Should I pursue a diagnosis for my young child?

When it comes to getting a firm diagnosis for their children, I often get two types of reactions:  1)  Absolutely yes!  This way, we can get all services as soon as possible, 2) No way!  I don’t want to put a label on my child unless it is absolutely necessary.  What happens when children are younger than 3 years old and this question becomes central?  Let’s explore some possibilities.

  1. What is the right thing to do?  The right answer depends not only on the child but also on the timing.  Typically, for very young children, when the parent is undecisive I advise to wait a little while (somewhere between 3 to 6 months), and make sure that we get solid intervention on the part of the intervening team (special instructors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, etc.) and the parent/s.  Of course, sometimes even waiting as little as 3 months to let intervention produce results seems like a very long time.  This is when it becomes evident that even with the strongest intervention, without the proper intervention, will not suffice.  I have had situations where I clinically know, after meeting the child and working with the child for a short time, that he/she will have difficulty responding to treatment.  In these cases, I suggest we move forward and pursue a diagnosis.
  2. My child was just diagnosed, now what?  Now is the time to look at all the options available to you through that diagnostic lens.  If your child was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), then you may have access to certain school programs and to the specialized expertise of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) teachers, who will tailor programs specifically for your child.  If your child was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, for example, you may be able to access equipment that may become central to any gross or fine motor work later on in your child’s life.  Whatever the diagnosis is, the specialized treatment will follow.  I like to compare treating children with treating the flu vs. treating a cold.  Even though some of the symptoms look the same, we treat the flu differently from what we would treat a cold.  The flu is much more severe, and it requires a specific intervention!
  3. I’ve decided I want to wait, or not pursue a diagnosis at all, now what?  Remember that the intervening team will still continue with provision of services, as the needs of each particular child is what drives this service provision, not the diagnosis itself.  In many cases, it is not necessary to pursue a diagnosis.  The child’s needs are self-evident and sufficient.  They are enough to carry out an intervention.  In the flip side of the above example, we wouldn’t treat a cold with the same medication that we use for the flu.  It is simply unnecessary and would not work!

Of course, as with anything else that requires careful consideration, it is important to do a lot of learning, consulting, and above all, soul-searching, before embarking on this route.  One thing to keep in mind is that nothing is written in stone, and a decision that you make today, you can take back tomorrow.  (We will have a course on parental rights.  More on this coming soon!). 

This is an important topic and we will continue exploring all the ramifications of each decision.  If you have any questions or comments, please drop me a note!

Sometimes, no diagnosis is needed to design a quality intervention.
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