What does it mean when the school asks you to see a paediatrician to 'get your child diagnosed'?
There are lots of different reasons as to why children may struggle with aspects of school - learning difficulties, emotional challenges, hearing loss, health problems, social issues or even just poor fit between your child and the particular teacher or school. Seeing a paediatrician doesn't mean that your child will necessarily receive any particular diagnosis, but it is important to look carefully at just what is going on for your child.
Often, but not always, the school would like the paediatrician to determine if your child has either ADHD or an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), or there may be another particular concern. They would be asking this question for the following reasons:
1. ADHD is relatively common and schools are now expected to record all students with learning difficulties such as ADHD. The school may be able to qualify for additional support with a diagnosis. If the school is concerned that your child may need medications, only a paediatrician can prescribe them.
2. ASD can only be diagnosed by a paediatrician or child psychiatrist but once this diagnosis is made, the school can access additional funding as a result of the verification process, which is used to directly support your child.
3. Sometimes there may be other concerns about how your child is going at school that haven't been made completely clear to you. Teachers or learning support staff may have talked to you about what is happening in the classroom or playground for your child but they are not allowed to suggest or make 'diagnoses', which is one of the reasons why it can seem so confusing. Usually the school is trying to understand what might be causing your child’s particular difficulties, so that teachers and staff can work out how better so support your child’s learning and experience of school.
What you can do:
1. Ask the school to document very clearly their concerns (ie a summary) as well as some observations from both the classroom and playground.
2. Ask the school to explain what the teacher and other support staff are doing to help your child in the areas of concern and whether your child has been referred to any of the school's support systems, and to document this also for you to take to any appointment.
3. Ask the school to make clear their expectations as to what they would like to have happen as a result of the paediatrician appointment - so we're all on the same page and can work together to best support your child.
At the appointment:
Bring as much information as you can with you, including the information from the school (as above) and any assessments you may have, especially if your child has seen an allied health professional in the past and has had occupational therapy or speech therapy, for example. Also make sure you bring copies of any hearing tests or optometry (vision). Finally, it may help to write out a list of your particular concerns and observations, as often it’s hard to remember everything once you’re actually in the appointment.
What happens during the appointment?
During the initial appointment we’ll explore your concerns and the school’s concerns and then look more broadly as to what is going on for your child, in terms of their health, their development, learning, emotional health, social skills and family life, for example. Then we try to make a plan: do we need to collect some more specific information, such as a language assessment or occupational therapy assessment, and how do we use this information to help your child?
So you see, your child doesn’t often come out of a single appointment with a ‘diagnosis’, and we can even discuss whether a particular diagnosis is helpful or not. Without a diagnosis, your child can still access the support he or she needs, but it might be more difficult to mobilise that support. Many parents are concerned about ‘labelling’ their child, but having a qualified professional confirm your, or the school's, concerns can be the first step in helping you and your child, and often brings clarity and understanding.
My next blog will be on “Working with a development paediatrician: supporting a child with additional or complex developmental needs.”