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The Diagnosis: What Now?

After many hours of recognizing that something about her child, Ben, wasn’t quite right, Jennifer, with the support of her son’s school, finally sought a psychological evaluation. After many hours of interviews, testing and a physical, the psychologist delivered the news firmly but gently, “Your child has an Obsessive-Compulsive disorder.”

Jennifer later explained, “The hard thing was that as much as I understood what he was saying, and as much as I intellectually recognized that this was no cause for alarm, I was just so devastated. Would I ever be able to view my child in the same way ever again?”

The classic answer to this question is that a psychological or neurological diagnosis “isn’t the end of the world.” Yet, that proves not to be true. For the majority of children and families the receipt of a diagnosis is the end of a world, the world that revolved around a previous set of interactions and understandings about one’s child. No matter how hard Jennifer tried, her son’s behaviors that were once cute, idiosyncratic and individualistic now screamed out at her as symptoms.

“All I wanted” Jennifer said “was to roll back the clock and see my kid as himself again.”

While it might not be possible to role back the clock, every parent can succeed in taking charge of how to make use of diagnostic information so that the end of one world can be the beginning of a new and better world. Here is how in three easy steps.

1. Descriptions Not Terms

The diagnosis is shorthand that clinicians use to talk to each other and to insurance companies. Instead, ask the clinician with whom you work to describe in words what is happening with your child. For instance, “Your child has an incredible capacity for feeling sadness” describes the diagnosis of depression in a manner that is friendlier and easier absorb into your own understanding of the child. When a fellow clinician hears a diagnosis, they often use like a map. Where the map takes them is a journey into the child’s soul, the overall wonder of who they are as a person.

2. Diagnoses Contain Hidden Gifts

Jennifer learned that her obsessive – compulsive son was gifted in his intensity and tenacity. Dyslexic children are generally exceptionally creative. Depressive children can be unusually philosophical and empathic. ADHD children generally have amazing endurance and a rare ability to see things in a new way. It is very important to recognize that a diagnosis describes strengths as well as trouble spots. Interventions ought to include harnessing the raw potential of a problem area so that it can also become their talent.

3. Diagnosis Builds Character

One of the best things that can happen to a child is surmounting a difficulty. Everyone will encounter many obstacles throughout the lifespan. A diagnosis lays out a child’s vulnerability in a very direct manner and requires that they develop the skills to manage and work with it. Learning to do so fosters maturity and helps a child develop the internal confidence that no matter what difficulties come their way, they are strong enough to overcome them and still fulfill their aspirations.

So when your child receives a world-changing diagnostic impression from an evaluating clinician, it is okay to feel upset, scared and worried. Then recognize that it presents an opportunity to listen to your child’s internal life differently, to expose hidden strengths and to solidify their internal character structure. The new world that the diagnosis can enable between you and your child is one that can competently work around his or her vulnerabilities and strengthen them.

About the Contributor: Susan Bodnar, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, is regular contributor to the NYC Firm Schools Blog in the area of parenting and child & adolescent mental health with a cultural and environmental perspective.

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