All children are different and progress at their own pace. However, there are common milestones parents and caregivers watch for as a child develops through play, behavior and activity.
If there are concerns that a child is developing differently than their peers, then parents, caregivers and early childhood providers will typically monitor the child’s development. While any difference might simply be a case of a child developing at a rate slightly slower or faster than their peers, it might also be a sign that a child has:
- A learning disorder, such as dyslexia
- A developmental disorder, such as autism spectrum disorder
- A behavioral disorder, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Children with diagnosed disorders often need assistance and specialized care, instruction and services. Parents, health care providers, educators and specialists work together to find the right treatment for each child to ensure their social, emotional, physical and educational needs are met.
You have a diagnosis — now what?
Once a diagnosis is made, parents often struggle with how to discuss their child’s challenges with them. While some may want to provide their child with an abundance of knowledge about their disorder, others may worry their child will be made to feel self-conscious or treated differently if news of their diagnosis is shared.
Dr. Tonya Henderson, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, strongly recommends that parents share a child’s diagnosis with them, but take their specific age and development into consideration when deciding exactly what and how much information to share.
“As parents, we want to protect our children and sometimes the instinct would be to shield them from knowing about a diagnosis that might make them stand out from their peers,” she says. “In my experience, children are very intuitive and observant. Often, they know something is different and a diagnosis can come as a relief because a reason for their challenges and ways to address them are identified.”
According to Dr. Henderson, the information parents share will change as a child ages and is able to understand their diagnosis in a different way. For example, you may tell a 5-year-old with dyslexia that it’s “tricky” for her brain to read, but not to do lots of other things. On the other hand, you might explain to a 16-year-old that dyslexia is a neurological condition that affects the way his brain processes information regarding phonemes (the basic sounds of speech) and graphic symbols, such as letters and numbers.
Regardless of age, fostering an environment where a child is encouraged to talk about their diagnosis or other concerns is ideal. “I always encourage good communication,” Dr. Henderson says. “Parents should reach out to their child's care team if they have questions or if their child has questions that they can’t — or don't know how to — answer.”
3 good reasons to share a child’s diagnosis with them
Dr. Henderson notes that there are many benefits to helping a child understand their diagnosis and treatment, including:
- Kids are observant — if they see concern on a parent’s face and know it pertains to them but don't have an understanding of why, then they may assume there is a reason to be afraid or that they have done something wrong. Knowing more can help relieve some of that fear.
- Children will understand why they are receiving special care and will likely be more motivated to adhere to their treatment plan.
- Children will feel comfortable enough to freely ask questions to clarify any fears or misconceptions that may arise over time.
Along with discussing their disabilities, parents must also talk to children about their strengths. It is equally important to identify role models to show that people with a similar disorder have found success and happiness — and remind them that it’s likely they will do the same one day too.
Talk with your child’s doctor if you have concerns that they are not reaching developmental milestones.