Children with special needs may have more mental health needs for a variety of reasons. They could be under more pressure and face more difficult social challenges.
By Prakriti Poddar
When you look at an infant, there are a variety of special needs that are noticeable and apparent. However, there are occasions when we need to be on the lookout for signals that may indicate a problem or that require our involvement.
Initially, learning disorders such as autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADD, and even dysgraphia can be harder to identify. Every child grows at his or her own pace, but there are some main indicators to track. During the first year of a kid’s development, defects in motor function, language, and sensory perception could be detected. Head-banging, self-biting, and other unwanted or extreme responses to circumstances, as well as repeated outbursts that the child is unable to regulate or self-soothe, are also signs of potential behavioural problems.
According to studies published in the Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 30-50 per cent of children with intellectual and learning disabilities can also have mental health issues. The sooner we can detect these issues, the better we can support our children and be there for them to help them grow and thrive.
What mental health challenges do children with special needs face?
Children with special needs may have more mental health needs for a variety of reasons. They could be under more pressure and face more difficult social challenges. They may be limited in their language skills or suffer from nervous system symptoms that impair their mental health. They are more likely to be exposed to trauma, such as rape, neglect, bullying, and restraint. Trauma may also cause mental health issues.
Panic attacks, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and behavioural issues are common mental health diagnoses among children with special needs.
If you suspect your child has special needs, they may have autism, ADD, or other types of developmental disorders and face various mental health challenges. Each of these disorders bring about specific behavioural changes.
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According to a Canadian National Charity, Autismspeaks, signs of autism are as follows:
Not being able to say even a simple word after 1 year or 15 months
Cannot make eye contact
Does not respond when being called by name
Disability to have conversations
Obsessive fixation with objects
According to the National Institutes of Health, a child with dyslexia may:
Have difficulty with rhyming
Confuse similar sounding words
Find it challenging to learn alphabets
First graders may have difficulty spelling and reading words
ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, kids may not be able to pay attention to detail.
One of the most common manifestations of ADD is that the child may not be able to concentrate on one topic, conversation, or activity for more than a few seconds or minutes.
They may have difficulty organizing tasks or listening when spoken to.
The child may exhibit a dislike or reluctance to participate in tasks that require mental effort.
These are signs of a few developmental disorders among children. There are others as well. If you suspect that your child may have special needs, it is always best to consult a professional to get an accurate diagnosis.
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How can parents help their children after the diagnosis?
It’s a good idea to pause and pose questions if your child’s attitude or behaviour appears to shift unexpectedly. It’s possible that they need mental health treatment. You will assist your child and those who work with them in determining this.
Taking the child to a licensed mental health therapist for children with special needs, understanding how the child responds to stress, guiding them to exercise, eat a healthy diet and sleep well will also go a long way.
Along with healthy physical habits, you can guide your child to have healthy emotional habits. You can provide the child with healthy outlets to process their anger, frustration, or other feelings that come up.
And lastly, as the old saying goes, we cannot pour from an empty cup. So, while you take care of your precious children, don’t forget to take care of yourself to avoid burning out.
(The writer is Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation)
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