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Diagnoses in Children

April 6, 2017


Working with children poses many challenges. One of those challenges is diagnosing. Diagnosing children requires gathering data from multiple sources including but not limited to: parents/caregivers, schools, primary care physicians, psychiatrists and/or psychologists, therapist observations, and the children themselves. Therapists and other clinicians then compare that information to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) to determine what the best diagnosis/diagnoses would be.


One of the many difficulties of diagnosing children is that children themselves often cannot verbalize their symptoms or have enough insight to know that their behavior has become problematic. In addition, many symptoms that children present with often overlap with other diagnoses. For example: ADHD symptoms such as inattention or difficulty concentrating, difficulty organizing tasks and/or activities, easily distracted, and forgetfulness  could also be a sign of anxiety in children.


An accurate diagnosis can ensure proper medication (if necessary) and proper focus of treatment. Psychological testing can provide clinicians with more information that allows a clearer picture to more accurately diagnose. Coordination of care between therapists, primary care physicians, and psychiatrists and psychologists can ensure proper treatment. If your child does not have a psychiatrist or psychologist, your child’s therapist may obtain releases to make referrals to one or both of these professionals.


One source that many therapists working with children use to gather information is play and interactions with others. Children often lack the skills or capacity to understand and communicate about their feelings so they frequently communicate best through play. Through play children can also learn to develop these skills to better understand, communicate, and manage their emotions.  If you are wondering if play therapy is a good fit for your child, please check out our blog on play therapy.


If you feel your child is inaccurately diagnosed, do not hesitate to seek out another opinion or advocate for further testing. Furthermore, to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment it is important to have continual contact with your child’s clinicians and to report any significant information as it presents itself.






About the Writer - Kelly Robertson, LMFT

Kelly has years of experience working in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings supporting individuals, families, and children. She has experience working with family and relational issues, depression, anxiety, anger and aggression, and trauma. Kelly is currently working towards becoming a Registered Play Therapist.

Kelly has training and experience in marital and family therapy, play therapy, EMDR, and Trauma Informed Care. She takes a strength-based and solution focused approach to aid in meeting identified goals and moving her clients towards their definition of wellness.   

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