A Child With a Mental Condition, What Helps?

Author: Kelley Filice Jensen

I have heard that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook Elementary in Conneticut, some people have taken to “aspie bashing”.  It is a little unclear to me what that is exactly, but I assume it is some misguided attempt at retribution whereby everyone that has aspergers syndrome or high functioning autism must take the blame for a young man’s crime because of a shared diagnosis.  I think that any rational person realizes the stupidity of this, on many levels, so I am not going to dwell on it, except to point out that when it comes to ANY mental condition, it is not the name of the disorder that is relevant in determining whether that mental condition has become a mental illness that will cause harm to oneself or others.  What IS relevant to the mental condition is what HELP the person is receiving.  A person struggling with any mental condition from depression to schizophrenia needs help, early and often.  I am so glad to hear people saying this and asking that we as a nation examine mental health offerings for people in the throws of mental illness.  And for kids that are not yet mentally ill but are struggling with a mental condition, here is the help I wish they could receive so that they become happy, well adjusted adults that can manage their condition, whatever it is:

1)      Proactive parents.  We could have the most qualified mental health specialists at every corner pharmacy offering free counseling, tutoring, and appropriate medications and it would do no good without parents bringing kids to see them.  Of course there are people that do not struggle with a mental condition until they reach adulthood, but for many, these conditions begin in childhood or adolescence, go undiagnosed, and worsen as a consequence.  If a child or teen has a 103 degree fever or a busted knee, no one thinks twice about bringing him to the doctor, but when it comes to whether or not he is “normal”, no parent wants to face it.   We want our children to be normal but extraordinary, unique but fit into the group, excel but be part of a team.  Mostly, we just don’t want any trouble from them.  They are a lot of work when everything functions the way it is supposed to, forget about when something is “wrong”.  That is overwhelming and embarrassing.  We don’t want to deal with it, and above all, we “don’t want anyone to know”.    These emotions are understandable, but harmful.  Kids do not outgrow things mentally, they grow into them mentally.  This makes a simple problem a complicated problem without help.  If you think that your child needs help, get it .  Do not delay and do not think that you can handle it yourself.

2)      Social Skills Tutoring.  Some people are born with low social IQs.  It is not intuitive for them to look at someone when they are talking to them, stand a comfortable distance apart, take turns, ask questions about another’s interests, what questions even to ask. Another person’s point of view can be very difficult to understand for all of us, but it can be particularly difficult for those without intuitive social skills.  Other things that go unnoticed include body language, eye rolls, or impatience with conversation.  Low social IQ’s can make life miserable and lonely, never a good combination, particularly for people with a mental disorder.  But, it really is possible to teach and master basic social skills, just like we learn to read or compute simple math.  The trick is to teach in a way that makes sense, not in a way that demeans or nags.  And, the younger the better, children are easiest to teach social skills, but it can be taught at any age.  There is an amazing organization in the Silicon Valley called “The Center For Social Thinking”and  they offer classes, seminars, books and ideas for people of all ages to learn to be social.  Here are some other ideas for making odd behaviors more socially acceptable.

3)      A Pet.  Pets love you unconditionally.  A dog doesn’t care if you are cool or wear the right clothes and say the same thing over and over, your dog will still wag its tail when you come into the room.  Caring for a pet, training a pet and bonding with a pet can open up a new world for a child that needs love.  Know a child with autism that you want to talk to?

4)       Small Classrooms.  I cannot really think of any child that benefits from being in a large classroom, but for a child that has any mental struggles, a small classroom is a must.  Small class sizes mean that a teacher can offer more personalized instruction, pay attention to class dynamics, get to know students, and offer flexible teaching styles.  Many children learn differently than the “normal”, so a teacher that has time to teach differently makes all the difference.

5)      Exercise. Exercise often time equates to organized sports, but that does not work for a lot of kids that do not have the skills to participate in a team sport.  And yet, kids are not really allowed in fitness clubs.  Schools have all but abandoned physical education, so where does a child get exercise?  And it is important for them on every level of development.  Jumping on trampolines (safe ones), rolling on a ball, hopping on a pogo stick, riding a bike or scooter should be a part of every child’s day.  But exercise of fine motor skills is important too.  Occupational therapy can do wonders for a child. 

6)      Relief from Acne.   If you are rolling your eyes at this one, you never struggled with acne as a teen.  It is miserable, and for a person that wanted to disappear before the acne started, seeing a face full makes life almost unbearable.  It is also a sign of raging hormones that can trigger aggression or worsen depression, so take it seriously and get your teenager a dermatologist that will understand the need to get acne under control.


Need help with these programs for your child?  If you have a high deductible insurance plan (link to terms blog), you are eligible to use a Health Savings Account (HSA)  .  HSA’s are savings accounts that you fund with pretax dollars to pay for medical expenses not covered by your insurance plan.  The list of eligible expenses is quite extensive, see what is covered now.  Often, people use them to pay for special education services, here is an explanation.

And, get a quote for a low cost individual health insurance plan now.

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