Question: A student in my pre-k class of 4 and 5-year-olds cries easily and often, especially when he is not allowed to do something and at naptime and whenever I leave the room. I am told that he is developmentally disabled.  Does that have anything to do with the frequent crying? I would welcome suggestions.

Adele Brodkin: I suspect that you and this child have been short-changed on the special help that he needs. All too often, a child with behavioral and developmental difficulties is sent into a regular classroom with no hints for the teacher about how to help him while managing the full load of early childhood classroom responsibilities. Sending in a note with the label “developmentally disabled” is not enough. It tells you only that he is likely to be out of sync with his peers—something you can quickly discover for yourself; but then what?

It is clear that this particular child is having separation anxiety, perhaps even panics when you leave the room and when he is asked to rest alone. I would advise you to go back to the source of the “developmentally disabled” label and ask how it was established. If he has not been seen recently by a full cadre of early childhood mental health and pediatric experts, a referral for those work-ups is essential. If he has been seen, you should be privy to the description of his difficulties and the suggestions for helping him and his family. Is he ready to be away from his parents for a school day? Should there be a trained aide in the classroom assigned just to him?  What kind of out of school intervention has been recommended, and have the recommendations been followed? You are absolutely entitled to answers to these and all your questions; and perhaps more critically, the child and his family are entitled to outside help for his suffering.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.