You’ve noticed some changes in your child or teen and you’re wondering if something more is going on than them just having a rough day. Perhaps their teacher or coach has mentioned something to you about changes in their behavior. Maybe they are having trouble focusing in school, started acting out, crying in school, complaining of a stomach ache or having trouble making friends. Figuring out what is going on with your child can feel overwhelming as a parent. Where do you even start to try to figure out what is happening?
Fortunately, there are many free screening tools available online that can help you figure out what your child might be experiencing. Screening tools ask a series of questions about common symptoms of various mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and autism. These screening tools can provide a general idea of what your child might be experiencing and can help you focus your search for professional treatment. While a screening tool is not a formal diagnosis, it can help you find a mental health professional who is qualified in the areas in which you think your child may need help.
General Mental Health Screening Tools
General screening tool for parents like the “Pediatric Symptom Checklist” from Mental Health America can help you get a better idea of what your child is experiencing if you have no idea where to start. This checklist asks parents to rate behaviors as they are exhibited by their child as “often”, “sometimes”, or “never”. Examples of behaviors assessed are “Does not understand other people’s feelings”, “Has trouble concentrating”, and “Feels sad, unhappy”. It screens for a variety of issues including the possible presence of anxiety, depression, conduct, and ADHD. After submitting the scores online, it will give you a score report. A positive score indicates your child would benefit from further evaluation by a qualified medical and/or mental health professional.
Anxiety Screening Tools
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has a free screening tool for anxiety for your child. Answer “yes” or “no” to each question and then print the form to bring to a mental health professional to aid in his or her evaluation of your child. Each item on the assessment pertains to the diagnostic criteria for a variety of anxiety disorders that may affect children. The ADAA also has a more specific questionnaire that you can fill out regarding your child’s behavior called the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders (SCARED).
ADHD Screening Tools
The ADHD Self-Test from ADDitude gathered together the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder in a simple list of items to which you answer “yes” or “no”. At the end, you have the option of selecting “See Self-Test Results” to see if your child may benefit from further evaluation for ADHD by a qualified professional. The self-test breaks down your responses into the two categories of ADHD: Inattentive Type and Hyperactive Type to help you better understand how your child’s behavior may match the symptoms of ADHD.
Depression Screening Tools
If you are concerned that your child may be struggling with depression, you might consider filling out the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale for Children (CES-DC). It consists of 20 items related to depression that the child or adolescent rates on a scale ranging from “Not at All” to “A Lot”. A score of 15 or higher suggests the presence of depressive symptoms. The questionnaire and scoring instructions are included in the link.
Autism Screening Tools
Perhaps your child’s teacher has noticed your child exhibiting behaviors that may fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. Autism Speaks offers the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised (MCHAT-R) to screen children between 16 and 30 months for the signs of a possible Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis.
The Autism Research Centre has made the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (CAST) available for free use along with a scoring key. Scores of 15 or higher indicate the presence of possible Autism symptoms.
Screening tools such as these can help you begin to make sense of what your child is experiencing. Remember, these assessments are not an official diagnosis but rather a guide for helping you discern whether or not your child may benefit from a formal evaluation or consultation with a medical professional. If you or your child complete any of these assessments, bring them with you to your appointment with a medical or mental health professional as they will find the information very helpful. These screening tools can be an important step in your family getting the support it needs and the professional treatment your child needs.