A mental health “diagnosis” doesn’t really explain the “root cause” of symptoms.

A mental health diagnosis for a child is not a “root cause”. A mental health professional will provide a diagnosis of “symptoms” based on what information is presented from the parents, by the child, by school staff, by a family doctor and what they observe. Children with neurological issues and delays are most likely going to get a diagnosis with the label of: ADHD, Anxiety disorder, Autism, Sensory processing disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, a learning disability or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Children who are labeled in these areas all have common threads to symptoms. Very different types of children can have very similar struggles with behaviors. The commonalities include difficulties with: Impulse control, focus, following directions, problem solving skills, emotional regulation, overstimulation, executive functioning skills, gross motor movements, fine motor movements, anxiety, allergies, asthma, reading difficulty and math difficulty. How is it possible that children with so many different diagnoses can have the same underlying struggles? They can, and they do. Two children can have the same struggles with a different label. The label doesn’t always matter. Many parents and many professionals are not understanding how to advocate for children and their true needs. Children are being labeled before the true need and root cause is understood. The labels parents are receiving for their child are not providing accurate solutions or the understanding of “why” a child has certain struggles. Parents need to know what is happening to their child beyond a given label.

More questions need to be asked about a given label like: What is happening in my child’s body when my child struggles to control impulses? Why is my child crying every night about hard math work or having to read a chapter in a book? What is happening in my child’s body when they can’t remember to bring homework home and can’t remember basic instructions? Why is my child extremely hyperactive with endless amounts of energy despite getting exercise in sports?

There needs to be a clear understanding of why difficult mental health symptoms are occurring. When we understand the root cause we will have productive ways to help children who are labeled, or could be labeled, with: ADHD, Anxiety disorder, Autism, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Sensory processing disorder, learning disabilities, and mood disorders. Labels given to children are not always accurate and many parents are unaware that labels can change depending on the provider. A neurological based disorder involves the child’s neurological system that has been hindered by many systemic reasons. Parents should be demanding reasons, answers and underlying causes when their child gets a mental health diagnosis. The entire process of getting a mental health diagnosis could be avoided if parents took a more effective approach to explore causes instead of labels.

Every child has a great unique mind and every child is an important part of their family. Children are not a label. Some children seem impossible to mold and are struggling to behave at home and at school but, all children deserve the best approaches possible to help them with their struggles. Struggles should not be viewed as a burden. Caregivers need to embrace their child’s current abilities. Caregivers need to help their child in nurturing, loving, peaceful and caring ways. No one can advocate for a child in the same way a caregiver can. Children need their caregivers to be strong advocates in helping them find the care that they need.

Many times, schools or agencies are labeling children in unhelpful and meaningless ways. It’s important for families to explore and open their eyes to a new view on mental health care for children. When a child doesn’t fit the mold of expected behaviors or growth it doesn’t always mean it’s a crisis. We need to take a step back and determine how we can empower our children instead of pathologizing them. Empowering children is much more useful than pathologizing children. Words to live by from Psychologist Ross Greene are that “children do well when they can”. Children truly want to do well and when they don’t they are lacking the skills, the brain stimulation, or the empowering environment to do so. A great violin player and teacher Shinichi Suzuki stated, “You must make the ability for your child.” Children need to be given opportunity for growth and when opportunity is missing the growth will be missing. Children need help and encouragement to achieve and understand their abilities. My favorite quote by Maya Angelo is, “When we know better, we do better.” Caregivers need to “know better” for a child to have an opportunity to “do better”. Every child is different, and some have more challenges than others. The challenges and obstacle’s a child faces don’t have to define them. The best way to help a child is to find their strengths, encourage their strengths and positively empower them to overcome obstacles.

