“Should I try to get him diagnosed?” I’ve heard this line from a number of parents. When children begin to show signs of unusual development, whether it’s hyperactivity, vocal or physical tics, obsessive tendencies, sensitivity to loud sounds, or social delays, it can be concerning. What if your daughter is missing out on therapy she needs? What if your son’s grades are dropping because of he really needs medication?
But, you wonder, could a diagnosis limit limit my child’s future job options? Certain career fields, such as those in the military, look closely at health information before hiring. Will a diagnosis set my child apart in school? You worry that classmates might not accept his differences as he gets older.
How do you know if you should try to get your child diagnosed?
That’s not an easy question to answer. All children are different, as are their situations. I’ve seen students who desperately need help in school that only diagnoses, while other ones suffer more from cases of Bad Behavior. So how do you know? It takes a team of a child, parents, doctors, and often other professionals such as teachers or specialists to make a diagnosis.
Also, it’s important to remember that many neurological disorders are spectrum disorders. That means that no two cases will look the same. From person to person, disorders differ in severity and symptoms. We’ll also look at the question, does my child really need to be diagnosed?
I’ve seen children that have several symptoms of ADHD who don’t have the full-blown disorder. Again, ADHD is a spectrum disorder, so it’s not like Pneumonia, where you either have it or you don’t. It’s very possible to have only some of the characteristics. The same is true for other disorder such as Tic Disorders, OCD, and anxiety.
Take for example, my OCD tendencies. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with OCD. My mother took me to a child neurologist when I was eight because I had developed tics and had accumulated a ridiculous number of fears for a child of my age. Our pediatrician felt it was important enough to send me to a child neurologist.
After the neurologist asked me a series of questions about my tics and my worries, he told my mother I had high anxiety and a Transient Tic Disorder (A Transient Tic disorder usually comes first, as Tourettes and Tic Disorders can’t be diagnosed until the doctor has documented tics for at least a year.), he never actually diagnosed me with OCD.
Still, without a doubt, I experienced (and still do) many aspects of the disorder. I had several compulsions. One was where I had to jump over a line in the carpet ten times before I could go down the hall, or where I had to chew my food 100 times before I swallowed each bite. I had vivid fears that I would kill my family at night, or that I’d accidentally swallowed gasoline, or that the house would catch fire from the wiring in the wall. I ruminated over lightning. As I got older, my compulsions turned to things like not being able to get out of my chair until I’d finished a task, or making myself work so hard on schoolwork and projects that I’d get sick, just so it would be perfect. I still feel like I have to end my prayers twice for them to “feel right.”
I clearly struggle with aspects of the disorder. Should I have gotten a diagnosis?
It’s hard to say. In order to get a diagnosis, however, specific criterion must be met in order to satisfy the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition). The Center of Disease Control’s article, “Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),” refers to the DSM-V about the true need for a diagnosis for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, saying,
“People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development….”
The true litmus test for a diagnostic need is in the interference. Does the inattention or hyperactivity interfere with life? If grades are slipping because the child can’t stay focused on the lessons, or if he’s becoming socially distanced from all his friends because he blurts out everything he’s thinking, the doctor might be more likely to refer him to a specialist than if he just seems to dislike doing homework.
You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
How do you know if the problem is interfering with your child’s life, however? How do you make that call? The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Your child’s pediatrician (or primary care doctor for adult patients) is your best bet in noticing if something isn’t developing the right way. General physicians are trained in normal human development so they can spot things when they’re not average.
There are so many different disorders, however, that unfortunately, not all doctors will immediately put the symptoms in the correct diagnostic category. One of the best things that parents can do for their children is to document. Documenting specific behaviors, absences of behaviors, speech patterns, school records, and even sleep patterns can be helpful to doctors.Once a parent points out specific developmental patterns in a child, it can be easier for a doctor to look at a group of behaviors and classify it than if he must gather the data himself. Parents know their children better than anyone else.
Parents can also ask other adults who are near the child about behaviors if they’re unsure. For children who are old enough to be in school, teachers can be invaluable. In college, I took classes on child development, child psychology, and general learning patterns. While teachers can’t legally diagnose children (After all, we’re not doctors!), they can provide help with documenting behavior. We know when every day, we must redirect a certain child ten times more than her peers, and we can often spot high anxiety or social struggles.
I’m going to list some of the common symptoms of common neurological disorders. *These are by no means exclusive; they’re simply lists of behaviors I’ve been trained to look for or have seen in children with these disorders. If you click the link at the beginning of each section, it will take you to my post on that specific disorder, where I provide links to outside professional sources, such as the Center of Disease Control, KidsHealth.org, and Psychology Today that are dedicated specifically to these issues.
