Last week I caught part of an article in Time Magazine called “Small Child, Big Worries.” It focuses on a diagnostic manual developed by a non-profit child advocacy group called “Zero To Three.” It has descriptions of many major mental health disorders that afflict older children, teens, and adults. This manual has been around for years, with a most recent revision done in 2005.
I’ll be honest – I’m a little uncertain about this. One, babies have limited communication skills to clarify what’s going on in their mind. Diagnosis would be almost completely done through behavioral observation. Two, child temperament may account for some of the behaviors and emotional reactions that can define a mental illness.
I’m not doubting that babies and toddlers living in a lot of chaos or abuse can’t experience some mental health trauma. I believe that connections to caregivers would have a lot to do with that type of problem. But does it become easier to cross the line between a diagnosed anxiety disorder and normal 18 month old stranger shyness? How do you give mental health treatment to a one year old?
If greater awareness does help some children in great distress, then it’s truly a good thing. However, I also know that the mental health profession can get caught up in over-diagnosis at times. Kids are getting more and more diagnoses all the time in schools. Since childhood is such a time of flexibility, especially for toddlers and babies, I’d just hate to see unnecessary labels being put on tiny ones by over-zealous clinicians or worried parents.
Obviously, as a mental health professional myself, I must say that a diagnostic manual can be of great help. But once the diagnosis is made, it’s so much more important to help the person become functional than to get hung up on the label. Whatever happens with the recently increased awareness from the Time article, I just hope it is used responsibly and with great care. More than anything, I think I have more questions now than answers. I’ll keep and open mind and open eyes.
Thoughts from you, readers? It is a controversial topic that may stir up a lot of emotions. Please give your opinion, but keep your comments respectful.