What to do when waiting for a diagnosis

In this video, Family School Co-Director and Consultant Psychotherapist Brenda McHugh explains how, during the wait for a diagnosis, there are still opportunities for change. New descriptions of behaviour can aid our understanding of a child or young person. These can help teachers and carers to explore ways to change behaviour they may find challenging during the wait.

I think what’s interesting about what you’re offering to us teachers is maybe a different way of understanding what we’ve kind of traditionally looked at as behaviours that need a label. I think many of us in the teaching profession think, well has this child got ASD? Is it ADHD? Is this conduct disorder? Is it just bad behaviour? And, of course, all of those behaviours, ODD, DPD, you know, it’s just an ever, ever-growing descriptions of things that stop us in our tracks every day. Now, we have tried, as schools, to get better connection with CAMHS and other services to try and get a better assessment, a more accurate assessment, because we are not in the privileged position of making those assessments. But it can take a while just to get the appointment or even to get the assessment. I was talking to somebody, a mother, yesterday has been told it takes 12 to 18 months to get an ASD assessment. 12 to 18 months of a child’s life who is 10 is a long time. So, we need to be doing something with the information that we have and I think that what’s coming out of the neuroscience world are very valuable descriptions that help us understand behaviours — what lies behind behaviour, what we possibly could do to change or challenge that behaviour in our practice, even while we’re waiting. Doesn’t mean that we still wouldn’t benefit from a diagnosis. But, from my experience of being in CAMHS, it’s not always easy to put children into one box. They’re quite often a mixed profile of difficulties. There may be some aspects of ASD. There may be some aspects of sensory processing. There may be some trauma experience. It’s hard to, kind of, say that this is one diagnosis. I think what works better, when you’re talking to parents and also ourselves, is having that richer description of the child. Which then means that there are possibilities. There is opportunity for change. Opportunities to try things and see, does that make a difference for this child rather than just waiting for the diagnosis.

Learn more

You can find the Childhood Trauma and the Brain animation and additional resources to support your learning here. This includes a downloadable animation guide, explainer videos, an infographic, and articles on the research.

This video was generously funded by the Economic Social Research Council.

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