When you are suffering from a bad cough or back pains you seek out a doctor’s opinion in order to regain your strength, lower your temperature, or stop coughing. If you are like some people I know, you will go to the pharmacy and purchase an over-the-counter medication to feel comfortable. Just as we take the time to tend to our physical health, we must also invest the time it takes to ensure our mental health is functioning at its best.
Imagine a child who depends on you for their mental health. Although somewhat dated, the 1999 Mental Health Report from the Surgeon General indicates that “Four million children and adolescents in this country suffer from a serious mental disorder that causes significant functional impairments at home, at school and with peers. Of children ages 9 to 17, 21 percent have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment” (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1999).
In this wonderful journey of life, eight years ago I was blessed to care for a child that has developmental disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His mental health is a priority every day. The latest research from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network finds that “1 in every 110 eight-year old children were diagnosable for an ASD” (Autism, 2012). If he had a cold, I would make sure to serve him orange juice, hot soup and other remedies to comfort and restore his health. In a week, life would go back to its usual routine.
Not so with his mental health. I cannot take anything for granted. If you are a parent of a child who looks normal and most times acts normal except for the occasional head banging, refusal to use the toilet and is content in his own fictional world, then I have a few tips to make your life easier.
- TIP1: Make sure your child’s teacher, principal, social worker, and special education team are on your team. You are your child’s number one advocate and he or she needs you to reflect that when you communicate with the team.
- TIP2: Educate your family about your child’s diagnosis. Sometimes an unformed family member’s perspective of the actions of your child can create the wrong idea about your child’s behavior.
- TIP3: Be prepared for what you will need to say when there is a public outburst. Choose the words you use with your child and any adults who will have a comment or two.
- TIP4: Remember you are not alone. Use the resources available to you and your child. In the state of Michigan, contact your local county mental health agency. In Oakland County a good resource is the Community Living Services (http://www.comlivserv.com/oaklandcty.htm). Mental Health America( http://www.nmha.org/) is a national organization with valuable information as well.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.
National Institute of Mental Health. Autism, 2012