As a provider, when it comes to deciding on a treatment course for children or adolescents, as with treating adults, we need to pay very careful attention to assessing what is actually happening for those seeking our care. This means listening carefully to what children and adolescents tell us directly, but critically, also listening to those that care for these young people.
Parents and caregivers are in the best position to observe and describe behaviors that they see in youth in their care. Simply put, we cannot adequately understand challenges faced by youth without caregiver input. Educators also play an important role in helping us understand whether a child or adolescent’s behavior is typical or not. Just think, most second-grade teachers, in just a few years, may interact with nearly 75-100 second grade children! This allows educators to develop a good understanding of what behaviors most second grade children do or do not exhibit.
Gathering information from multiple sources through interviews supports a thorough initial assessment, which may also include observations, norm-referenced rating scales to help us compare the behaviors seen to other youth of similar age or gender, or, in some cases, more formal psychological testing. This information may also result in formal psychiatric diagnosis for providers trained to do this. An accurate diagnosis should ideally lead to selection of appropriate treatments, but does not tell us anything about the strengths of a child, adolescent, or family, and may not capture the functional impact of the problem behaviors. In some cases, a diagnostic label could have a negative influence on how others see the child or adolescent. In other cases, a diagnosis or label may open the doors for much needed treatment and resources.
Whether or not an initial assessment for treatment results in a diagnosis, gaining a thorough understanding of challenges that youth and families are bringing to us when they first seek help, along with a clear picture of youth and family strengths, can help us select the best path to help children and families thrive.