Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: Should my daughter have a psychological assessment?

Monday 09 March 2009 01:00

Dear Virginia,

My nine-year-old daughter has always been somewhat "different" from birth. She is very obsessive and affectionate to everyone – sometimes quite inappropriately. She's subject to terrific temper tantrums, which she gets over quickly. She also is exceptionally clever, but sadly has no friends at school and seems lonely. The teachers want her to have a psychological assessment, but I'm terrified of my daughter being given some kind of "label".

Yours sincerely, Rhona

The word "label", in the way you are using it, has pejorative overtones. But another word for the diagnosis that your daughter may or may not get could be "enlightenment". While you persist in regarding your child as normal, you are then entitled to see her tantrums as bad behaviour, her friendlessness as unlikeability, her obsessions as crazy, and even her cleverness as weird. If, however, after a diagnosis, she is deemed to be someone suffering with a disorder (but that could only be properly assessed by a professional), then every thing that seems like a character defect at present could then be seen as symptoms of a condition that she is unable to control.

I've looked back to a marvellous book called Martian in the Playground by Marion Sainsbury (Lucky Duck Publishing) written by an Asperger's syndrome sufferer, and she is very keen on labelling. Indeed, she says it can be the "key to self-understanding. A label makes a child realise it is not her fault, that she can make the best of new strengths and lets children know there are others out there just like them, too." Another Asperger's child said, when being diagnosed, that she felt "like Einstein must have felt when he discovered relativity. Suddenly everything is logical and makes sense."

Your poor child probably thinks she is completely bonkers. Every day she probably tries – and fails – to fit in with other people. She feels like everything is her fault and can't understand why she can't communicate properly with others. No wonder she has temper tantrums. The stress of it all must be immense. Please don't try to resist the teacher's advice, just because you are terrified of your daughter being labelled. Remember it might be a real gift for your child. Don't let her stay in the dark. Let her find the truth, which may well release her from years of misery.

Readers say...

Put your daughter first

My child has no legs but I won't let her see a doctor in case she gets labelled as "disabled" – of course, it means we're both missing out on all sorts of help and advice, and people aren't very sympathetic, but hey, at least she's not labelled. It's a crude analogy, but you see where it's going. The most important thing is to find out whether there are ways of helping your daughter to be a happier, child, while valuing all her unique traits and abilities. Having a "label" for the way she is may open more doors than it closes.

Helen Ross, Poole


You're holding her back

My son at age eight was quite different than other children. He appeared very bright but his schoolwork was mediocre. A teacher saying to me, "I think your son has dyspraxia" gave my son all the answers. What a difference it has made to his education and our knowledge of how to get him to achieve his full potential. Being bright, he also needed to know what was going on. He doesn't feel labelled but has a much greater understanding of why he struggles at certain things and what he can do about it. There is no chance that he would have done as well as he has academically without the diagnosis and the resulting understanding at school.

Carole by email


Overcome your fears

You've got to take a deep breath and get over your fear of labels. If you had a sick friend who wouldn't go to the doctor for fear of being told it was cancer you'd say, "The sooner you know what it is the sooner the doctors can start to make you well again", and you'd know she was being illogical. The principle is the same here. The sooner your daughter is seen by the experts the sooner she can get help. The experts might not cure her but they might; and they might anyway make her feel happier – and you too in the end. They'd certainly help her teachers, who clearly are desperate for guidance in their struggle to help her. You've got to be brave for your daughter.

Tina Johnson, Wakefield, West Yorkshire


You labelled her already

Your daughter already has a label and you gave it to her: "different". Do you wish to see your child continue to display her obsessive and inappropriate behaviour? How will you deal with the temper tantrums on top of the onset of puberty? Your child has carried the "different" label for nine years. Give her a chance to carry on without it.

Jennifer Buchan, Renfrewshire

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