Thinking Together about an Evaluation for a Young Child

as seen in Brooklyn Family Magazine and on NYParenting.com

Dear Sharon,

My sister’s son is 5 and in kindergarten. He is not doing very well and has trouble concentrating and staying still. My sister is in denial and refuses to listen to the teacher and counselor at the school. They say he needs to be tested and evaluated for special issues. I am younger than her and she has been like a mother to me in many ways. What can we as a family do to help her accept that he needs extra services?

Dear Concerned Sister,

It is always useful to have loving relatives and friends offer help and caring perspectives to parents. Although challenging, making an effort to communicate thoughts to moms and dads you love can make a big difference (even when you are a little sister). Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin the process.

Loving parents rightfully wrap their little ones in a blanket of pride. A child’s first smile, step, word, jump, and so much more is perfect in the eyes of almost every mom and dad. Parents also worry that they may not be doing their challenging job well and are easily alarmed when someone mentions that there might be something unusual about their precious little one. When “outsiders” mention words such as “tested”, “evaluated” and “special issues” it is not surprising that moms and dads assume a defensive position.

Given these understandable reactions I suggest that caring family members and close friends spend as much time as possible with parents building or reinforcing a strong, trusting relationship. (It is easier for almost everyone to hear ideas from someone they love.) When ready to offer thoughts about a little one who might need extra help I often begin by asking some gentle questions. “What do you think about what the school is saying about …….?” Or “How is ….. doing in school lately?” are some of many possible options. I then listen with genuine respect to the responses given.

Listening supportively to a concerned and protective parent is not always easy but it can help open up lines of communication and give friends and extended family the opportunity to learn more about the parents’ point of view. In spite of parental “blinders” moms and dads know their child better than anyone and it is essential for everyone involved to understand their perspective.

When bringing up the idea of getting an evaluation or possibly receiving extra services it is important to reassure the parent that there is nothing “wrong” with their child. (In your case it is important to remember that many 5-year-old boys have difficulty concentrating and staying still in kindergarten).

It can also be useful to remind parents that the purpose of assessments is to identify areas of development that need encouragement and to provide assistance. Today many children receive extra help and are far less likely to be labeled, separated from others or ostracized as old stigmas have been reduced dramatically. Countless young people have gotten support that has increased skills, boosted self-confidence, lessened tension and made participation in group activities much easier. Schools are also happy to support any effort to help students be less frustrated or behind in their social or academic goals.

I lead parent support groups for parents of “special needs” children; one of these groups has met twice a month for over 10 years. Some of the parents who attend benefited from multiple services for their children when they were young; they were all very worried about their child’s differences. Now all of their young people have celebrated major successes and are doing well. Every parent is extraordinarily grateful for the support they received and our current meetings usually focus on the trials and tribulations of raising typical teens and tweens.