Neurological disorders: Does my Child Have One? How to deal with it?

If you are a parent or guardian of a child that has been identified with a serious emotional disorder (SED), neurological disorders or mental illness, you are the best judge of your child’s special needs and particular strengths. Your direct and active participation in his or her treatment is essential to successful outcomes as your child receives services from the neurologist, mental health and educational communities.

I’ve been told my child is seriously emotionally disturbed. What does that mean?

Serious emotional disturbance (SED) is a broad term used by school systems to classify students that exhibit any of a wide variety of behavioral disorders or mental health problems. These problems may be due to sociological or environmental causes (such as abuse, neglect, crime, poverty, or emotional, neurotic, or life-adjustment issues) but SED also includes children with neurological disorders.

What are neurological disorders, or mental illnesses in children?

Neurological disorders, neurobiological brain disorders (NBD), and mental illness are terms used for a group of brain disorders that cause disturbances in thinking, feeling, or relaxing. These disorders result in a substantially reduced capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of everyday life.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, including children and adolescents. They can occur in any family, and they are not anyone’s fault.

What specific disorders, sometimes referred to by professionals as diagnostic categories, are considered neurological disorders?

Severe and persistent neurological disorders include:

  • autism
  • pervasive developmental disorders (PDD)
  • tourette’s syndrome
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • intellectual disorder
  • communication disorder
  • specific learning disorder
  • motor disorders
  • schizophrenia
  • schizo-affective disorder
  • bipolar disorder (manic depression)
  • major depression
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • panic disorder
  • borderline personality disorder

You can learn more about these disorders by consulting The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (referred to as “DSM-V”), published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is available in most pub the lic libraries and in Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI) libraries.

How do I know if my child is affected with neurological disorders?

If you suspect your child is ill, or if a teacher or school counselor suggests that your child should be evaluated, you should seek a professional’s advice. NAMI would recommend a psychiatric evaluation, preferably performed by a psychiatrist who specializes in children and adolescents.

How can I get an accurate diagnosis for my child with neurological disorders?

Research in the biomedical field is ensuring more accurate diagnoses. Well-qualified and licensed psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, educational psychologists that can evaluate and make a diagnosis can be found in university-affiliated schools and hospitals and in private practice.

Most younger psychiatrists, trained in the past 10 to 15 years, recognize that all brain disorders have a biological underpinning. These medical doctors will outline the kind of treatment they believe will be most appropriate for your child. You will want to choose a professional who respects your role and views the family not as part of the child’s problem, but as strength the child can build on.

What kind of treatments or programs should I be seeking my child with neurological disorders?

If you have been able to get an accurate diagnosis, you are well on your way. Your child’s psychiatrist may offer medication or a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The doctor may suggest that another person (such as a social worker or psychologist (provide the therapy while he oversees the medication. The therapist generally talks extensively with the child about his feelings and conflicts, his current problems, and how to establish good relationships with those around him.

Parents need to be informed about the goals of psychotherapy, behavior-management techniques, and family therapy. Ask questions about neurological disorders. Find out the qualifications of various therapists. Find out how long such therapies will last and how much they will cost. Who will pay if you cannot? Be an informed consumer. Ask other families who have been through similar situations. AMI and AMI-CAN families generally have answers to these and other questions you will have.

Where can I find out about medications that have been prescribed for my child with neurological disorders?

First, ask the psychiatrist who prescribed them. Questions you will want to ask include: What symptoms might the medication alter? When and how should the medication be taken? What side effects should I be looking for? What are the short- and long-term effects of the medications? Are there any toxic side effects that the child may experience that I should tell the physician about immediately? What strategies will lessen the side-effects normally associated with the medication.

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