Pediatrician says, Wellness starts in infancy!
Developmental, behavioral and mental health advice for infants, children, teens and young adults
2 to 3 years. That’s about how long the current waitlist can be for an appointment at Seattle-area autism clinics. If, at that appointment, your child receives an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, it can be another 18 months before your child starts receiving Applied Behavior Analysis therapy.
“One of my interests is helping children with developmental concerns get the services they need, as early as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment leads to better outcomes,” says Dr. Nawal Alkharouf, a Pediatric Specialist at Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed) Canyon Park, who recently certified as a Center of Excellence provider for autism. “I strongly believe we primary care providers should do more to help children and families with developmental, behavioral and mental health concerns, given the scarcity and high demand for specialists.”
If you suspect your child may have autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Alkharouf is now certified to give you a diagnosis — and you won’t have to wait two years for an appointment.
The importance of regular well child visits
Regular doctor’s visits in an infant’s first two years of life aren’t just for immunizations — they’re essential for tracking growth and development of things like speech and motor skills. With the pandemic, many parents have cancelled or postponed well child visits. Children also interacted less with teachers, daycare workers and their peers, which has also lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
“Studies show better outcomes when intervention services like speech, occupational or physical therapy are initiated early. That’s why well child visits are so important,” Dr. Alkharouf says.
Mental health in infants, teens and young adults
“Suicide is now the second-most common cause of death in young people between ages 10 and 24, and stress can affect young children and infants too. I strive to do more continuing medical education to get better at recognizing, diagnosing, and managing common mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and behavior problems in children,” Dr. Alkharouf says.
Mental health challenges are not the same for every child or teen, but Dr. Alkharouf lists some possible signs of stress:
- Infants may be fussier, be more difficult to console, or have sleep or feeding issues.
- Toddlers and young children may have more tantrums, be hesitant to explore, or regress to bedwetting after potty training.
- Older children and adolescents may show sudden changes in behavior (an outgoing teen showing little interest in friends, for example); changes in sleep or appetite; problems with concentration at school and changes in appearance.
“One of the best ways you can help your children is to pay attention to your own mental health — our stress trickles down to our kids. I’m someone who loves to meditate and hike, and I really believe nature is the best healer. Include your family with things you enjoy, like hiking or yoga, so they see you demonstrating positive habits of mindfulness and exercise,” Dr. Alkharouf says.
7 things parents can do to prevent suicide
- Don’t let your teen’s depression or anxiety snowball. We all have bad days, but if a “bad day” lasts a week or more, seek professional help.
- Knock on the door and start a conversation. Listen without judgement, and pay attention to body language. “Poor communication between parent and child is a common trait in families who’ve been affected by suicide.”
- Share your feelings. Tell your teen that you experience these feelings too, emphasize that your child is not alone and that stressful times will pass and things will get better.
- Encourage your teen not to isolate from family and friends, but don’t push if they’re not ready.
- “Countless scientific studies show that exercise can put the brakes on mild to moderate depression — even going for a walk can release positive endorphins,” Dr. Alkharouf says.
- If you own guns, keep them locked or temporarily remove them from the house. “Guns are much more fatal than other forms of self-harm.”
- The goal is to rebuild confidence and self-esteem, so stay positive and don’t expect too much too soon.
For immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.