interrupted and distracted. This may look like the child making careless mistakes on class assignments, constantly squirming while seated, and blurting out answers without being called on. If a teacher suggests to a parent that their child may have ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), what should a parent do?
When given this information, many parents feel pressure to “fix” their child’s behavior quickly. This may mean a trip to the pediatrician’s office, who, based on limited information, gives a diagnosis of ADHD along with a new prescription to help the child's behaviors. In a society that can be cavalier about assigning diagnoses, tends to expect instant results, and often dismisses long-term consequences, parents may feel this is the only solution available. While pediatricians and teachers are merely trying to do their jobs, it can be helpful to turn to a licensed professional who is trained and equipped in identifying the root cause for the challenging behaviors a child presents.
So for parents facing this situation, what should they do?
- Slow down
Instead of rushing to find a treatment plan, I always recommend that parents slow their approach. It is essential to develop a good understanding of what issues the child is facing before jumping into potential solutions. By looking at the big picture, you can better serve your child in the long run by accurately identifying and treating their issues.
- Consider a psychological evaluation
One of the best ways to accurately diagnose a child’s behaviors is through a psychological evaluation. A thorough evaluation will incorporate multiple sources of information, such as reports from parents and teachers, clinician observations, and assessments the child completes themselves.
I personally prefer to give what are called “performance-based” measures, where children complete certain game-like tasks with me so there is objective data to compare to their peers when considering possible diagnoses. It is important to acknowledge what is developmentally appropriate behavior versus what could be symptoms of a mental health diagnosis.
- Consider treatment options based on the most accurate diagnosis
Once your child has received an accurate diagnosis, you can now explore treatment options, such as medication, therapy, and special arrangements for school. The very best treatment a parent can give their child is one that is tailored specifically to meet their child’s needs, which is best created in partnership with a mental health professional as well as teachers and pediatricians.
If you find yourself in this situation, don’t stress! Solutions for your child are available. To inquire about setting up a psychological evaluation, contact us here.