I tried to convey why it’s so important to get a proper diagnosis of learning and behavioral problems in my last blog, Labels – Why should my child be diagnosed? Today I’d like to explain what is done during the evaluation and who’s involved in testing and treatment. Primary care physicians are a great place to start with questions about how to evaluate and treat various concerns. After that where should you go?
Start with the pediatrician
Parents are sometimes surprised to learn that I treat ADHD, anxiety, and many other behavioral disorders. I see many kids every day with these issues. I enjoy watching as they learn to manage their behaviors and improve their executive functioning over the years. Even kids who really struggle in the early years can grow into confident and accomplished adults.
I often say that kids with ADHD are talented, smart and can do wonderful things. They have unique gifts.
There are some pediatricians who don’t treat these issues, but I find there’s a huge need. In many cases since I’ve followed a child for years, I know them well and can help better than a specialist who doesn’t have that history.
Despite plenty of experience, I do use specialists often.
Many learning and behavior problems have similar symptoms, so it might take several professionals to help evaluate the situation.
Of course the professionals at school are imperative to being part of the team. And there are times when the diagnosis isn’t clear or a child doesn’t respond to the treatment well, other specialists are very helpful to assess the issues.
There are of course many tests and treatments available that have not been proven to help. Future blogs will cover testing and treatments, but until then, just a few cautions.
There are tests available, such as EEG for ADHD, that are not shown to be beneficial and can increase cost without adding to the diagnostic evaluation.
There are many treatments that haven’t been shown to be effective but still advertise good results for a fee.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Discuss tests you are considering with your child’s doctor, especially if there is a large price tag attached.
The alphabet soup of credentials confuses many parents. I’ve tried to compile a list of experts in various fields who might need to be involved in your child’s assessment and care as well as explain what types of things they can do to help in the process of evaluating and treating learning and behavior issues.
Parents (or primary caregivers) are critical to giving insight into how children learn and behave. They should be interviewed and fill out standardized questionnaires to help with the diagnosis. Their feedback on how each treatment is working is helpful in fine tuning treatment plans.
Teachers & Other School Professionals
Teachers are imperative in helping assess the issues and concerns since they can compare any one child to a room of their peers and they know how your child handles various situations and what their typical behaviors are.
Many schools will have a school counselor or psychologist evaluate and help treat students.
Teachers with advanced background in learning disabilities are used to help address specific concerns.
It’s recommended that each teacher fill out standardized questionnaires to help with the initial evaluation of focus and behavior disorders and again to assess responses to treatments.
Schools may put students on IEP or 504 Plans to help with their education. For more on these see IEP & 504 Plan.
Therapists (not mental health)
Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Audiologists, and Speech Therapists can be school based or private, but they are helpful in addressing specific motor skills, sensory issues, hearing issues, or speech/language concerns.
They do not prescribe medication, but work within their area to improve certain skills that affect learning and behavior.
Check with your insurance to see what is covered in your plan. Ask the school if they offer any of these services.
Mental health specialists
Psychologists (clinical psychologists, cognitive psychologists, educational psychologists and neuropsychologists) and clinical social workers offer testing as well as therapy for many disorders.
Some therapists specialize in testing, others in treating. Some do both. You will have to ask what their qualifications are and what role they play in diagnosis and management.
Clinical therapists can do parent training to help parents manage behaviors at home, especially for younger children.
Therapists cannot prescribe medications, but some people find that the therapy provides enough benefit that medication is not needed or that the therapy in addition to medicine helps better than either treatment alone.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the preferred first line treatment for certain disorders, such as ADHD in young children and anxiety.
Therapists often provide social skills training, which is needed for many children with behavioral and learning issues who don’t learn social skills as easily as their peers.
You should check your insurance list of providers to see who is covered. It also might be worth pricing some who do not take your insurance but will give you a bill to submit yourself. If a person is out of network your cost might be about the same as a person who is harder to get in to see but on your plan.
I find the searchable database from Psychology Today to be helpful. You start with your zip code, then you can choose insurance, issues needed, male or female providers, and more to limit your list of suggested therapists.
Physicians (pediatrician, family physician, developmental pediatrician, neurologist, and psychiatrist) can make a diagnosis and prescribe medications for treatment of certain diagnoses, such as ADHD or anxiety.
Not all have experience with each of these issues so you must ask what their experience is.
It can take quite a while to get into specialists and they can be expensive, so starting with your primary care physician often is easier and very helpful to rule out medical issues and to do the evaluation and treatment if they are comfortable.
Many psychiatrists do not accept insurance and they are typically difficult to get in to see.
Physicians (including psychiatrists) generally do not do therapy. They focus on the medication benefits and side effects. Therapy along with medication often improves outcome, so multiple specialists working together can be beneficial.
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can work with physicians to diagnose disorders and prescribe medications to treat them. In some states they can work independently.
They do not offer psychotherapy, so it is often beneficial to work with more than one person to get the best outcome.
Benefits include that they are generally easier to get in to see and they are relatively inexpensive compared to physicians. Not all are comfortable with treating these issues. Ask about training and experience.
Working as a team
This communication is often done through parents and written reports. It’s important that all members of the team have access to what the others are doing.
Looking for more?
Many parents benefit from support groups to learn from others who have gone through or are currently going through similar situations, fears, failures, and successes. Find one in your area that might help you go through the process with others who share your concerns. If you know of a support group that deserves mention, please share!
CHADD is the nationwide support group that offers a lot online and has many local chapters, such as ADHDKC. I am a volunteer board member of ADHDKC and have been impressed with the impact they have made in our community in the short time they have existed (established in 2012). I encourage parents to attend their free informational meetings. The speakers have all been fantastic and there are many more great topics coming up!
New in Fall 2018: ADHDKCTeen – a group just for teens with ADHD (and anxiety, learning difference, and anyone else who thinks it will help them).
Many parents are surprised to learn how much anxiety can affect behavior and learning. To look for local support groups, check out the tool on Psychology Today.
The Autism Society has an extensive list of resources.
Dyslexia Help is designed to help dyslexics, parents, and professionals find the resources they need, from scholarly articles and reviewed books to online forums and support groups.
Learning Disabilities Association of America offers support groups as well as information to help understand learning disabilities, negotiating the special education process, and helping your child and yourself.
Tourette’s Syndrome and Tic Disorders
Tourette’s Syndrome Association is a great resource for people with tic disorders.
General Support Group List
For a list of many support groups in Kansas: Support Groups in Kansas .
Choosing schools for kids with ADHD and learning differences isn’t always possible, but look to the linked articles on ways to decide what might work best for your child. When choosing colleges, look specifically for programs they offer for students who learn differently and plan ahead to get your teen ready for this challenge.
Midwest ADHD Conference – April 2018
Check out the Midwest ADHD Conference coming to the KC area in April, 2018. I’m involved in the planning stages and it will be a FANTASTIC conference for parents, adults with ADHD, and educators/teachers.