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Signs of Mental Health Problems In Children

May 1st, 2016

To learn more about both the effects of bullying and mental health and what you can do, you are invited to a seminar on May 10, 2016:  Understanding the Legal Obligations of a School District Regarding Bullying and Student Mental Health

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

Every parent and school professional must be aware of the mental health crisis confronting our youth and take steps to understand and advocate. Parents and schools must act together to protect children become educated on risk factors and symptoms.

If your child has a mental health issue, it is important to understand how to seek community supports and to understand the legal obligations of your school district.  Too many parents view mental health issues as a “private issue” or believe that things will improve. It is almost impossible for parents to handle mental health issues alone.

Signs of Mental Health Problems in Children:

Parents must be aware of signs of mental illness. Early identification is key to help children.  The Mayo Clinic and other professionals list the following signs of mental illness in children, but the list is not exhaustive:

  • Mood changes: Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school. Some students simply withdraw. School avoidance or physical symptoms without physical causes can also be a sign of mental distress.
  • Intense feelings: Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
  • Behavior changes: Look for drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently or expressing a desire to hurt others also are warning signs.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
  • Unexplained weight loss: A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
  • Physical harm: Sometimes a mental health condition leads to suicidal thoughts or actual attempts at self-harm or suicide.
  • Substance abuse: Some children use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.

School District Legal Obligations to Help:

Littman Krooks special needsIf a child is showing signs of mental illness, it is important for parents to understand school district legal obligations and also how to get community support.   Not every child with mental health issues has a disability but if a condition affects educational performance, the school district has an obligation to refer a student for special education and related services.

  • Pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), 20 USC §1400, seq. and parallel state law, school districts have a responsibility to identify and provide appropriate services to students with disabilities, including those who have an emotional disturbance or disability, including another health impairment, such as ADHD.
  • As the Supreme Court noted in Honig v. Doe in 1988, “Among the most poorly served of disabled students were emotionally disturbed children: Congressional statistics revealed that for the school year immediately preceding passage of the Act, the educational needs of 82 percent of all children with emotional disabilities went unmet. See S. Rep. No. 94-168, p. 8 (1975).”  

If your child has mental health needs impacting education, you should refer your child for special education services and, if the child has a disability, he or she should qualify for an IEP and receive special education supports, such as counseling, flexibility with assignments, or a therapeutic environment. Some children with mental health needs may need building level help or need accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  

Steps to Take:

On a broader scale,  work with your school district and community to develop a task force to create systems and policies to proactively address student mental health needs and make sure interventions are in place.  Talk to your child’s school district administrators about making mental health and social emotional health a priority in your school district and ask about what programs are in place to ensure children are served.   Much training is available and many organizations have resources to help.

As just three examples of what you can do:

  1. Become Certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid
  2. Consider taking the Sandy Hook Promise, which encourages safer schools and more mental health treatment.
  3.  Attend a screening of No Letting Go, on mental health and youth and one family’s story, aimed at helping to end the stigma:

Read more on how to educate, advocate and support mental health awareness month by clicking here.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Services for People with Special Needs: Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD)

August 30th, 2012

This week, we interviewed a service organization that assists people with disabilities and special needs, Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD).  Since 1997, ECAD has been training and placing assistance dogs to help people with disabilities to gain independence and mobility. We spoke with ECAD advocate, Lee O’Brien-Rothman, and Communications and Public Relations Manager, Patricia Robert to find out more about the services they offer to people with special needs.

I am a retired disabled Police Officer who has spent 14 years serving my community. Brady came into my life after it was turned upside down by and on duty incident and subsequent PTSD. Being trapped in the wet blanket that is PTSD I became depressed and cut off from the entire outside world. Through Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities, ECAD, I was chosen by a smart but goofy and kind golden retriever that immediately brought a smile to my face and a spark back in my life. ”

– Lee O’Brien-Rothman and Brady graduated from ECAD in May 2011. Since then, the two have become tireless advocates for ECAD and for Assistance Dogs. Brady O’Brien-Rothman has a Facebook page with thousands and thousands of friends.

How can people find out about ECAD:

People can visit our website, WWW.ECAD1.ORG or contact www.assistancedogsinternational.org, a coalition of non-for-profit organizations that train and place assistance dogs.

Do people have to qualify for a dog? If so, how?

People who apply for an ECAD educated Service Dog are always interviewed by our co-founder and Director of all programs, Lu-Picard. After they have filled out and submitted the completed application form, they can visit the main training facility, located in Dobbs Ferry. ECAD Service Dogs are educated to assist people with a wide range of disabilities, including adults, teens, even children as young as two, who have autism. It isn’t so much “qualifying” as it is following through with the determination to learn how to train/be responsible for a Service Dog by participating in the two-week team training sessions that are held several times each year. ECAD does not educate dogs for vision or hearing alerts.

How to apply for an ECAD Service Dog:

Information about applications can be found on ECAD’s website, or by calling the main office at 914-693-0600 ext.1958 and asking for the client liaison person.

What breeds of dogs are used as ECAD Service Dogs?

ECAD primarily trains golden retrievers, and Labradors, and a Lab-Great-Dane mix, all for their good temperament and intelligence. All ECAD Service Dogs are educated to respond to 80+ commands, including the retrieval of dropped objects, the pulling of wheelchairs, turning light switches on and off, loading and unloading the wash, reminding their person to take medication, alerting people with sleep disorders when they don’t respond to an alarm, and many other things. In addition to helping with physical problems, our service dogs are also trained assist people with emotional or psychological problems that stem from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – problems that are being experienced by many veterans in recent years.

Tell us a bit more about ECAD’s Programs.

ECAD’s mission is to enable people with disabilities to gain greater independence and mobility through the use of specially educated dogs. Our programs include:

  • Project HEAL: a program that honors and empowers veterans and service members by addressing both visible and invisible disabilities. It entails a transition program that focuses specifically to re-adapt to a civilian culture by bridging the gap through a modified Service Dog Training program.
  • Canine Magic Service Dogs: a program in which ECAD Service Dogs are trained to assist children with Autism through emotional bonding, socialization, cognitive development and safety.
  • Open Doors: Service Dogs can be found working in public and private homes, hospitals, courthouses and nursing homes to help people with both physical and emotional disabilities.
  • ECADemy: a vocational curriculum administered at alternative schools specializing in helping children and teens with emotional, behavioral and social problems. All of these Service Dogs are trained by these students.

Can People Volunteer?

ECAD is a non-for-profit organization – volunteers are ALWAYS welcome at ECAD. There are many opportunities including:

–       Assisting in the main office

–       Grant writing

–       Becoming a home handler

–       Transporting ECAD Service Dogs to in-home trainings (on weekends only)

For more information on volunteering at ECAD, contact Tara at 914-693-0600 ext.1950.


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