I have three African-American sons. All of them are in school.  So it was with great sympathy that I recently listened to two of my good friends talk about troubles they’ve had with their Black sons in school.  Plus, it wasn’t the first time I’d heard stories of that kind.  It’s always the same old, same old.  Black moms (and dads) are told their sons are “intimidating” other students, are “hyper-active,” or lack the capacity for good decision making.  Or, one of the lines I’ve heard often about my own sons: “They are so bright, they just don’t seem engaged in my lessons.”  Well my first thought is always, what do the teacher’s “lessons” include and how many other Black boys in are your class are equally not engaged by said lessons.

As you can imagine conversations with mommy friends, my own personal experiences and the constant talk of over-discipline, mass medicating of and low engagement among African-American boys makes me very weary of anything an education “professional” has to say about the capacity my boys have to learn.  But, what I find most interesting is that despite the statistics about Black boys being targets of special education, studies about Black children having less effective teachers and the mounds and mounds of research that point to problems within the education system itself, scores of parents still believe everything their child’s teachers, school psychologist and administrators say.  Parents are medicating their children, sending them to therapy and putting them in special education before they’ve even explored all options, and taken into account that the so-called professional may not have their best interest at heart.  After all, mental illness in the Black community is an over $5 billion-a-year industry.

For that reason, BrownMamas.com has created this list of things to ponder before putting your trust in what an education “professional” says about the well being of your child.

1. Have you talked to your kid?

If your son, or daughter, is acting out they may just be crying out for your attention.  Rather than putting stock in what a school administrator is telling you (who you don’t know from a can of paint), why not ask your kid what’s up?  Ask how they feel about school. Find out what they are learning easily and what they’re having a hard time grasping.  Also, make sure you ask your child how that specific professional makes them feel. Does your child feel forced, coerced or ignored?  These are all questions you need to ask your child before you take even one more step.

2. What is this professional qualified to do?

Most mothers don’t know that school psychologist are not qualified to make clinical diagnosis.  That means that a school psychologist is not educated enough to diagnose ADHD, Bi-polar disorder, or any other mental diagnosis.  A school psychologist can refer your child for special education.  However, he/she cannot tell you that your child is dyslexic or make any prognosis of their symptoms.  You must take your child to a certified psychiatrist for such a diagnosis.  So, you should question any diagnosis that comes from a school psychologist.  Dr. Umar Johnson, a school psychologist from Philadelphia, speaks about this issue of mis-diagnosis among Black boys.

3. Have you tried at home therapy?

From getting your kid more exercise to changing his/her diet, decreasing their digital activities and spending more one-on-one time with you kid, there are a number of ways to help your kid whose struggling with either behavior or books in school.   Medication and even therapy outside of the home are the easy way out.  But taking the hard way out by changing at-home habits can be extremely beneficial to your child’s developing brain.  That’s not to say that consulting a psychologist is a chicken way out, but you know your child better than anyone.  You were the first person to hold him, love him and nurture him.  Chances are if you look hard enough you can find out what’s triggering this change, or abnormality. WebMd has some great suggestions for battling ADHD at home, click here.

4. Have you consulted a culturally competent professional?

So, if you’ve done all of the above and feel like you need outside help, that’s okay.  But, make sure the professional you pick shares your cultural experiences.  Often, doctors from a differing background may not understand your child’s day-to-day life.  Let’s face it our environment makes as much of a difference in how we interact with the world as our DNA.  If your child has a cold it’s important that the doctor understands what causes a cold.  Well it’s the same thing with your child’s psychologist or psychiatrist.  This doctor needs to be able to understand (hopefully due to his own personal experiences) what it means that your child has an absentee father, maybe doesn’t live in the greatest part of town or more importantly what his future can look like given the right environment for greatness.

5. Have you done your research.

If your school psychologist is suggesting your child has dyslexia and you don’t know exactly what it is, well you need to hit-up Google and do some research.  I suggest doing the research regardless of whether you’ve encountered issues with your child at school or not.  If you are raising Black children in America, it’s probably a good idea to have at least a small amount of stored knowledge on the prevalence of mental illness diagnosis in public school settings.  An author by the name of Jawanza Kunjufu has written a number of books on the topic.  You can find them on Amazon.

Hope this helps mamas!


Cynthia Mendoza

Hello. Welcome to BrownMamas.com a blog for Black moms looking to thrive while raising kids in this hectic world and the headquarters for Pittsburgh Brown Mamas, a Pittsburgh support group for Black moms. Here I write about raising my three boys, living in and loving Pittsburgh, dating my husband, gardening and all kinds of other stuff. Thanks for visiting. Stay long & come often!

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