*And remember, I’m not a doctor, so I can’t diagnose anyone. These are just symptoms that if found in your child, you might want to mention to your child’s doctor.
Common Signs of ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) – Some common symptoms of this disorder are:
- The inability to hone focus, the mind is focused on everything at once, rather than one thing at a time.
- Hyperactivity that cannot be curbed, even with discipline and enforced structure.
- Blurting out whatever is on the mind
- Being more emotional than most peers
- Acting without considering consequence, even when the consequence has been experienced before
- The ability to hyperfocus on favorite pastimes such as video games or projects, while truly not being able to focus on other parts of life such as getting ready for school, studying, or following directions to complete a task.
Common Signs of Tourette Syndrome – Some common symptoms of this disorder are:
- Physical tics (repetitive, involuntary motor movements that can be simple or complex in nature), such as blinking, snapping, kicking, muscle tightening, or shoulder jerking
- Vocal tics (repetitive, involuntary vocal sounds that can be simple or complex in nature), such as squeaking, barking, throat clearing, or repeating certain words or phrases
Just a note, Mayo Clinic’s article, “Tourette Syndrome: Test and diagnosis,” says according to the DSM-V, both physical and vocal tics must be present for more than a year for Tourette Syndrome to be a possibility. There are different varieties of Tic Disorders, however, that are feasible diagnoses as well.
Common Signs of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) – Some common symptoms of this disorder are:
- Distress when details are not attended to (I once saw a student who truly believed his green tye-dye shirt didn’t count as red, so when the teachers called the children with the green shirts to line up, he didn’t move because he thought his shirt wasn’t green.)
- Counting objects often when it isn’t needed
- Touching objects or people a specific number of times
- Needing certain areas or groups of objects to be organized a certain way
- The inability to stop thinking about germs
- Unwanted, intrusive thoughts about certain undesirable scenarios occurring, often involving the individual doing something evil or bad
- The inability to stop a certain task until it’s perfect, even when perfection is impossible
- The inability to get rid of certain items, even when there’s no particular value for that item
- High anxiety the majority of the time
- Rituals that must be observed before going to bed, eating breakfast, etc., such as touching items, counting objects, or saying a phrase.
It’s important to note that according to the OCD Resource Center of Florida, many children try to hide their OCD symptoms, as they find them embarrassing.
Common Signs of Autistic Spectrum Disorders or Pervasive Developmental Disorders Not Otherwise Specific (PDD-NOS) – Some common symptoms of this disorder are:
- Monotone speaking voice
- Poor muscle tone
- The dislike of looking others in the eye
- Not picking up on social cues from others, (for example, not knowing when one conversation has ended and another has begun)
- Not knowing how to initiate social interactions with others
- Having favorite obsessions about certain topics, such as Star Trek, construction, a specific book, or math
- Being easily overwhelmed with too much sensory stimuli (These children often have Sensory Processing Disorder as well.)
- Having a natural aversion to physical touch
What Happens If I Get / Don’t Get My Child a Formal Diagnosis?
Well, for one thing, the doctors are the only ones who can truly give a diagnosis that will qualify the child for accommodations and modifications in school. Now, are people living with these disorders without the paperwork diagnoses? Sure, lots! Take me for example. My mother never took me back to the neurologist after that first visit. She could have, since the doctor said if I came back in a year, he could probably label my Tourettes formally. My guess is he might have labeled my other anxiety issues as well.
My mother had a decision to make, however. While I was definitely showing signs of multiple disorders, none of them were interfering enough in my life after a year to really need one. I was homeschooled at the time, so I didn’t need any accommodations for my tics or my anxiety that she couldn’t give me. My learning wasn’t being affected, and I still had lots of friends at church, my homeschool girls group, and at dance. And while my fears were still present, I was learning to manage them better than I had done when I was younger. The diagnosis wouldn’t have served me any purpose aside from giving me a label.
This doesn’t go for all children, however. For children with high anxiety, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can be very helpful in learning to overcome fears and obsessions. For children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, social training can help them to learn to function in societal roles that will be expected of them (for example, how to shake hands properly, how to answer questions directly when asked, and how to look at people when speaking to them). Children with ADHD can get special accommodations in school, such as extended time for testing.
The choice to see if a child needs a diagnosis or not is up to the parent. The next step is to talk to the child’s doctor. It’s important as well to remember to listen to the child if he or she has something to say about it. There is not set schedule for diagnosing a child correctly. Each child is unique in his or her needs, so each path to healthy management of symptoms will be unique as well.
Have you thought about seeing if a child (or yourself) qualifies for a diagnosis? Do you have any tips to share? Please do so in the Comment Box below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter for extra information on neurological disorders, education, and encouragement. And as always, thanks for reading!
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