Seeking professional help for your child is tough on so many levels. I was only 20 and my daughter, 5 when we decided to take the leap to see a professional. My daughter was having major anxiety & social issues and I didn’t know how to help her. This is hard for me to talk about, but it’s something that needs to be shared.
The reason I thought to seek a therapist was because of one of my daughter’s teachers. She pointed out that my daughter didn’t act “normal” so was probably on the spectrum. She was too loud, didn’t focus and got in everyone’s personal space. She all but demanded we seek help for her. Cue parental anguish of failing as a parent and the anger of how dare she say something is wrong with my kid.
When she laid things out in the initial meeting, it made sense. At the time, I just thought it was my daughter being five years old. They aren’t meant to sit perfectly still, are they?
The worst thing about the whole situation was how the teacher handled it. She called them “moments” and when my daughter wasn’t acting as expected, she was called out in front of the class. Then it grew to also include the parents waiting at pick up. My daughter was labelled at 5 for being on the spectrum without confirmation. She is now 9 and that stigma still sticks to her.
The emotions leading up to seeing a professional were a whole new level of intense. I was afraid, anxious, depressed, angry – you name it, I felt it. I alternated between “yes let’s find the best professional to help” and “hell no, I am not taking my child to a professional!” And my daughter picked up on it. A five-year-old child asking her mum why she wasn’t ‘normal’ and if that was the reason why the kids bullied her – it’s heartbreaking.
I tried to hide it and said I would deal with it. Deep inside, I knew there was something wrong. The teacher, after all, took extra lessons on dealing with problem children and children on the spectrum so she would know right? That was my first mistake. My second was waiting too long. I spoke to professionals on my own about her and subtly asked around, but I never asked her, nor did I take her to a professional until much later. I was nervous as well that someone would realise that my child was different and that it was my fault. I tried to hide the issue instead.
I tried talking to her like she was an adult. We used breathing and calming down techniques. I tried to find something that resembled ParentalEQ’s BackPack App but sadly, there was nothing out there at the time. Every morning we discussed the need to focus, listen, sit still and be nice to others. Sometimes, I even yelled (sorry). Hindsight is both cruel and a beauty in that now all she needs is to know someone understands and is there to help her navigate through everything.
After a particularly bad week of constant yelling (from us both), four after-school meetings with her teacher to talk about her behaviours and being told she needed to see a professional or she would fail, I caved. She needed more than my help I was trying to force on her. We saw the doctor who had to write out a mental health plan for her and we were booked within a week for our first appointment. How I didn’t get a stress ulcer in that week, I will never know.
On the day of her first appointment, staring up at the building with its darkened glass was intimidating, scary – downright terrifying. Would this scare her? Would it help? I remember squeezing her little hand, hoping that things would be okay, and we could have a game plan. My partner was a bundle of nerves as well. My daughter’s biggest concern? If we could go to get nuggets when we were done. Children have a brilliant way of always looking for a positive.
That step to see a professional is going to be one of the hardest steps you take. Admitting that you need outside help is a hard pill to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, therapy might not be your answer and that is okay. The important thing is the emotional well-being of you and your child.
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A very real story from Casey Luxford.
Keywords: personal anecdote