Early Mental Health Care Helps Families Stay on Track
The parents couldn’t make it through the supermarket without their toddler having meltdown after meltdown. Daycare called so often for them to pick up their child during the day that they worried they would lose their jobs. Leandra Godoy, a clinical psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, offered hope in the form of parent-mediated behavioral therapy. This involves coaching parents on how to engage in therapeutic play and set consistent limits with their children.
“After therapy, this family was able to go about their business” says Dr. Godoy, co-director of the hospital’s early childhood behavioral health program. “The child was able to stay in school, interact with peers and even go to birthday parties.” Early intervention is often a critical part of successfully treating children under age six who show signs of disruptive behavior, anxiety, difficulty eating or sleeping and those who have experienced trauma.
Dr. Godoy is passionate about another area for which early intervention is critical: autism. She helped launch a pilot program at Children’s National to help more kids get integrated autism evaluations in primary care. This approach means more pediatricians include autism evaluations in their routine care so more children have better access to these services.
Early mental and behavioral health interventions have the power to put children and their families on track to lead healthier, happier lives now and in future, Dr. Godoy says. “As these children get older, they continue to benefit as successful adolescents and adults in terms of education and professional lives. As mental health providers, the good outcomes make us appreciate how fortunate we are to work with these families and make us want to do more.”