Redefining Normal

If you're worried about your child, it may be time for an evaluation.
If you’re worried about your child, you are not alone.

You’re at your wit’s end.

Your child has become more difficult to manage, has fallen behind in school, or is finding it impossible to make or keep friends. You know something’s not quite right, but everyone keeps telling you it’s just a phase. She’ll grow out of it.

But that niggling feeling remains.

“Is my child…normal?”

It’s a tricky question and may not have a right or wrong answer. Over the years, the definition of normal has shifted. Children whose parents and teachers once labeled them “lively” or “quirky” or “daydreamers” now receive diagnoses of ADHD, autism, or other specific conditions.

Dr. Allen Frances, the author of Saving Normal, is battling against the surge of diagnoses that seem to be growing with each edition of the Diagnostic Manual. The most recent edition, DSM 5, was just released in May, and was met with some criticism due to the increase of some diagnoses and removal of others. He maintains that some labels seem arbitrary and that human behavior is diverse, colorful and… human.

He may have a point. Today, experts estimate that 12% of school-age children and as many as 20% of teenage boys are diagnosed with ADHD. The number of school-age children who may have a learning disability is estimated at around 20%, and 1.5% (a number that’s growing) are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

No wonder parents are getting more and more terrified that their kids may not be “normal.”

Redefine normal.

Here’s the quick answer to that earlier question: No one is truly normal.

There’s no such thing as a “normal” child. We’re all — children and parents alike — “magnificently flawed”, as Anne Lamott notes. Cultivating compassion and self forgiveness are important components to working through our perceived flaws. While we inherently try to forgive our children and make excuses for their difficult behaviors or struggles, the question remains: is something wrong? Is my kid going to be ok?

The challenge for today’s parents is recognizing when your child’s behaviors or abilities are different enough from those of other children that it impacts his life in a meaningful way. And some conditions need to be identified early because early intervention can be so important for a great many children.

And, some conditions may make it more difficult for your child to progress through school, at least with his self esteem intact.

So how do you know your child is in this category?

3 Signs That It’s Time to Check Things Out

If you’ve experienced any of these situations, you might want to consult with a specialist to ensure your child’s future success:

1. Your gut tells you something’s wrong. Your doctor keeps telling you, “Wait and see.” Your friends keep reassuring you that “He’ll grow out of it.”

But you still feel, deep down, that there’s something different about your child.

I’ve seen many kids over the years in my professional capacity, and many of them have had a mom (or dad) who refused to ignore that kernel of doubt. That gut feeling kept them pushing for an answer, even when others told them their kid was fine.

Teachers may dismiss your concerns in the hope that, in time, your child will catch up. Don’t let them dissuade you from seeking help if you have doubts. Early intervention can make a big difference in your child’s life, both now and in the future. Trust your mommy gut!

2. Your child frequently comes home discouraged, hates school, or makes statements like “I’m dumb.” Kids are more astute than we sometimes give them credit for. They can see the academic hierarchy of their class and figure out where they stand in relation to their peers.

If your child is consistently distraught about school, starts becoming school-phobic, or is so socially awkward that she’s avoided or ostracized by other kids, it’s time to get her some help. That help starts with a professional evaluation to rule out (or start a treatment plan for) learning disabilities or other conditions.

3. A teacher or other caregiver has suggested an evaluation for your child. Note to parents: Teachers really hate to identify kids as having a problem. With their heavy workload and so many other kids to worry about, they’d much rather hope for the best and move students along.

No teacher wants to carelessly worry a parent, so a recommendation for evaluation by your child’s teacher should be taken seriously. Find out exactly why she believes your child needs help. If you choose to hire a psychologist for your child, these details may help with his or her analysis.

Above all, don’t ignore the signs or your own feelings. Getting help for your child early on may make all the difference in his success in school and beyond. In future blogs, I will talk about different avenues of professional help.

Have you ever wondered if your child is normal? What did you do to get help for your child? Please share your story in the comments below!

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