I am consistently surprised by how many parents meet with me for the first time and tell me that: a) Their child has been diagnosed with something. b) They were told that their child needs to be assessed for a diagnosis. c) Their child has been prescribed medication. d) They think they need to have their child put on medication.
The interesting thing is that most of these decisions and diagnoses come from one brief interaction with a psychologist, pediatrician, or doctor. Further, these labels usually do not consider the social, emotional, mental, developmental, or behavioral components that are involved.
As I mentioned before, I recently attended the International Play Therapy Conference in Minneapolis. One of the workshops that amazed me discussed Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These ten categories of ACEs were developed in 1998 after a Medical Doctor realized that all of his obese patients had childhood experiences in common.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Briefly, the original ten ACEs are: mental illness, caregiver separation, incarceration, sexual abuse, physical neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and emotional neglect. Last year, the list of categories was expanded to also include: witness violence, felt discrimination, adverse neighborhood experience, bullied, and foster care.
What is incredible is that in a study of 17,000 participants in 1998, 64% had at least one ACE! The more ACEs you have, the greater your risk is for physical, mental, and behavioral problems. And even more incredibly, they are currently proposing a new disorder so that kids can accurately be identified and treated who have experienced these: Developmental Trauma Disorder.
Now, here’s the kicker – the most consistently diagnosed childhood disorders are actually misdiagnoses of ACEs. Let me say that again: most of the common childhood disorders are MISDIAGNOSED and are actually related to adverse childhood experiences.
The common inaccurate diagnoses are:
Somatic Symptom Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Disruptive Mood Regulation Disorder
While I acknowledge that there are cases in which a child has a chemical, biological, or developmental issue and a diagnosis is correct and warranted, tragically much of the time this is not the case. Our kids who are struggling to make sense of a divorce, an absent parent, or substance abuse is labeled and medicated FOR NO REASON.
Play Therapy as an Intervention
This is why I am so passionate about play therapy! Play therapy provides the child with the safe place to work through confusing and scary things so that they can build coping skills, resilience, self-regulation, and communication skills.
I tell parents on a weekly basis that I have never had a child complete play therapy treatment for whom the parent still chose to pursue diagnosis or medication afterward. ACEs are extremely traumatic and difficult, but can be appropriately handled and processed with a play therapist.