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Addressing mental health concerns as part of an IEP

Mental health is one of those issues cloaked in social silence. The curtain is drawing back somewhat. The movement toward achieving mental health parity in the provision of health care benefits is one sign of that. Still, evidence remains strong in Alabama and elsewhere that more needs to be done. A recent research letter published on JAMANetwork.com serves as an example.

The authors conclude from a large survey of U.S. parents that about 8 million school-aged children have received an official diagnosis of at least one form of mental health issue. However, only about half of them receive the help they need. This begs a question; do public schools need to do more in the context of the Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

How to approach mental health concerns

Many parents might not know that federal law requires public school systems to ensure that each child receives a free and appropriate education. Plans created under the IEP are one way that they are supposed to meet that requirement. Each is supposed to be customized to the individual student based on his or her specific physical or developmental needs.

Your child's mental health needs are as much a part of that equation as any other. As such, you have the right to seek support through the IEP that addresses those concerns. Regardless if the disorder stems from a genetic condition or presents as depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, once formally diagnosed, accommodation can be sought - demanded, if necessary.

Obviously, effective advocacy on behalf of your child means clearly understanding the breadth of his or her needs. To help you get focused on this, many experts recommend parents ask these questions:

  • Does my child have a mental health diagnosis?
  • Will a mental health assessment using appropriate tools be part of the IEP process?
  • How will any mental health concerns be written into the record and addressed in the IEP?
  • What do I do to resolve disagreements about the evaluation?

It is particularly noteworthy that the JAMA article offers a map of the U.S. indicating what states have the greatest prevalence of childhood mental health disorders and the greatest prevalence of children not receiving necessary care. Alabama ranks high in both categories.

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