What to Do after a Diagnosis
If your child has one or more diagnoses, it may take some time for you, your child, and your family to come to grips with the reality of a medical or mental health disorder. The adjustment won't be easy, but a diagnosis isn't the end of the world. In fact, it can provide a clear path for treatment and management of symptoms, if not for a cure.
Attend to Your Feelings
It is okay to feel grief, confusion, sadness, or anger over your child's medical or mental health diagnosis. Give yourself time to process the information and allow yourself to reach out to a trusted family member or friend — ideally someone who is not the parent of one of your child's friends — to talk about your feelings. A long-distance phone call, a few hours with your partner, or a couple of hours off from work for personal time are warranted here. So is a session or two with a counselor. You'll have to explore the idea of “normalcy” and your wish for you and your child to be like everyone else. The truth is, no one is really normal — everybody has her own cross to bear. Diagnoses just make problems clear, concrete “things” with a label on them.
Some people really do find comfort in a diagnosis, though. After a few weeks, if you haven't started falling apart, this could be the case with you. If your child's behavior has had you on the edge of a cliff for months or years, and you finally have a concrete reason why, the diagnosis could be a huge relief. It's okay to feel this way, too. In short, it's okay to feel any way you feel, any time you feel it.
How to Talk to Your Child about a Diagnosis
Let the doctor or mental health professional be the authority here. If possible, have the results given to you and your child at the same time, and be brave but not gruff. Sit together, hold hands, and be supportive of your child, because this diagnosis and this moment are all about her. You have your own feelings, valid and important, but you can't fall apart in front of her or give her the impression that a diagnosis is something you can't cope with or that threatens your lives or relationship. She needs to know that you are stronger than her so she can lean on you.
Ask questions, and let your child do the same. Ask about the recommended treatment and what the next steps are. Take the position that knowledge is helpful — the more you know about the diagnosis, the better you can help your child.
How to Talk to Others about a Diagnosis
Other people, like siblings, your partner, your parents and in-laws, the school, other caregivers, and friends and neighbors may have been affected by your child's behavior and need to know about the diagnosis. Talking to siblings and working with schools is covered in greater depth in Chapters 16 and 17.
Base the amount of information you share with others on how much time the person in question spends with your child. If your child goes to day care, has siblings, has a blended family in another home, or spends a lot of time at Grandma and Grandpa's on the weekends, these people should know about the diagnosis and any treatment. Your partner or co-parent needs to have all of the information as well.
Other people don't need to hear the whole story. Parents and in-laws who live far away or who you have little contact with can get the abbreviated version, adjusted to your comfort level, with more details before they come to visit. If you're having friends in for dinner, you might want to tell them when your child is out of earshot, “Our daughter has a medical condition that sometimes makes her lose her temper. We've just learned about it and we're starting treatment. I just wanted you to be prepared in case she gets upset over little things while you're here.” People at the grocery store who witness a tantrum, on the other hand, don't need explanations. There are always “tskers,” and there's not much you can do about them.