Posted in: Grade School
Topics: Learning + Attention Issues
Stephen’s parents were worried. Stephen was an active 7-year-old who was having trouble learning to read, and staying seated in class. Now that he was in second grade, he was having trouble completing homework. Even though his homework was only supposed to take 15 minutes a night, he just couldn’t get started on it; he had even more difficulty getting it done. Stephen’s teacher mentioned that it might be a good idea to have Stephen see a psychologist or psychiatrist who could “diagnosis” his problems. This idea was tough for Stephen’s parents to hear. They didn’t like the idea of labeling kids, and felt that Stephen was just being a kid. Stephen’s dad had had difficulty learning to read and as he said, “I turned out fine!” However, as Stephen progressed from second to grade, his problems got worse. He hadn’t caught up with his peers’ reading skills, and his teacher was talking about retention. His parents were scared, and wondered whether they should finally take the advice of consulting a professional who could determine whether Stephen had a problem that needed to be identified.
As Stephen’s case illustrates, it’s not uncommon for a child to be identified by a teacher as needing an evaluation. Sometimes the evaluation is completed through the school, where the school identifies a “need for services” that they then provide. In this case, having a firm diagnosis isn’t necessary to get the needed support. However, there are times when an accurate and specific diagnosis is important, which is what was necessary for Stephen, who was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. Without these “labels,” Stephen might not have received the specialized reading support and medication that he needed to be a successful student.
Parents understandably have personal reactions to identifying their child by a “label.” When parents share these concerns with me, I remind them of two points. First, a label should never define anyone. It’s just one way of describing a child’s learning, behavioral or emotional functioning at that point in time. Second, a label is only as good as the treatment that follows it. In other words, the most important reason we use labels is because they help direct treatment.
So, when is getting a firm diagnosis important? The reasons fall into a few categories:
Ultimately, Stephen’s diagnoses led to him receiving exceptional treatment, including reading tutoring at school, and medication that he took during the school year to help him concentrate and attend better. His parents learned that the diagnosis was just another descriptor—one of dozens—that could be used to describe Stephen, and that without this firm diagnosis, he would not have so easily obtained the services he needed.