Why a diagnosis of your child can sometimes be limiting

Learn about: Why a diagnosis of your child can sometimes be limiting from Ross W. Greene, PhD,...
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Why a diagnosis of your child can sometimes be limiting

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I often say that parents sometimes go through two phases as they are trying to figure out what's going on with their behaviorally challenging child and what information is going to be helpful. There's the phase of thinking that a diagnosis is going to provide some very crucial information. That's very early on. Then, once a child has a diagnosis, there is the phase of recognizing that the diagnosis really didn't tell you very much about your kid at all. I find that lagging skills and unsolved problems are much more informative than diagnoses. Because if you take a look at the criteria for the vast majority of childhood psychiatric diagnoses, all you're going to find is lists of behaviors, challenging behaviors. So all the diagnosis really tells us is what behaviors the kid is exhibiting when he's running into difficulty. I feel so bad for parents who get the following from the mental health professional. They go to the mental health professional looking for help, and they say, doctor, why is my child hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive? And the doctor says, because he has ADHD. How do you know he has ADHD? Because he's hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive. Thank you doctor. That was very clarifying. No it wasn't. Doctor, why is my child refusing to do as he's told, defying my rules and requests, and pitching a lot of fits? Well because he has oppositional defiant disorder? How do you know he has oppositional defiant disorder? Because he's refusing to do as he told, defying your rules and requests, and pitching a lot of fits. Diagnoses mostly tell us what behaviors a child is exhibiting when he's looking bad. They don't tell us why - what skills is this kid lacking? And they don't tell us when. What unsolved problems are reliably and predictably setting in motion challenging episodes in this child? Here's my rule of thumb. Kids who are diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder only have part time oppositional defiant disorder. They don't look like they have oppositional defiance disorder all the time. They look like they have oppositional defiance disorder part time. If a kid only looks like he has oppositional defiance disorder part time, we better figure out what's really getting in his way, because the diagnosis is really not giving us the diagnosis we're looking for.

Learn about: Why a diagnosis of your child can sometimes be limiting from Ross W. Greene, PhD,...

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Ross W. Greene, PhD

Psychologist, Author & Researcher

Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., is the author of the well-known books The Explosive Child and Lost at School, and the originator of a model of care (now known as Collaborative & Proactive Solutions) emphasizing collaboration between kids and adults in resolving the problems contributing to children’s behavioral challenges.  He is also associate clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, on the professional staff at the Cambridge Hospital, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Tech, and senior lecturer in the graduate program in school psychology in the Department of Education at Tufts University.  Dr. Greene founded the non-profit Lives in the Balance to provide free, web-based resources on his model and to advocate on behalf of behaviorally challenging kids and their parents, teachers, and other caregivers.  He lectures widely throughout the world and lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and two kids.

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