By Dr. Lisa Korey
The most frequent question I get from parents who had their child evaluated is “Should I tell my child they have …… ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, anxiety, dyslexia (fill in the blank here)?” I typically follow up with a question, “If your child had a medical condition, would you tell them?” Chances are your child already knows something is wrong, whether they struggle academically, socially, or behaviorally. They just don’t have a way to describe it. As a parent myself, I understand the hesitation to disclose to your child. This is often brought on by fears that children will think less of themselves, that they will feel different, and that they may use their condition as an excuse. Unfortunately, this is also exacerbated by the stigma of mental health in our society. Having had the opportunity to work with students in a college setting, I witnessed the long term impact of unaddressed mental health problems.
A Tale of Two Students
One student, will call him John,* a 2nd year college undergraduate student, came into the Counseling Center after being strongly encouraged by his academic committee to seek help. He was failing all of his classes and was at risk for academic dismissal. After getting his history, I recommended an evaluation to assess for any underlying conditions that may be contributing to his troubles. The psychoeducational evaluation revealed John had an un-diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Inattentive Type. He was extremely bright, with an IQ well above average, which likely helped him to successfully get through school up until getting to college without getting diagnosed. Since he never had to study much he lacked the necessary skills to succeed in college courses that required him to study, to manage and organize his time, schedule, and his life. He found himself procrastinating, falling behind on assignments, not doing well on tests, and lacking balance in his life. He spent more and more time on video games, eventually avoiding going to class at all. When I saw him, he was severely depressed, anxious, ashamed, socially isolated, and thought very poorly of himself.
Our second student, Mary,* was a 1st year undergraduate student, who came to see me seeking documentation of her previously diagnosed dyslexia so she could receive accommodations. Throughout the evaluation process, Mary was granted temporary accommodations. Mary was comfortable discussing her challenges with reading and her diagnosis. She was initially diagnosed in 2nd grade and received assistance from parents, teachers, and tutors throughout her life. Mary was doing well in her classes, made new friends, and adjusted well to her new life as a college student living away from home.
So Why Does Knowing Matter?
It matters because you cannot confront something that you do not know exists. Whether its anxiety, depression, ADHD, or other challenges, the first step is understanding the problem, the second step is making a plan to address it.
Knowing matters because it gives you an opportunity to understand and accept yourself, with all your unique strengths and challenges. After knowing, you will have the guidance and knowledge moving forward to use those strengths and to overcome challenges. Knowing provides hope, healing, and growth for the future.
*All names were changed to protect confidentiality.