Our Kids (and Families) Aren’t Defined by a Diagnosis

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Your child is defined by who they are in Christ. Your child’s diagnosis is not their identity.

I had a conversation last year with a parent after their child received a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder…they gave me permission to share my part of our discussion with our blog readers. While this conversation pertained to a child with Asperger’s, the same principles apply to a full range of mental health or developmental disorder diagnoses. 

Your child is not defined by their diagnosis. They’re the same kid they were when they got up this morning, with the same strengths, weaknesses, gifts and talents. As Christians, we’re defined by who we are in Christ. Your child’s diagnosis is not their identity.

As a clinician, a diagnosis is a mental model we use as a framework for organizing our observations about a child we’re treating…a tool to help us consider what we might be able to do to help. Sometimes the label helps us to qualify a child for educational or rehabilitative services, or predict responses to specific treatment options. One of the comments I share with residents and fellows who come through our practice pertaining to diagnosis is…“I don’t care what you call it as long as you know what to do about it.” What matters is that the people caring for your child understand them and meet their needs.

You also need to keep in mind that psychiatric diagnoses are very subjective and open to interpretation…I was at a remarkable lecture last night with a clinician who will be training psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors on how to use the DSM-5. Statistically speaking, two psychiatrists evaluating the same patient are FAR more likely to disagree than agree on the patient’s diagnosis. Your child’s diagnosis is not necessarily carved in stone.

I understand that it can be very hard as a parent to have a concrete reminder on a piece of paper that your child is “different.” I get that the mention of Asperger’s churns up all the fears you experienced when your child was 2 1/2 and you first suspected that their social development wasn’t progressing as expected. But the help recommended for your child certainly seems appropriate…they could certainly benefit from developing a more positive (and realistic) self-image and from learning tools and skills to help them to manage their emotions more effectively.

Most importantly, there are no accidents. God had a plan for your child’s life this morning, and I don’t think God’s plans for your child are contingent upon whether or not the psychologist thinks they meet the criteria for Asperger’s. God probably has a plan to use you and your experiences to help other parents and families going through similar experiences. For as much as we love our kids, God loves them infinitely more. God has a plan for them…and His plan isn’t going to be thwarted by a diagnosis.

Dr. Steve Grcevich is a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry who serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry. He blogs at church4everychild.org and may be reached at steve@keyministry.org.

 

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