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Why is it important for parents, caregivers, and professionals to know about children’s mental health? The University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), an advocacy organization hosted by the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), addressed this question and more during its Child Mental Health Training held in late February.


Several dozen Special Education Resource Specialists and counselors from the public and private schools participated in the training, which featured presentations from both the UCEDD and the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS) Pua Center.


“The main accomplishment of this training was that it create a bridge for open communication between the Special Educations' Resource Specialists and counselors and the government leading agency that deal with mental health issues in general for children,” said UCEDD Community Trainer Paulia Pa’o-Pelenato. “We were also able to create and agree on a flow chart of responsibilities for serving a child with mental health issues if they were to be referred to a Resource Specialist during school hours.”


The morning training began with a two-part presentation the DHSS Pua Center, the government agency that provides services on island for people with mental health concerns. Mrs. Masele Iafeta and Ms. Tepatasi Vaina of the Pua Center presented on issues regarding child mental health and the importance of teachers and counselors working together with the parents/families of these children to ensure they receive the necessary and correct services. During the UCEDD’s presentation, Pa’o-Pelenato explained that mental health disorders in children are more widespread than most adults believe. Instructors and counselors in our schools especially need to be aware of mental health issues because they are often among the first people to see that a child may be experiencing a problem. “By understanding the nature of mental health disorders, school personnel can better plan programs that meet their students’ needs and build a positive environment,” she said.


Beginning with definition of mental health as “a level of psychological well-being in which an individual realizes his/her own abilities to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his/her community,” Pa’o-Pelenato cautioned that children with mental health concerns who do not have a positive environment or significant relationships may show symptoms of depression while evidencing a failure to thrive. The stigmas surrounding mental health issues not only subject the child to negative attitudes, but can also discourage their families from getting them the help they need.


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common child mental health disorders, affecting 3 to 5 % of school-age children. Children with ADHD face a challenge controlling impulsivity and inattention, but teachers can learn strategies for effectively channeling these traits for the benefit of both the child with ADHD and the class as a whole. Children may also be struggling with Down Syndrome, which severely compromises language and communication abilities, or Tourette Syndrome, which can be very generally described as a state of uncontrollable nervous reaction, or other Sensory Processing or Pervasive Developmental Disorders which interfere with learning.


Pa’o-Pelenato emphasized that through early intervention and especially through creating an emotionally healthy environment, children facing these challenges can still thrive within a classroom situation. Further information on helping children with mental health issues is available from the UCEDD, who can be contacted through ASCC at 699-9155, or by email at  HYPERLINK "" Another resource is the Pua Center at 699-4155.