The term "mild brain injury" is misleading. Concussions and other mild brain injuries in children are always something to take seriously. While most children who have a concussion or other mild brain injury recover with rest, there is always a risk of brain damage and disability if they do not get proper care and follow the doctor’s treatment plan. Learn more on our Traumatic or Acquired Brain Injury in Children page.
Some signs or symptoms of a brain injury might show up right away, while others might not show up for hours, days, weeks, or even months. If you suspect your child has had a brain injury, call 9-1-1 or take them to the emergency room right away. If in doubt, call 9-1-1 or ask for a doctor’s opinion.
See Traumatic or Acquired Brain Injury in Children for a list of symptoms of a brain injury.
The road to improving behaviors starts with believing that your child – no matter what their behavior looks like now – can change with the right support and knowledge. An important first step for parents of children with disabilities or special health care needs is to understand why behavior problems are happening in the first place.
See our Behavior Management for Children With Disabilities page for more tips and strategies.
For many children with disabilities, tantrums are a sign of frustration with their world. Maybe they can’t communicate the way they want to or process all the information coming at them. For children with sensory issues, ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches can be almost painful, causing a behavioral reaction. There are changes you can make at home to help lessen the chaos, empower your child, and give your family a gentler life.
See our Behavior Management for Children With Disabilities page for suggestions and strategies.
You know your child better than anyone else, so you are probably the best person to know when they aren’t acting like themselves and need help. It’s very important to act. Begin by talking to your child about what you’re seeing that worries you, or find them a counselor or other mental health professional to talk with.
See our When to Get Mental Health Help for Children page to see some of the signs and symptoms to pay attention to.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual.” This includes protections for people with mental health conditions in education, employment, and government services.
See our Education and Schools section to learn about education rights, and our State Agencies and Services pages for more about state services. See Your Child’s Rights to Mental Health Services for more facts about your child’s rights.
Also, visit our Finding Mental Health Resources for Children page to learn about people, programs, and places that other parents and professionals say are helpful.
Before your child starts taking psychiatric medication, do your own homework. Read about the medication. Maybe talk to your child’s pharmacist. Then talk to your child’s doctor about your research and all of your questions. Our Psychiatric Medication for Children: How Families Decide page can help you get started with your research.
Sometimes the answer to this question is obvious. Other times, it isn’t. Or the answer changes as your child grows up, hits different developmental points, and their mental health needs change. And sometimes mental health conditions aren’t treated with medication at all.
See our Psychiatric Medication for Children: How Families Decide page for questions that you can ask yourself and your child’s doctor.
If your child has complex needs that are served by more than one state agency, you can search for and call your local Community Resource Coordination Group (CRCG). They can hold a community meeting to help you put a mental health care plan in place for your child, which might include programs from different state agencies, community groups, and mental health providers.
See our Finding Mental Health Resources for Children page for more ideas.
A mental health crisis is formally defined as a time when there’s an imminent risk of a child hurting themselves or someone else. (Imminent means it’s likely to happen right now or soon.) A crisis might also be a time when you or other adults in the situation can’t help your child with their behavior and need help calming things down.
Call 9-1-1 if you feel your child is in extreme crisis or needs immediate emergency services, and you are worried about someone’s safety. When you call 9-1-1, explain that your child is having a mental health crisis and ask for a responder who is trained in mental health issues. 9-1-1 responders are more likely to take your child to a hospital than to help you manage your child’s crisis at home.
If the crisis is not quite this extreme, call your local mental health crisis hotline first and ask them what to do. You can find their phone number on this list of local mental health crisis lines. Or you can call 2-1-1 and ask for your local mental health crisis line.
If your child has a disability or special health care need, medical trauma is an issue to consider. Medical trauma might happen after a major illness, surgery, doctor’s treatment, or hospitalization. Many children struggle to cope with the stress of those experiences, especially if they were in an intensive care (ICU) or neonatal intensive care (NICU) setting or have been in and out of the hospital often. In helping your child’s body heal, don’t forget to help their mind and spirit heal too.
Trauma can be something that happens once or many times. It is something scary, dangerous, or violent that happens directly to a child (or any person). Or something that they witness happening to someone else, especially a loved one. Not all scary, dangerous, or violent events are trauma. Trauma includes situations where children fear for their lives, believe they or someone else will be badly hurt, feel a serious threat, or are personally violated. Everyone experiences traumatic events differently.
Sometimes, a child’s responses to trauma don’t happen right away or might look a lot like other challenging behaviors. Children that have lived through multiple or complex traumas might actually develop a mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety, but many children will not develop these.
There is an approach to treatment called “trauma-informed care.” It is used in medical, educational, mental health, and social service programs to make sure that anyone receiving care is not traumatized (or further traumatized) in the process. It means that the professionals in your child’s programs, services, and treatment know about trauma, know how to spot the effects of trauma, and know how to respond in the right ways. And everyone, from the person at the front desk to the doctor to the maintenance staff, is on the same team about preventing and healing trauma. Not every program is completely trauma-informed, but it’s definitely something you can ask about or look for.
With so many systems and professionals involved, things might be complicated or confusing. There will probably be snags or roadblocks along the way. Not everyone will understand mental health needs – or see them for what they are – but there are things you can do to help make your child’s needs known. Find out more about these on Your Child’s Rights to Mental Health Services.