How do you know when you need to seek help for your child, and where do you go to get it?
Dr. Lisa Novak
, licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder and director of
Illuminate Psychological Assessments, LLC
, answered these questions and more during the latest
CATCH Speaker Series
Navigating the Road Map for Your Child:
Understanding Private Interventions and School-Based Supports
Dr. Novak explained that when you see a functional impact as a result of your child’s behavior, it’s time to get help. That functional impact may include academic failure, social withdrawal, somatic complaints (i.e. stomachaches or headaches,) sleep difficulty and excessive fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration/attention.
If support is needed at school, families typically request a 504 plan or an IEP (Individualized Education Plan.) 504 plans are based on a medical diagnosis and provide accommodations for a student to level the playing field. IEPs outline services that will help the child build specific skills. For both 504s and IEPs, parents, teachers, school staff, and sometimes private therapists collaborate on the details.
The goal is keeping students in the general education population with their peers. With that in mind, the first step is offering extra help in the classroom. If that’s not enough, schools can pull students out of class for additional instruction and guidance. From there, support can intensify to self-contained classrooms to separate schools to residential programs.
If you think your child needs some additional support at school, Dr. Novak suggests reaching out to your child’s teacher first.
Outside of school, there are many options available to support your family. Just as the goal in school is to provide the least restrictive support to keep the child in the general population, the same is true for private interventions: what is the least restrictive option?
Many families begin with once-weekly services including appointments with academic tutors, executive functioning coaches, cognitive behavioral therapists, speech/language therapists, and more. If more intensive therapy is necessary, students can remain in school while attending an intensive outpatient therapy program (IOP) or a dialectical behavioral therapy program (DBT) both of which provide individual and group therapy several times a week after school. Individuals who need even more support may leave school entirely for a period of time to attend a full-day therapeutic program known as a partial hospitalization program (PHP.) Further treatment can be provided at an inpatient residential therapeutic program that may be required for safety or reducing the risk of harm.
A professional evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist can help you determine what type of support your child needs.
How do you know if a professional evaluation would be helpful?
- When primary issues are not easily identifiable
- When symptoms are co-occurring
- When first-line interventions have failed
- When you have difficulty prioritizing or determining the necessary level of care for treatment
Types of evaluations
- Psychological/psychotherapeutic evaluation: series of questions used to understand an individuals’ intellectual, personal, and emotional functioning
- Psychological/Neuropsychological evaluation: comprehensive process including a full battery of tests
Dr. Novak says the best way to find good providers is by asking your school team, an existing provider like your child’s pediatrician, and by word of mouth. Once you start asking around your community, you'll be surprised to find out how many people have experience with these types of resources.