Maybe your child is acting differently and you don’t know what to do next. As a parent of a child with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD), it can be hard to make sense of your child’s feelings and behavior all of the time. Maybe they’re getting treatment or support services, yet something still isn’t right.
The truth is that approximately 30-50% of children with IDD may also have mental health conditions, according to research in the Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability. That’s more than the average for all other children. Unfortunately, these conditions can go under the radar. If you think your child might be having mental health symptoms, this page has ideas on how to talk to your health care provider and the people already working with your child.
And you can go to our page on Mental and Behavioral Health to learn more. You have the power to ask about mental health support for your child.
Mental health conditions directly affect the quality and length of someone’s life. This means that paying attention to mental health really can improve things. That’s true for all children and adults, but especially for children with IDD. No matter what abilities your child has, helping them have mental wellness is important too.
There are different reasons why people with IDD might have more mental health needs. They might have more stress and social challenges that are hard to cope with. They may have limited language abilities or nervous system symptoms that affect mental health. They are at a higher risk of experiencing trauma– things like abuse, neglect, bullying, restraint, and more. And trauma might spark mental health symptoms.
Common mental health diagnoses in children with IDD are anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct disorders. When a person has both a developmental disability and a mental health condition, it’s called “co-occurring disorders” or sometimes called “dual diagnoses.”
Our page on Finding Mental Health Resources has even more information on mental health providers and programs to help your child. Below, there are tips on how to start a conversation about mental health with your child’s health care provider too.
And here are some other pages on this website about mental health:
There are few big myths about children with IDD and mental health conditions. Some people think that children with IDD can’t have mental health conditions. Or that standard mental health treatment won’t work for them. Or even that mental health services won’t work in combination with the other services the child is getting. Those things are just not true. There’s no reason why a child with an IDD can’t also have one or more mental health conditions.
The important thing to know as a parent is that it can be easy for anyone – family, teachers, therapists, caregivers, other service providers – to misunderstand your child. The caregivers and professionals working with your child might not realize that a mental health condition is causing certain challenging behaviors and think that it’s because of your child’s disability. So, instead of going straight into developing something like a behavior intervention plan (BIP), you can ask that the people working with your child look closer at your child’s mental health.
If your child’s personality or behavior seems to change suddenly, it’s a good time to stop and ask questions. It might be that they need mental health services. You can help your child and the people working with them figure that out.
Maybe your child can explain what feels different or wrong. Maybe they can’t. Either way, if they are acting differently and you are concerned, there is support available.
You might look for mental health help for your child if they:
You can learn more on our page on when to get mental health help for children.
Working with a health care provider to diagnose a mental health condition and find the right treatment for your child might take a lot of patience. Especially if your child has a hard time communicating what’s going on with them. You can ask for more time to talk or a longer appointment. Together, you, your child, and their provider can take a closer look at mental health.
Here are some ideas to help the conversation along:
When talking to a health care or mental health provider, there are some questions you and your child can ask to learn more and make the best decisions:
Above all, know that you and your child are not alone in this. There is growing research and information about mental health treatment for children with IDD; more and more mental health providers are learning about the best ways to help.