Unwanted Parenting Advice: 'Have You Had Him Tested For...?'

I found it easier and perhaps more necessary to write about my kids when they were younger. To obsessively document the endlessly weird and terrifying things babies do, and exhale in relief when people would invariably say, "Oh, that? Yeah, jesus, that's the worst. Don't worry, my kid does that too."

Even then I noticed a few odd pieces of advice among the helpful chorus. Like the person who wondered if I'd checked my kids for Maple Syrup Urine Disease (it's a real thing! Symptoms include COMA and DEATH!) when I mused about how my kids' pajamas had a sweet pancake-y smell that I knew I would miss someday.

No big deal, you learn to tune out the occasional left-fielder, but I feel more sensitive to it these days. My kids are older, more complex, and I have a harder time accurately capturing their personalities. I mostly love hearing ideas and suggestions, but I am bothered when it seems I've offered up the opportunity to associate my child with a medical condition.


I say my 5-year-old hates loud noises and balloons and is sometimes hesitant about new situations, people ask if I've had him tested for Asperger's. I say my kids can be totally obnoxious and hyper, someone asks if I'm feeding them too many artificial dyes. I exaggerate for humor, I joke about the insanity of two boys, I get a few gentle "just thought I'd put it out there" comments about ADHD.

It seems like an odd position we're all in these days, to have the blessing of so much information at hand and so much more access than ever before—yet at the same time, the slippery slope to armchair diagnoses. There are so many developmental disorders and medical issues out there that have checklists a mile long; I'd bet every kid has a few things on every such list there is.

For those who must navigate the difficult path to obtaining a diagnosis and the treatment that's right for their family, what an amazing wealth of resources we have. For those who hope for black and white answers to the twists and turns of everyday childhood, it's sometimes a case of too much of a good thing. Is my child behaving like a complete asshat because he's ADD, or on some mysterious point of the autism spectrum, or having a biochemical reaction to the soy oil in his EnviroKidz Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, or developing a dust mite allergy ... or is it because he's a child?

I don't claim to have any real knowledge of how you make those kinds of decisions, except that I believe most of us have gut feelings about our kids. We know when something's more serious than a stage, or when our kids need help.

Maybe that's what I'm reacting to: the idea that I wouldn't be savvy enough to be suspicious. Which is ridiculous, really, since I so often feel like I'm floundering around in desperate need of an instruction book of some kind—why wouldn't I be receptive to the suggestion that my kid might have a syndrome of some kind?

Still: it makes me bristle. Particularly when it's presented as a context-free piece of advice, rather than a story about their own experience with the issue. It feels as though a line has been crossed, and I am the one to blame for sharing the story in the first place.

What's your take on this sort of thing? No different than any other friendly, war-story-sharing conversation ("Say, have you tried time outs?"), or Not Quite the Right Thing to Say?


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