Being mentally healthy means that kids have a good quality of life and experience minimal problems at home and in school. A good mental condition and stable support system are key to achieving certain developmental and emotional milestones that allow kids to create boundaries between themselves and others. They also learn how to communicate, socialize, and manage emotions and expectations. Mental health is not fixed in one spot, though, and actually exists on a continuum. It’s normal for kids to experience days where they just need some rest and relaxation to recenter.
A problem arises, though, when they express continued distress and dysfunction. They may be getting in trouble frequently at school and not listening to parents at home. This may be an indication of a mental illness, which is fairly common in the U.S. Millions of Americans are diagnosed with disorders like ADHD, behavioral problems, anxiety, and depression. Other children are described as being “on the spectrum” or neurodivergent. Supporting parents in acquiring educational assistance for their child, whether your client has a mental disorder or is neurodivergent, can be helpful in getting them the attention they need in the classroom.
Statistics on Mental Disorders
The CDC explains that “mental disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way children typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions, which cause distress and problems getting through the day.” Mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders tend to manifest in early childhood at a rate of 1 in 6 children between the ages of 2 to 8 years of age.
Among the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems. These disorders can also co-occur and cause significant problems with learning in school.
Here are some CDC statistics on the number of children aged 2-17 diagnosed in a given year:
ADHD: ~6.1 million
Anxiety: ~4.4 million
Depression: ~1.9 million
Behavioral problems: ~4.5 million
How Is Neurodivergency Different?
In the late 1990s, the term ‘neurodivergent’ emerged in response to challenge the dominant view of neurological diversity as pathological. As a term, it describes persons who have an atypical neurological configuration. These persons have conditions like dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder, and Tourette syndrome. Social and emotional disorders can also fall into this category. Neurodivergent is a concept that views these conditions as stemming from normal variations of the human genome, and thus, neurological differences should be recognized and respected. In other words, kids who have these conditions are not abnormal or strange; rather, they are unique in their own way. A neurodivergent perspective also rejects that these conditions need to be cured. Instead, they should be accepted as being a part of who the person is.
An important component to this perspective is that of support systems. Neurodiversity advocates are in favor of programs that can help others live with their condition. Some examples include occupational training, inclusion-focused services, independent living support, accommodations, and communication and assistive technologies. Kids that are neurodivergent could benefit significantly from aides that facilitate their learning in, for instance, a classroom setting.
Accommodations in the Classroom
Nowadays, many schools provide educational assistance – sometimes labeled as ‘disability services’ – for children with mental illness or neurodivergence. However, if your client’s school is lacking, there are some suggestions you can offer parents so they can advocate for accommodations.
Within the classroom, teachers can first recognize that individuals differ in how they learn best. Even for students who are not neurodivergent or do not have a mental health condition, there is a diverse range of modalities that teachers can use to provide learning opportunities for all. Some kids do not respond well to the traditional and strict approach of long lectures, continuous writing of notes, and exams. Embracing this diverse worldview can help educators re-evaluate their teaching styles and adapt according to students in the class. Allocate time to check in with the kids and see how the methods are working. Teachers could also implement the use of online learning platforms. These can be a valuable tool to supplement in-classroom work and can be used at home.
Another important point for teachers to be aware of is that neurodivergent children tend to have specific and significant strengths. It’s crucial for the teacher to know his or her students and be informed about their condition. For example, kids with autism spectrum disorder can be highly attuned to small details and identifying patterns that others do not notice. Thus, they may problem-solve differently than their peers. Children with a mental health condition may also have specific needs that need to be addressed. Teachers and parents should not feel shy to engage and support each other through this process, as the student is not the only one learning here. Family members know their loved one best and can offer practical insight into which learning styles the student will best respond to.
Mental illnesses and neurological conditions can make learning challenging. Millions of children are diagnosed in the U.S. with conditions that disrupt daily life, like ADHD, anxiety, depression, and behavioral disorders. Some kids are described as being “on the spectrum” or neurodivergent, which means they have an atypical neurological configuration. This concept takes the perspective that the condition should not be cured, rather, it should be accepted and embraced. Either way, children with a mental or neurological condition need special attention, particularly in the classroom. Parents can advocate for educational assistance for their child by communicating openly with teachers about their child’s strengths and unique needs. Educators can embrace a diverse worldview that may lead to a re-evaluation of their teaching styles. This can help neurotypical students as well. Sustain Recovery is a treatment facility that specializes in adolescent mental health and addiction treatment. We believe family plays an important role in any recovery process and encourage members to get involved. Call us today for more information: (949) 407-9052