What I Wish I Knew When My Child Started Therapy

With a mental health crisis blooming in our children coast to coast, many kids are seeing a therapist for the first time. If you are one of the lucky families to have scored an appointment, you’ll want to make the most of it by starting the relationship correctly. 

Our journey began when we were referred to an occupational therapist by our pediatrician when my daughter was 7. We were later referred to a pediatric psychologist as well. No matter what specialty of therapist you are working with, the early process is similar. Your first steps will include an intake interview, assessment and evaluation.

Here are four tips I wish someone had told me when we first got started:

1. Have Examples Ready

You are at this appointment because you have concerns about your child. Be prepared to give specific examples of your concerns. This should include general behavior, observations, and scenarios. It is crucial context for your therapist.

Example: My daughter melted down every time I asked her to put her shoes on to leave the house; even if it was somewhere she wanted to go, and the shoes were ones she liked to wear. There was no obvious reason for her melting down.

This was important to her occupational therapist because it demonstrated a deficiency in executive functioning when it came to managing transitions and regulating her emotions. This is a hallmark of inattentive ADHD, which was ultimately her diagnosis.

Have a handful of these examples in mind before your first conversation.

2. Get ready for the questionnaires

There will likely be many. You will fill out some yourself or with your child. The practitioner will fill out some as part of the assessment. Here are a few you are likely to encounter:

  • NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scale
  • BRIEF (Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function)
  • Sensory Profile 
  • Developmental Test of Visual Perception
  • Assessment of Motor and Process Skills 

Completing the parent surveys requires you to rely on your memory of specific examples. This is another reason having a few of those identified in advance is helpful.

3. Brace yourself for a possible surprise

If you are biologically related to the child being assessed, you might want to prepare yourself that it’s quite possible the assessment process will reveal a shared diagnosis. It’s how I was finally diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, and countless others tell a similar story.

This means you might start a life-changing road to self-discovery and awareness. The good news is will have the advantage of empathy on your side as you find help for your child. The bad news is many of the things that are challenging for your child are also challenging for you. You may be the one to best empathize, but you may need extra help following through on the interventions your therapist recommends. 

Supporting my daughter with her executive functioning challenges taxed my own executive functioning challenges so much, I ultimately had to get creative with how to simplify our life to manage both of our needs. 

4. Prepare for the road ahead

The early road can be a confusing, worrying time. It’s normal to have a little anxiety about it. Your therapist will be able to give you a treatment plan that will give you more confidence about the road ahead. You’ll set goals together. Make space for regular appointments in order to stick to the treatment plan and you will start to see progress. Double check your health coverage guidelines and see how appointments are covered.

Once you have a clearer picture of what is happening with your child and how to help, you’ll have the right language you need in order to advocate for your child at school, with family members and in other settings. You will be more empowered to help your child navigate through their challenges and achieve their goals.

A great place to find help to manage the longer term are parent support groups and classes. We recommend Sensationally Thriving Children’s virtual program starting later this month. Learn more about it here.

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