What do you think of the idea of “mental health” days? That is, taking a day off when you’re feeling mentally tired or emotionally stressed – essentially taking a sick day for your brain.

I participated in a parent panel talking with school district staff, and several of the parents mentioned supports for their kids at school, supports that the kids knew were available to them, that they could choose to use if needed, and which they rarely used.

One example was that the student was allowed to leave the classroom and go to a quiet spot if needed. Another student could take a day off when feeling overwhelmed and needing a break.

For years, in addition to being able to get up from his desk and stand at the back of the classroom when he started feeling overwhelmed, the Navigator has had through his IEP the ability to leave his classroom and go to his IEP Case Manager’s office if he needed to.

In the quiet of the Case Manager’s office he would spend 15 minutes or so, maybe talking about what was overwhelming him, reading a book, or working on a puzzle. When he felt better he would go back to his classroom.

Over time, he has used this option less and less, and I don’t think he used it at all during his fourth grade year.

This brought me to the idea of a mental health day. Because while he has not used the option to leave his classroom this year, there have been times that I think he could have used a day off from school to recuperate from feeling overwhelmed or tired.

I had been thinking about this since the day of the panel presentation, wondering if a mental health day would be good for the Navigator. Would it set a precedent for him that he would carry through high school, college, even future employment?

Would I set him up for difficulties if he has the idea of mental health days set in concrete in his mind and other entities might not let him take them?

Then I thought about how when the parents on the panel talked about the supports for their kids, they said that the student didn’t need to use them very much. Like the Navigator not needing to visit his IEP Case Manager’s office as much.

It was frequently enough for the kids to know that the options were there for them and it was their choice how to use them.

I talked it over with Autism Dad and we decided that we would offer him three “mental health” days per school year. That would allow him one per quarter and we would keep track of them so he could decide how and when to use them.

We also decided that taking four days per year as “mental health” days was not going to set him up for difficulties in high school, college or employment.

Like a safety net, his supports for feeling overwhelmed are on a continuum starting at leaving his desk, to leaving the classroom and, on rare occasions, missing school.

He knows that they are there if he needs them, and he gets to decide when and how he uses them. Which might be the best mental health balm of all.

There If He Needs It

Originally published on Autism Mom March 2015.