Baby blues

The growing popularity of infant psychology raises questions

There's no shame in a little therapy-but what about therapy for the littlest kids?

"Infant mental health is looking at children from a different perspective than people did in the past," says Angela Searcy, developmental therapist with Simple Solutions Educational Services and Frankfort mom of four. "If we get to children early, we're helping [them] so much more."

Not everyone thinks infant psychology, which focuses on developmental issues from birth to age 3, is necessary. The field has received critical press, with headlines expressing skepticism that any kid under 3 would require "shrink" sessions.

But Searcy, who provides home-based early intervention services for infants and their families, is quick to dispel the misconceptions.

"It's a different dynamic," Searcy says. "It's not sitting kids on 'the couch,' " she says, but a holistic approach that examines the infant and family environment.

Karen Etheridge, a mother of 15 living in Chicago Heights, says Searcy helped her infant son Colin, now 5, who was banging his head on hard surfaces when he got angry. "My pediatrician said, 'Oh, don't get too worried, he'll grow out of it,' " Etheridge says. "But it got worse." Colin, who suffers from sensory integration disorder, would sometimes bang his head so hard he put holes in the drywall.

It wasn't until speech, occupational and developmental therapists were brought in that things improved. "[The therapists] tried to teach Colin other things to do when he was frustrated," Etheridge says.

Other infants who are referred to Searcy have speech problems, sleeping problems and even disorders commonly associated with adults, such as depression or anorexia.

"It's not anorexia in the way adults are familiar with the disease," Searcy says. "In my cases there are kids who aren't eating because they're sitting in a crib and no one's holding them." She adds that infant anorexia can also occur if a child is oversensitive to textures or has problems with their palate.

While parents concerned about certain benchmark issues, such as potty training, probably won't receive treatment, Searcy urges parents to contact early intervention services in their communities.

And although the media tries to portray parents who seek therapy for their infants as hypochondriac moms, Searcy has another view.

"Sometimes parents are over-concerned … and I think, 'Wow, you guys are really good parents.' "

Teresa Dankowski


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