Early Diagnosis of Childhood Mental Illness

This post was a reaction of another mother blogger who worried that her three year old was autistic, when it appears he just didn’t fit in with his daycare center.

Reading parent blogs, I have been taken aback by how frequently mothers worry that their preschool boy is autistic. I don’t want to offend any of you great parents, trying to do what is best for your child. In all my years around young children(5 brothers, 45 younger cousins, 4 daughters) none were tested for autism as a preschooler. Has autism increased so dramatically or is there now so little tolerance for divergent thinking and unconventional minds? I am desperately uncomfortable with psychiatric diagnoses for preschoolers. And some of the softer austic symptoms bother me.

 I always wondered why I was different, but being told I was a manic depressive at age 7 when my mom worried about my worrying would have been nightmarish. My dad just told me I was smarter than other people and read much more, and I could live with that:) I wouldn’t have dared to have my 4  wonderful children if I knew I was mentally ill. Thank God I was diagnosed until the youngest was 4.

If being a scientist happily working all hours in a lab is being a loner, so what? Both chemistry professors, my brother met his wife in the lab at MIT, and they are happy loners together.  Another brother who is an elementary school teacher is very dubious about special ed for kids within normal limits. He thinks the stigma is far worse than the extra services justify.

People who weren’t diagnosed, who wish they had been, haven’t been exposed to the stigma and discrimination and mistreatment that accompany diagnoses. They possibly exaggerate the wonderfulness of the special services they didn’t receive. We are not an enlightened society; stigma is very real. I would have never gone to social work school at age 46 if I had realized that  many mental health professionals obviously don’t believe in the efficacy of their own treatments and would fear an open wounded healer..

Loners and losers outgrow it, invent software, have TV shows made about them:) Nerds and geeks are the new prince charmings; they make great husbands. Diagnoses are forever. How do kids “along the autistic spectrum” do with chemistry sets and microscopes? I suspect they make microscopes. I recall a kid in my daughter Jane’s traditional kindergarten class. The teacher insisted he be tested for developmental disability. He tested at genius level.

My kids desperately needed to be intellectually challenged, and only the two-day-a-week pullout gifted program was adequate.  I let Michelle, my scientist,stay home from school so much because she was obviously learning at a higer level than she could reach at school. Using her sister’s math textbook, she brought herself up two grade levels in three days. She managed to run fevers only on nongifted days.

 I always thought I could do something for my kids, that I knew and understood them better than the “experts.”I admit my dad’s legacy was intellectual arrogance.  I could read the same books and journals as the experts, and I knew my weird kids better. Certainly that approach was the key to taming my own bipolar disorder 15 years ago. I researched psychiatric journals and the net to find the best possible medication and shopped for a psychiatrist who was willing to prescribe it. My psychiatrist has frequently expressed his gratitude for my educating him, since he now frequently prescribes the med I told him about.. I needed a psychiatrist who was a partner, who would discuss journal articles with me as a peer, who was as willing to learn from me as I was from him, who would admit when he didn’t know and when he was wrong. Only then would I feel comfortable enough to be fully honest with him about my medication.

Using what you learn from blogs, books, and journals about autism is brilliant. I am sure they would have helped me cope with my dad, two brothers, two husbands, and two nephews:) I am very curious to read them; I love to think about how different minds work. Learning all you can is different than a formal diagnosis that might convey to a child, his teachers, his peers that there is something wrong with him. Different, original minds  can’t and shouldn’t be fixed.

Do read For Her Own Good: 200 Years of Experts Advice to Women, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English. Thank God I first read it when it only covered 150 years in 1979, the year after my writer was born. Thank God I never consulted experts about her. Some minds are too mysterious to be meddled with. She probably would have qualified for bipolar disorder, autism, and social anxiety disorder, with a subtle oppositional defiant disorder.

The label “autistic” might be less frightening to your generation, but in 62 years I have never personally known a child so labeled. I have known many children who could have been so labeled, but they found their ideal career niche and the spouse who can translate for them. The more I read about it, the more I suspect it explains so much about my men:)  My father was an actuary. Two brothers are accountants; one is a chemistry professor. My first husband is a radiation physicist; my second husband is a computter programmer.

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About maryjograves

Children are my passion. I have 4 daughters, 5 grandkids under 5 with another on the way, 5 younger brothers, 11 nieces and nephews, 8 great nieces and nephews. I advocate a revolution for a child friendly US. I have been an editor, public librarian, social worker, and internet educator. Tweet @RedstockingGran @ChildrensWings
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