Each year scores of children are diagnosed with~ a psychological or behavioral disorder. These mental health diagnoses and the implications they bring can significantly alter the course of a child’s life. Yet many children are given these labels in a rather casual and careless manner, and caregivers are often confused about the accuracy of these diagnoses or how they are reached.

It’s important for anyone who works with these kids to know a lot more about the nature of diagnosis, to ensure that each child is receiving the proper kind of help. The information herein will help everyone-from the novice parent to the most experienced professional–recognize and avoid the pitfalls that are inherent in diagnosing children with mental health problems.

Understanding a Child’s Diagnosis

How are children diagnosed?
Psychological and behavioral diagnoses are made based on criteria outlined in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM), a guidebook published by the American Psychiatric Association. (Practitioners outside the U.S. will instead use the International Classification of Disorders, or lCD, which is very similar to the American version.) These guidebooks list the officially recognized disorders (which is itself a source of much controversy and debate) along with a checklist of criteria for each disorder that practitioners should use when assessing a patient. If a child fits the criteria and checks enough of the right boxes (largely based on adult reports of that child’s behavior), they can be given the diagnosis.

Who can diagnose a child?
Any licensed therapist, psychologist, or medical doctor can diagnose a child. However, there can be large discrepancies in the training and expertise each of these has, especially as it relates to working with children.

Can a child’s diagnosis be verified?
No. There are no biological markers that can definitively tell if a child has a particular psychological or behavioral disorder, and that’s one of the primary problems. Every diagnosis is based upon subjective evidence, and thus, is open to interpretation and all the potential errors that come along with it.

What to do if your child is diagnosed
Was your child given a diagnosis of a mental or behavioral disorder? This page discusses what you should do with this information, and how to best proceed going forward.

Children Diagnosed with Mental Health Disorders: Some of the Problems and Concerns

Problems of misdiagnosis and over diagnosis are rife throughout the mental health industry. Here are some of the factors that lead to problems:

Problems diagnosing children with psychological or behavioral disorders Explore the various problems plaguing the diagnostic process, and how they can lead families astray.

How we define normal versus abnormal behavior in children
Each child is unique, and none fit a perfect mold. Yet in many ways this is precisely what the field of psychology does: layout a template for children to conform to, and then label any who may be different as having a disorder.

When childhood becomes pathological
We demand more of children than ever before, and expect them to sit still and remain passive in unnatural environments for 6-8 hours a day. When they struggle with this, we say they have a disorder.

Blaming kids for deficiencies in parents & teachers
Children are largely a product of their environment, »Mk and unfortunately, not all~ environments are created equally. Yet when a child exhibits abnormal behavior, we label the child as having a disorder, when more often than not the root of the problem resides in the environment and not the child. This page looks at the problems this creates.

Everyone’s Crazy: How Psychiatry is Expanding the realms of mental illness
The field of psychology has been steadily watering down diagnositc criteria and expanding the territory for psychological disorders, to the point that it’s extremely easy to diagnose just about anyone with a disorder of some kind.

Other incentives driving the diagnostic process
Financial incentives, school assistance programs, and other factors can lead to children being over diagnosed or misdiagnosed with one disorder rather than another.

Over diagnosing children
Every year scores of children are diagnosed with a disorder they don’t actually have, la leading to inappropriate interventions and unnecessary heartache for their families. Learn more about this problem.