If you think your child might have a mental health or learning disorder, getting an evaluation and diagnosis is the first step. But how do you find a professional to diagnose your child? Here are some ways to find the support your child needs.
Where to start
- Talk to your child’s pediatrician. This is often the best place to start. The pediatrician knows your child and can rule out medical problems. Some pediatricians can also evaluate and diagnose your child, but others do not have the necessary expertise in mental health. In that case, they can put you in touch with other clinicians who are qualified to do the evaluation and diagnosis.
- Work with the school counselor. School counselors are trained in mental health and may already be working with your child at school. They can make referrals to clinicians who can provide an evaluation and diagnosis.
- Check with local universities and teaching hospitals. If you live near a big university or hospital, you can check to see if they have programs offering children’s mental health services. Nearby nonprofits may also be able to help.
- Use your insurance provider’s database. Most insurance companies have online databases that you can use to search for nearby children’s mental health providers.
- Ask other parents. Getting a recommendation from another parent you trust is a great way to find a reliable clinician. You can also find online parent groups based in your area or ones that focus on the specific condition that you think your child might have.
- Consider telehealth. More and more providers are offering options for online evaluations, and insurance companies may also cover telehealth care. This can be especially helpful if you don’t live near many providers or if you need to work with a specialist.
For more information about the kinds of professionals who can diagnose children’s mental health problems: Guide to Mental Health Specialists.
Professional organizations often have directories you can search and other helpful resources. Some even have free hotlines. Here are some organizations that may be able to connect you with a clinician:
- American Psychological Association, www.apa.org
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, www.abct.org
- American Psychiatric Association, http://finder.psychiatry.org/
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, (AACAP) https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resources/CAP_Finder.aspx
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network, https://www.nctsn.org/about-us/network-members
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), https://chadd.org/professional-directory/
- Selective Mutism Association, https://www.selectivemutism.org/
- National Eating Disorders Association, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
- Autism Speaks, https://www.autismspeaks.org/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, (SAMHSA) https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/
What to ask
It’s important to find a mental health provider who is a good fit for your child’s needs. They should also have experience diagnosing the kinds of challenges your child is experiencing. For example, if your child’s teacher says they have trouble paying attention in class, you would want a clinician who has experience diagnosing children with attention issues.
Here are some questions you can ask to learn more about any clinician you are considering:
- Can you tell me about your professional training?
- Are you licensed, and, if so, in what discipline?
- Are you board certified, and, if so, in what discipline?
- How much experience do you have diagnosing children whose behaviors are similar to my child’s?
- How do you arrive at a diagnosis? What evidence do you use?
- When do you consult with other professionals?
- Do you provide the treatments you recommend, or do you refer to others?
- Do you accept my insurance?
- What are your fees? Do you offer sliding scale or payment plans?
- For telehealth providers: How do you handle security and privacy for online sessions?
Return to Connect to Care for more information about getting kids help.