Albert Einstein once said, “everybody is a genius but, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” It was believed that Einstein had significant struggles but, despite the struggles he had triumphs. We need to be a voice and an advocate for our children. If your child is a fish, don’t give them a label just because they can’t climb a tree. All children have strengths in different areas and we need to find those strengths. Many schools tend to focus more on a child’s weakness and report on struggles. Strengths need to be a greater focus instead of the weakness. Children need advocates for their strengths to be highlighted. The more a child must hear about their failures, especially in school, they are going to remember their strengths less and less. Children need to know they have the power to change and the power to help their own bodies to change. Children need to be empowered with education on what is happening biomedically in their bodies.

The over-pathologizing of children has spiraled out of control. Some may argue that we have had advances in understanding children and mental health. Some may argue that we know more now about childhood disorders so, in turn we have more children with a mental health diagnosis. The reality is that neurological symptoms are on the rise and only getting worse. According to current research and statistics, our children are getting sicker and sicker. More children are being affected by symptoms and diseases. Better diagnostic tools in mental health are not the reason the numbers are climbing. Research shows us that children’s bodies are suffering in systemics ways and it’s time to start doing better for our children. According to Dr. Elisa Song M.D., our children are overloaded with toxicity. Our children are suffering from mental health symptoms that are systemic and biomedical in nature. A “diagnosis” doesn’t account for the biomedical systemic issues going on in the inner ecosystem of the child’s body. To make matters worse, over-diagnosed children are put on medications they don’t need. It’s all too easy for a family to jump from one provider to the next until they receive the diagnosis they are looking for and the medication they want for their child. I have worked with countless amounts of families that are determined to get a diagnosis that labels their child with ADHD, Anxiety or Depression. When we over pathologize children there is a shift in thinking that the problem must be on the child instead of the problem being systemic.

To a large extent, we need to normalize children again. There is a fine line when it comes to “normal” and “abnormal” with young children. Unfortunately, “abnormal” development has reached epidemic proportions, but we need to focus energy on “root cause”. Because more and more children are suffering from neurological symptoms, normal behaviors can go unrecognized. It is normal for children to have a challenging time sharing. It is normal for children to become impatient waiting for their turn. It is normal for children to test limits and to need reminders on directions given to them. It is normal for children to have conflicts with peers and their parents. When adults watch children truly play and truly use their imagination other normal behaviors will be visible. It is normal for children to talk to themselves while playing because they are using their imagination. Children will become lost in a world of wonder and solitude if we let them have the chance.

My daughter is one of the best examples of a child with a limitless imagination. She would get lost in her play in the woods while creating forts and had complete conversations with people that didn’t exist. She couldn’t wait to teach what she learned at school to a classroom full of “nobody” up in her bedroom. It was common that she taught her imaginative class or held a show with multiple costume changes in the evenings when she should be getting ready for bed. Kids procrastinate going to bed because that’s a normal childhood behavior. Kids would rather read interesting books, start an art project or ask their parents one million questions than go to bed. Its normal for irritability when little brains shutdown at night time. Parents are not taking the time to embrace childhood and love their children for who they are supposed to be. Often, parents are too busy looking for a fix instead of embracing the strengths that already exist. We don’t need to fix our children, we need to strengthen them. We need to nourish and support our children’s inner ecosystems.

The idea about Psychology and therapeutic treatments has been skewed for many caregivers. Psychology is defined as the study of human behavior but, the entire scope of psychology is not diagnosing mental health issues. A clear majority of caregivers view current psychology and therapy as the psychoanalytic days of Freud and the unconscious thoughts driving our behavior. Psychology and therapy are also largely viewed as fixing the brain in isolation. When I meet with new families, it is clear the mental health label and the fix of therapy is being sought. For the most part, many parents are looking for therapy sessions to help a child cope with their mental health disorder.

