Normal or Not Normal? Part 3

When should parents of young children seek help?

Red FlagsImage

Early identification of mental health problems in young children is extremely challenging.  There are many resources to help parents learn “red flags” for autism, but other forms of mental disorders are even less clear cut.  Sometimes a parent’s gut instinct is the most powerful “red flag” of all.

When my son with ASD was young, he would throw violent tantrums if his schedule was different, if I took a different route home from his preschool, if he was in too noisy a place, or even if the phone rang or someone flushed the toilet with the lid down.  He would throw the phone across the room, hit his sister or me, and once knocked down rows of boxes in a shoe store.

Given that this happened on a regular basis, I found it really insufferable when other people would say to me, “Oh, every child throws tantrums.” I had an older child and, yes, she had had her moments, but there was absolutely no comparison between the two.

I knew that I was not doing anything to drive the tantrums, like giving in, hitting my child or losing my temper.  Despite my exhaustion and embarrassment, it was EXTREMELY important that I kept my calm.  Otherwise, I just made things worse.  I also used a non-threatening way of restraining him with my arms and legs, so that he was safe and did not hurt himself or others.

If you have provided the right environment and know that your child is getting food, sleep, love, attention, physical activity, and appropriate play experiences, but he or she is still unhappy, disconnected from caregivers, aggressive and/or self-destructive, then you should ask for help.

Talking to Medical Professionals: Describing Behaviors

If you really feel that something is “not right” with your child, please don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s pediatrician or, in Hennepin County, call Help Me Grow at 612-348-TOTS (8687).

When talking to medical professionals, though, it’s best to be as precise as possible.  You could keep a Multiple_Behavior_Chart for one week to show the doctor how often child throws tantrums or hurts himself.  If your infant or toddler cries a lot, time how long the crying lasts.  If you report to the doctor that your one-year-old cries every night for 4 hours, that would have more impact than saying, “My kid is driving me crazy with all his crying.”

NORMAL FOR TODDLERS

NOT NORMAL FOR TODDLERS

Occasional tantrums – Daily tantrums that can last several hours;
– Violent or self-destructive behavior, such as head banging;
– Aggressive behavior toward others
Meeting developmental milestones at slightly different rates – Delays of at least 6 months in walking, talking or social behavior;
– Dramatic loss of skills (speaking, etc.) after a period of  normal development
Meltdowns when tired or hungry – Inability to be soothed or comforted;
– Overreacts to minor changes in routine, noise, light, etc.;

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