“When my fifteen-month-old gets mad, he hits himself in the face. Is this normal? Is something wrong? Or is it something he can and will grow out of?”
This is exactly what I asked our pediatrician at one of my son’s regular check-ups — and I’m willing to bet many of you have asked similar questions about a behavior you’re worried about.
As time and research go on, we gain more knowledge about human development and metal health. We come to better understand spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorder, and other issues — but at the same time, we risk hearing information, or partial information, that makes us fearful or confused. For example, you might have learned that a child with autism requires a rigid routine, has social issues, or is nonverbal. So when you see one of these pieces of diagnosis criteria in your own child, you jump to conclusions.
To help you deal thoughtfully with these types of concerns, Bonny Forrest’s Will My Kid Grow Out of It? is an excellent guide. After all, every child and every situation is different, and it can be hard to tell if the behavior your kid is exhibiting is just a normal part of development, or if it’s something you need to look into.
As both a mental health professional and a first-time parent, I found Forrest’s book to be helpful as well as admirably objective: She provides many options for exploring a worrisome behavior, not just the one method she might personally prefer. She also gives specific guidance on issues like sadness versus depression, over-worrying, attention disorders, eating disorders, learning disabilities, and so on.
When is it time to seek out a professional? First of all, as Forrest writes, it never hurts to ask your pediatrician. But sometimes a specialist is the best. To that end, Forrest goes on to provide further guidelines and case examples to help you determine which type of clinician to see. She helps the reader understand all those initials at the end of names, including educational background and whether or not each type of practitioner can prescribe medicine or diagnose.
And that is key. Since not all mental health professionals can diagnose or prescribe, you might work to establish rapport with a therapist, only to find that the therapist you like needs to refer you elsewhere. Forrest wants to arm with that information before you start the relationship.
She also explains the DSM in language lay readers can understand. Speaking from my own professional experience, I know it can be extremely valuable to go over how diagnosis works, and explain to parents why sometimes a proper diagnosis is or is not necessary. The term itself can be intimidating, and parents can sometimes use it as a label or allow their children to use it as a crutch, which is even more detrimental. One of my favorite quotes from the book tries to address these issues:
“A diagnosis is only a shorthand term for a cluster of symptoms,” Forrest writes. “It doesn’t doom your child to anything, and it doesn’t predict the future. A diagnosis should be a tool to help you and your team guide treatment and get insurance coverage.”
There is also chart in the book that gives a breakdown of each diagnosis, including therapies that have shown to be most effective and the duration of treatment. For a parent who’s overwhelmed and in the midst of treatment, the chart could be quite helpful.
Forrest also dedicates a section of the book to medication. Here you can find both brand names and generic, which medication category they belong to, and what different categories actually mean. That can be important for parents who want to understand what prescriptions are being offered to their child.
Finally, the book reviews brain development, too, including social and emotional, language and communication, and cognitive and physical development between the ages of two months and six years. And it does so yet again in accessible language.
As a licensed social worker myself, my only contention with this excellent book is that, when giving background on different professionals, Forrest writes that an LCSW has a two-year degree. In my opinion, that implies to readers that social workers have only two years of education, when in fact a LCSW must have a master’s degree as well as two years of supervised full-time work before they can test for state licensure.
Aside from that one small inaccuracy, however, Forrest presents an incredibly valuable, easy-to-read guide. It can be scary when you don’t know if your child has a disorder, and Forrest provides a thorough and thoughtful place to begin.
Will My Kid Grow Out of It?: A Child Psychologist’s Guide to Understanding Worrisome Behavior
Chicago Review Press, October 2014
Paperback, 288 pages