A child’s mind, spirit, emotions, behaviors and learning are connected to their bodies. A child’s mind, spirit, emotions, behaviors and learning are also connected to their families and what they are exposed to in the home environment. The larger environment needs to also be considered during recovery. We must be detectives and look at a child’s genetics, hormones, neurotransmitters, nutrition, physical activity, toxin overloads, biofeedback, cellular energy, allergies, and even skin conditions that might provide clues to what may be off balance for a child. Dr Mark Hyman M.D. stated that there is a “perfect storm” causing a “broken brain.”, There are always a multitude of issues involving the home, school and the ecosystem in the body. His broken brain podcasts are a great recourse for families.

We can recover our children from symptoms and move away from labels. An approach that works best for one child may not be the best approach for another child. A singular approach, such as a psychiatric medication, for a young child will most likely not work and problems will persist until the approach is systemic. If a family does not implement numerous changes at home and fight for changes at school, a child may never recover. Children need their parents to fight for changes now more than ever before. Mental health does not need to be a crisis for children. Children do not need to be medicated by epidemic proportions but, they are. We need to control and get a grip on the crisis of childhood mental health. Parents can and should start to control this crisis.

Parents need to spend time and energy focusing on the symptoms their child struggles with to find a solution instead of fixating on a label that makes them feel branded and stuck in one place. Families need to become solution focused instead of having a stuck in the mud disorder focus. All children can excel and become “unstuck”. Today, it is very easy for a child to be diagnosed with a childhood mental health disorder. A child will join the epidemic club once they are given the diagnosis parents so desperately seek out.

Many parents often feel that finding the correct label will be the magical answer they need for their child to get better. A label isn’t a magical answer and one label can’t provide an answer to what a child’s unique treatment needs are. Caregivers need to minimize the searching and collecting service providers to uncover that one perfect label in the hopes of finding all the answers. I am not willing to entertain the idea of my child being labeled with a disorder or a learning disability that is specifically narrow focused and doesn’t explain or define the entire scope of what is happening in my child’s body and brain. A mental health diagnosis explains behaviors and does not define the actual problem unique to each child’s brain and body. A child should never have to feel burdened by a label that can feel self-defeating for so many children. Many service providers and parents believe that a label will empower their child to understand their disorder. A label doesn’t provide a clear understanding that will provide empowerment. Children often feel powerless when they are faced with a dreaded diagnosis and feel taxed with issues they can’t overcome. Children do have the power to change their mental health state and their daily struggles. A diagnosis is not a lifelong sentence that many children and parents view it to be.

There is undeniable research showing that imbalances happening in a child’s brain and body are similar for children with ADHD, Autism, anxiety, sensory processing delays, allergies, learning disabilities, and asthma. Children with learning disabilities also have imbalances in the body. Body imbalances are similar in the bodies of many children who have been given a multitude of labels by mental health professionals. Two children could have similar imbalances in the body, but symptoms may manifest in diverse ways. The non-visible symptoms in mental health are often ignored. Non-visible symptoms effecting mental health could be digestive issues, inflammation, light sensitivities, allergies, asthma, skin rashes, sleep disturbances, bed-wetting, executive dysfunctions and procedural learning difficulties. The non-visible symptoms a child suffers with can be very telling about what is happening in their brain and body. Non-visible symptoms need to be uncovered and dealt with. A large array of information and unknown symptoms need to be brought to light to help your child. Discovering the non-visible symptoms will aid in the understanding a child’s mental health struggles. The significant imbalances for a child’s brain and body are likely to be: inhibited neural connections in the brain, brain encephalitis, underdeveloped brain functions, an overactive immune system, high histamine response, a dysfunctional digestive system, volatile blood sugar, enzyme deficiencies, nutritional imbalances, mitochondria dysfunction, Methylation disruption, poor lymphatic drainage, hormone dysfunctions, adrenal fatigue, a leaky gut, a leaky brain, high stress, heavy metal toxicity, poor detoxification, viruses, bacteria’s, parasites, home life imbalances and school imbalances. Those imbalances are the root cause for mental health symptoms, not the mental health diagnosis.


Author: Dr. Elizabeth Ward, Ph.D., LCPC