When parents first notice that their child is struggling with a learning or developmental difference it becomes the start of a new journey. They must navigate an unfamiliar world filled with new terms to learn and often times, doctors to meet. It can be an emotional and scary journey for a parent.
Emily Perl Kingsley explained it well in her essay “Welcome to Holland,” written for parents who have children struggling with differences. Kingsley compares her journey to planning a trip to Italy; she has prepared herself for it, learned some of the language, bought the guidebooks, and is on her way. But all of the sudden she unexpectedly finds herself in Holland. Even though Holland is just as nice as Italy, it is different than what she had prepared herself for. Much like finding out your child is struggling, it may mean your journey is different than initially anticipated, but that child is worth the unexpected detour.
In the midst of this journey, parents often come to the bend in the road where they are told their child needs a diagnosis in order to receive services. While there are times when it is certainly helpful or necessary for a child to have a diagnosis, (for example, in order to get a certain therapeutic service through a school district or for insurance reasons) it is important for parents to tread lightly when it comes to obtaining a diagnosis for a child. Any label is liable to stick with a child for a long time, possibly the rest of her life.
It is unfair to slap a child with a diagnosis that could hinder her growth, hurt her self-esteem and give others an inaccurate picture of her capabilities. The problem is, that diagnoses are often given based on short interactions with a mental health/medical professional that has never met the child. In order to get a fair and complete picture of a child, it is important to observe him over a span of time and to include an observation in an environment where he is comfortable. One observation in an office where a child has never been, meeting a doctor or other professional she has never talked to is not an accurate picture of any child, especially one who is sensitive to new environments.
This is not to point fingers at professionals that diagnose children. They often have limited time to spend and are in high demand to see many families in a given day; however it is imperative to look at what is in the best interests of every child.