I Over-Diagnosed My Perfectly Normal Kid

There are some oddball milestones in parenting, aren't there? A recent one for me was taking my son to see Godzilla. The noise, the monsters, the immersive nature of watching it in IMAX 3D ... there was a time I would've predicted that sort of movie outing would have been about as successful as trying to force-feed him a bag of live spiders.

It seems so obvious in retrospect: he wouldn't have enjoyed a loud dramatic movie because he was too young. But at the time, I thought of him as quirky. I mentally referred to his sensory issues. It occurs to me -- now that he's older, now that I'm not so caught up in how he compares to other kids his age -- that our easy access to an infinite amount of anecdotal medical information has ruined our collective ability to let our kids develop at their own pace.

Okay, maybe that's a slightly dramatic claim. I'm sure there are lots of people who don't obsess over their kids' aversions and preferences, but I sure did. I looked at my young son, who was anxious about a variety of situations -- noises, textures, temperatures -- and filed all these aversions under "auditory and tactile sensitivities." I read up on the subject, I listened to the well-meaning advice from friends and acquaintances, I considered the possibility that my son had a sensory processing disorder.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that there was no need to fret over him. At nearly 9 years old, my son is no longer fearful of balloons, resistant to getting in the water, or deeply anxious about new situations. It's been a long time since he's clapped his hands over his ears at the sight of a fire truck or had a complete meltdown triggered by a skinned knee. He remains a frustratingly picky eater, but being unwilling to eat broccoli no longer seems particularly unusual to me.

He wasn't "cured" by anything we did, he just needed time to grow up a little. From where I stand now, it seems almost a little ridiculous that I was in such a hurry for him to become a big kid who wasn't fazed by the sound of a firecracker, and yet I still remember worrying that he would become a twitchy, unhappy adult. Someone who maybe needed medication to deal with being constantly overwhelmed by the world.

I think as parents there's a tough balance to be found these days between the wealth of information available to us and what we do with that information. How do you decide what's "normal," after all, when there are so many varying descriptions to be found? How can you be sure you won't look back and regret not pursuing a diagnosis of some kind, especially when early intervention and occupational therapy is so clearly beneficial? How can you truly determine the difference between a disorder and a perfectly healthy developmental stage? As a friend of mine put it, "Diagnosis for one can be diagnonsense for another."

It also seems to me that even medical professionals are far too quick to diagnose these days. I mean, a 2009 research study suggested that 1 in every 6 children has "sensory over-responsivity issues" -- doesn't that make you think we're sometimes unnecessarily categorizing these issues in a negative way?

Of course, plenty of kids do have real challenges and it's crappy to insinuate their problems aren't real, much as I'm sure it gets old for celiac sufferers to hear jokes about gluten-free foods. I don't have any answers for how we can better navigate those confusing early years when it's so tempting to compare and contrast, only the hindsight that comes from my own experience. If I could give my years-ago self some advice, it would simply be this: He'll be fine.

Image via Linda Sharps

kid health


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Elaine Cox

so you are a typical mother and dad is like "rub some dirt on it"..somethings never change

nonmember avatar Beth A

I think the problem is that now you can look back and say it's all fine, but there's no way you can know that when you're in the moment. Both of my older kids were slow talkers and had about the same level of poor language skills when they turned two. But if I could go back in time, what I would tell myself that my daughter would be fine and completely caught up by age 4, but we really should call Early Intervention for my son instead of assuming he would be like my daughter and waiting until his language problems are causing difficulty in preschool. She caught up on her own and he needed some help. There was no way to tell the difference at age 2.

nonmember avatar Kristi

Gives me hope for my "quirky" 7 year old.

TheMi... TheMillerFamily

My 7 year old is overly hyper and can't pay attention to save his life, everybody (literally) has told me hes ADHD and should be diagnosed. I refuse. I refuse because the medication they use for that is lifelong, it alters everything and he will likely never be the same. Everyone Ive talked to who has been put on any medication for ADHD has said they wished their parents hadn't done that to them. I know that now they have more options but they are still harsh and I don't want to use them unless there are no other options.

Instead I say hes fine, hes a hyper little boy who deserves to grow up without being forced to take medication to make him Everyone elses acceptable "normal". I work with him, he has a daily reward system which goes both ways, when he pays attention and works hard he gets rewarded, when he doesn't do what he is supposed to in class or with his daily work at home (he gets a couple chances at being redirected of course) he loses his reward for the day, if he does what hes supposed to do but it takes to long has to be redirected to many times he gets only half his reward.

He does great with a reward system and in return he has something to work for on a daily basis, it took me a while to figure out a good system but once we did everything fell into place. Medication in my case is the easy way out, I refuse to take the easy way out before exhausting all other options!

nonmember avatar Kitty

I think it's very admirable that you realize these things now before you overmedicated your kid and made a horrible mistake. We have too many teens running around on meds who end up using "bipolar" or "depressed" as an excuse for their unwillingness to have self control and discipline, and teaching them that meds are the answer starts early. Every parent these days seems to want their kid to stand out, so they can talk about how hard it is being a parent of a kid with insert-trendy-disorder-name-here and get sympathy. Certainly there are children out there with real problems that need medication and therapy to help them develop and live life to the fullest, but most kids are just normal, healthy kids. Overmedicalizing them does them a disservice.

To those of you who don't drug their kids, or get extensive medical guidance that is is a necessity before you do, good for you. It isn't easy being a parent but if you do the best you can and give your children your time and attention, you are awesome.

nonmember avatar Kitty Kat

Also, Miller Family, good for you for working with your son instead of taking the easy way our! Truthfully children aren't meant to spend 8 hours a day in a chair. That's just not how humans were designed, we were designed to be active and society forces us to be sedentary for so much of our lives that when most of us get older, we don't have the energy to exercise. Your son is normal to want to run and play and bounce off the walls! He's not one of their little robots. Make sure he has an outlet for his energy and he will be focused. :)

jec72579 jec72579

MillerFamily, it is so nice to know that there are other people out there like me. I have an EXTREMELY active 7 year old son, who's preschool and kindergarten teachers both told me that I needed to medicate. They both insisted that he had a "severe" case of ADHD. This year, he is in 1st grade. His teacher and I had a meeting during the first week of school, and we talked about everything. She has been a teacher for over 25 years, and truly has been a blessing to our family. She and I, my son's pediatrician, and my son, all work together - WITHOUT any medication, to . He is a handful, but with the right guidance, and system that works for our family, he has grown so much this year. I am so sad to be leaving this school and teacher, she has been the best thing to happen to my son IMO. If not for her, I may have broken down and gotten him medicated. 

MomLi... MomLily67

We sometimes go overboard, not with the intention of being overprotective or " extreme worriers", but because we want to be a step forward of anything that could affect our kids. I sometimes think a mosquito bite is chicken pox, a simple dry throat cough is a case of whooping cough. Just yesterday I tookher to the doctor because she has a couple of pimples that I found suspicious. Good thing her doctor is understanding and explained that even kids can get a pimple, maybe ate too many snacks, her digestion could be a bit off, and simple stuff like that. Hey, we're moms!!

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