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PEATC, Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center
Assisting families of children with special needs since 1978
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We all know that our physical well-being can impact our mental well-being and vice versa. It is time that we focus on the fact that this is true for children as well as adults. Certain tragic events have brought the reality to light that children and teenagers can and do experience some of the same psychological issues that have long been thought to only belong to adults. Children can be stressed, depressed and have chemical disturbances. As the psychiatric community works to understand and treat children, those who parent, educate and care for them need to be aware of what to look for and how to guide them to be mentally healthy.

PEATC & How We Can Help

At PEATC we are committed to “Building Better futures for Virginia’s Children”. An informed parent can be the best advocate for a child. We strive to help a parent understand what resources are available for his child, where to find them and when to spot when the child needs further support. We will connect you with help relating to the psychological health of your child.

Parents, understandably, turn to their child’s school with concerns and for information. On a positive front for mental health services in our Virginia schools, “Project Aware” has been put in place. On October 17, 2014 Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the Commonwealth had been awarded two five-year federal grants to improve mental health services for students.

This addresses several areas. There is an expanse of money to make schools safer by reducing violence and disruptive behavior. It will support statewide training for teachers and other public school employees to respond to mental health issues. It will also train them to connect troubled students to appropriate community and school based services. Children spend so much time in the school environment it is crucial that those with them have the necessary tools to identify students who need mental health support and know where to direct the families. Virginia was one of only nine states who had its application approved for the grants. To read the announcement in full and further understand how it will impact your child’s school, go to

What Do I See?

A parent may find himself wondering how to recognize if his child needs psychiatric help. Whether your child has special needs or is typically developing some of the indicators for seeking help are the same. Children may present signs differently from adults when a mental health issue is at play. For example, a depressed child will likely be irritable where a depressed adult will show sadness. Just as we learn to read the signs that a child isn’t feeling well physically, like pulling at his ears, we can learn to read the signs of mental concerns. A child may not have the vocabulary or be at a place developmentally to relay his feelings.

As the parent, you know your child better than anyone. Whenever there is a drastic change in your child’s mood or behavior, take notice. It may truly be a “stage” but if a severe mood shift goes beyond two weeks it may warrant investigating. A child developing fears and phobias he has not had before or they become exaggerated and are inappropriate for his development it could be a concern. A child who has not been previously aggressive and now acts out or even becomes violent may be calling for help.

Time to Investigate

Now, what do you do? First, always make notes. When did the behavior change? Were there any events or changes immediately before you noticed? All children, but especially those with special needs, need routine. Have there been new friends in the picture? How about your child’s diet? Food reactions and intolerances can disrupt internal chemistry and cause behavior changes. Consider your family history for physical or mental conditions. Is your child’s recent behavior interfering with his schedule and routines?

Consider talking with close friends and family. Has anyone noticed anything? Others may be uneasy telling you that he/she has noticed something troubling but assure who you asking that the honest information will help. Yes, it can be hard to hear what may sound like criticism but remember, you need to ask the questions to get the clearest picture possible of your child. Do you want to talk to your child’s teacher(s)? If anyone has noticed something in one setting over another that could be a clue to the behavior. Sharing anything you find with the care providers will put one more piece in the puzzle.

Next, you will want to go to your child’s primary care physician. He can evaluate your child’s condition and investigate possibilities of the behavior having a physical basis. Your child’s doctor and you may decide to have your child evaluated by someone in the mental health field. Fortunately, there are and abundance of professionals who can help. Your primary care can refer you to the person to best fit your situation.

What to Expect

Your child’s care providers will work together to evaluate your child for a mental health condition. He will use The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a guide published by the American Psychiatric Association. Diagnosing can be tricky and comes from assembling all the pieces of information and what he finds when he talks with and observes your child.

There are several approaches to treating a child. Psychotherapy will involve talking with your child. Your child will have a safe and encouraging environment to express his feelings. Drawing these out of a child, especially one who might already have special needs can take time. In the process your child can learn about himself, his emotions and how to handle stressful situations. There is always the possibility that medication may be indicated. This can range from antidepressants, stimulants to mood-stabilizers. If it is advised to take this route, monitor your child and report any unfavorable signs or unexpected changes in your child.

However you proceed, remember that early diagnosis and treatments can lessen or deter future problems for your child. Take care of yourself and the rest of your family. Family support, counseling and understanding can lessen the stress on your child when those around him know how to best help him. Resources are out there. Don’t hesitate to use them.

US Department of Education Logo The contents of this factsheet were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education, #H328M090002. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government Project Officer.

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Copyright © 2020 PEATC - Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center. All rights reserved.

Content on this site was produced, in part, with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education, under CFDA # 84.328M, #84.310A, and #84.235F. The content herein does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Education, any other agency of the U.S. government, or any other source.

PEATC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to building positive futures for Virginia's children by working collaboratively with families, schools and communities in order to improve opportunities for excellence in education and success in school and community life. Our special focus is children with disabilities. You can reach PEATC by calling 703-923-0010 (Voice/TTY), or sending an e-mail to

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