Sunday, September 16, 2012

Labelling Young Children Part I: The Doctor Diagnosis (a repost of "Please Don't Label My Child")

I am sharing this post I wrote over a year ago with all of you because it is the first part of my upcoming 3 part series I will write about diagnosing children with behavioral issues at a young age. My reason for doing this is, first of all, because I have many new readers and I feel if there was only one thing I'd like my readers to take from my blog it would be my experience with my son Park and his early "medical" diagnosis. The second reason I am reposting what I wrote below is because I was interviewed for a very prestigious parenting magazine this summer on this very issue (which should be coming out any day now) and because I have NO IDEA what to expect from the experience we shared and how they choose to use it, I want to tell my story from the beginning. So, here you all go:

So I know the title of this post seems like a copycat of the book I'm reading right now, Please Don't Label My Child: Break the Doctor-Diagnosis-Drug Cycle and Discover Safe, Effective Choices for Your Child's Emotional Health, BUT...I am at the point now where I am screaming the exact words in my head on a daily basis to those around me who want to give a diagnosis to my son Park.

As many of your know, this summer marks the year anniversary we first heard the dreaded autism word from our son's pediatrician. For those of you who have not, a quick recap:

We took our son in to see his pediatrician because we were worried he might have strep throat. We left with the medical advice to seek professional help for our possibly autistic child. Park has been involved with the country's Early Intervention program ever since that day, has had specialists observe him and tell us that they don't think we need to worry about autism and have seen a remarkable progression in his behavior.

HOWEVER, at a routine visit to see his pediatrician a few weeks ago (the first since last summer), we were told again that she suspects he has autism. To get into more detail, this is how the visit went:

The morning of our appointment, I geared Park up for his first doctor's visit in almost a year. I explained to him that his doctor is really nice, that she cares a lot about him and that she is very fun. When we got to the clinic, Park was a little nervous about having to take his clothes off in a cold room while strangers came in and out talking to us. But when his sweet pediatrician walked in, I reminded him of her and told him to go ahead and say hello. Instead of being nervous around a stranger like he normally would in this situation, Park walked up to her and sat down on the floor where she sat. He began talking to her (which to anyone other than my husband and I is mostly not understood) and asked about her stethoscope and her pen that has a light. She sat on the floor with him for about 5 minutes while asking us questions.

Doctor: "Does he play with other kids?"
Me: "Yes, he loves to."
Doctor: "What does he like to play with?"
Me: "Everything (trains, trucks, the dogs, Dad, the neighbor cat, anything)!"
Doctor: "What does he do when he plays with his trains?"
Me: "I know what you are getting at and no, he doesn't line things up repeatedly. He plays with his trains like any other normal 3 year old boy."
Doctor: "I still think he is autistic. It's not screaming at me, but I do."
Me: "Why do you think that?"
Doctor: "Because it seems as though he has his own agenda."
Me: "What do you mean?"
Doctor: "He wasn't afraid to come up to me. He quickly was interested in my stethoscope and my pen."
Marshall: "He is interested in everything and how it works."
And so on....

At first, I was frustrated and sad and worried all over again. I had it in my mind that we would have him tested again before he began school in the fall. I complained and vented to my family and friends. Then I let her news set in and became a little angry. Why was she so quick to judge my child on the 5 minutes of observation? Why didn't she ask other pertinent questions such as, Is Park sensitive towards other's feelings?, Does he interact with other children his age?, Does he pretend play?, Has he progressed this past year with language and behavior?, What does Early Intervention say about his progression?

Had she asked those questions, I would've explained to her that Park is the sweetest boy I could ever have asked for. He loves his Mommy, Daddy and brother so much. He especially LOVES his little baby brother. He is a great helper, and is so gentle just like we told him to be. He runs and laughs with other kids and with us. He is a jokester. He has a sense of humor. He is always giggling and smiling. He has slept well in his bed for naps and bed time for over a year. He loves to read books. I could go on and on.

I tried to tell her about his dairy intolerance. I brought his lab work in to show her and told her about the huge difference in his behavior since we removed dairy and then gluten from his diet. She didn't even look at the lab work. She dismissed it as not credible "science". I instantly felt disrespected as a mother.

I have done so much to get the help I was told my son needed. I have had him tested in which the specialist kind of laughed and said we had nothing to worry about unless he made no progression in his language in a year. He doesn't hit, he rarely ever gets frustrated. He listens well. I thank my lucky stars how easy he is and what a sweet little guy I have.

I've also been incredibly fortunate to have found professionals and friends who just happen to be mothers as well that support me in my belief that diet and his environment caused his difficult behavior in the past. What I cannot wrap my head around is how medical professionals in the western world are so quick to dismiss that we are over-diagnosing children and so quick to judge those little 2-3 year olds based on the norm or what our country believes to be how a child should behave. I mean, yes, my son has a major speech delay. But he speaks all day long. Everyday yields more understood words. And in the past, he had very questionable behavior. But that is in the past. He no longer displays those behaviors.

(Right now, Park is sitting in his little chair and pretending to read one of Mommy's novels)

So what if Park likes to ask about electronics? Is that wrong to be inquisitive at such a young age? His Daddy is a genius with he most likely inherited that trait. And so what if he asks a lot of questions? Have you met his Mommy? People get annoyed at my questions. Since when is it questionable behavior or "wrong" that a child displays individualistic behaviors? We in our culture are so quick to assume that when a child doesn't "fit in" with the norm that he/she is "defective" in some way.

(Right now Park is taking his "dirty" clothes and toys downstairs to be washed in our washing machine)

My husband and I are proud of our son. He is happy and healthy. He is outgoing and sensitive. He is smart and loving and so much fun to be around...even though he is bold, doesn't always listen and is Mr. Mischievous these days:) So what if he isn't talking as well as he should. It's not like he is never going to speak. I am glad that we had these experiences this last year with doctors and specialists. I've learned so much about the importance of health in my family, I've learned more about myself and how to trust my own instincts when it comes to the well being of my family and these experiences have enabled me to discover safer, healthier choices for Park.

~Mommy Bridget