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Right Intentions, Wrong Diagnosis

C. Rosenberg

Parents sometimes spend years treating a condition their child isn’t even suffering from. How to prevent a misdiagnosis — from finding the right evaluator to avoiding common pitfalls

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

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“When parents are contemplating an evaluation and a diagnosis, they should go in with a clear mind, and ask themselves the following: What am I hoping to gain from the diagnosis? How will this diagnosis guide treatment? What will I do differently if there’s a diagnosis?”

N o one knew what to do with Sharona. At school, the ten-year-old struggled to follow her teacher’s directions. She’d space out during class and seemed to be in a world of her own. When her classmates would do benign things like touch the corner of her desk, she’d explode. The teachers assumed that Sharona’s difficulties with focus and impulse control meant she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Diagnosed by her pediatrician, Sharona was started on a stimulant.

But nothing changed. In fact, the drug just made things worse — she was even more spaced out now, and she was drowsy at all hours.

Sharona’s parents took her to another specialist, Dr. Sara Gluck, PhD, LCSW, clinical director of the Five Towns Wellness Center. That’s when they discovered that the stimulant wasn’t the problem — the diagnosis was.

“When Sharona was brought in to my office, I ran a full assessment and found out that her trauma scores were abnormally high,” Dr. Gluck relates. “She told me her family had been in a terrible car crash the previous summer, and she couldn’t get the images of the crash out of her mind. Experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, and an exaggerated startle reflex, her symptoms were actually indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder — not ADHD.”

Once correctly diagnosed with PTSD, Sharona stopped taking the stimulants and was able to learn how to process her traumatic memories and cope with flashbacks. Dr. Gluck also provided her teachers and parents with information about how the traumatized brain functions, and this helped them treat Sharona with more understanding. Several weeks later, Sharona was a happy fourth-grader who could begin to catch up on all the school work she’d missed earlier in the year.

Missing the Mark

“I often speak to wonderful, devoted parents who’ve gone into debt trying to help their children — without results. All because their children’s difficulties haven’t been properly diagnosed and the parents were going for the wrong kind of help,” says Rivky Katz, a multisensory kriah and ksivah and social skills specialist. “Many times, they followed the advice of a friend, neighbor, or other nonprofessional.”

 

Legally and ethically, only specific licensed professionals can make diagnoses. At times, though, well-meaning and knowledgeable educators, referral services, and other professionals tell parents that their child has — or doesn’t have — any number of conditions. What they should be doing instead “is simply sharing data about the red flags, along with a recommendation of where to go to check it out,” says Mindy Rosenthal, MS, BCBA, who has a private practice in Lakewood.

When Mrs. Katz was preparing for a Torah Umesorah workshop on kriah, the organizers asked her to talk about the importance of using a research-based remediation program. “You wouldn’t rely on a neighbor to diagnose your heart condition, nor would you say, ‘My heart is all better after open heart surgery because I feel better’; you’d go for an echocardiogram!” Mrs. Katz emphasizes.

“There are well-researched methods for accurate diagnosing. The diagnostic tools measure brain activity and supply factual information. You can’t rely on what your gut says, or what your neighbor or son’s teacher says. Go for the professional evaluation, just as you’d go to the top doctor for a heart condition.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 557)

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