1) Be open to the process of a diagnosis.
I truly felt unprepared for this particular parenting experience. I did not understanding why my son behaved differently from the other kids his age. I had no other point of reference. He was my first child. He was so smart, eager to grow and learn and play. Yet some of his tendencies and reactions were inappropriate and self-destructive. Eventually his teachers started having conversations with us to discuss how he wasn’t staying on task, he wasn’t respecting other people’s personal space, he couldn’t remember to follow steps or instructions, he didn’t play well with the other kids, and so on.
This was the beginning of a process involving evaluations, questionnaires, observations, tests, and charts. The diagnosis process itself can be challenging. Each child is unique. And so many of the mental and behavioral disorders look like each other or even overlap. There is certainly effort involved in simply knowing what diagnosis your child may have. Be diligent and patient.
Understand this process tends to trigger our own beliefs and emotions of what we thought parenthood would be like. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (author of On Death and Dying) discovered patients “dealing with a diagnosis” experienced the 5 stages of grief. I can relate. I experienced feeling shock/denial, anger, blaming/bargaining, grief/depression and acceptance. A diagnosis is the beginning of the loss. It is the acknowledgement that things will never be the same. It changed our expectations. Being open to acknowledging what was really going on with our son, as well as identifying our own emotions and reactions to this diagnosis, helped us to come to level of acceptance and peace.
2) Educate yourself and your child.
After identifying the terms we needed to help understand my son, we began learning everything we could about his particular diagnosis, studying books, researching online, and talking to neighbors and friends who also had children with similar diagnosis. Immediately, I noticed how many of friends through adoption had children with ADHD, RAD, ODD, OCD, Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Autism, SPD, SID and other disorders. Research indicates adoptive children will be more likely to have mental and behavioral disorders than other population groups. Not because they are adopted, but because most of these disorders are genetic, or a result of the lack of development due to environment or trauma. We were able to learn more about my son, as we learned his birth mother has the same diagnosis.
Once we knew what we working with, we began to research how to treat and support our son’s diagnosis. The opportunities for children and adults are plentiful. There are psychologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, therapists, treatment centers, camps, neurofeedback, alternative therapy, medication, supplements, and much more. As we determined which resources we needed to pursue, we involved our son in the process. He learned at a very young age it was appropriate and safe for all of us to get help from others. I love how open and honest our world has become in regards to our mental health.
3) Build strength, skills, and self-worth.
Be positive. Quickly we began to transform our thinking and language about these mental and behavior disorders. We felt it was important for our son to learn early that his weaknesses could become his strengths, as we taught him to think positively about his brain, body and behaviors. We spend a lot of time building on his God-given strengths to help him develop skills and confidence. We had him look up all of the successful people in the world with similar diagnosis, so he could counteract the negativity he feels or hears from others.
It is hard work sometimes to spin the negative into positive, but we have been in this adventure long enough to see our efforts paying off. To see our son with ADHD succeed in completing and turning in assignments is amazing. To see our son with ODD cooperate and put someone else’s needs or desires above his own in heartwarming. To see our son with anxiety be excited and happy about a performance coming up is inspiring. It is exciting to see his growth, confidence in his abilities and unique gifts! We create change when we emphasize the good!
American Psychiatry Association