When are mood swings, temper tantrums, and aggressive behavior the sign of pediatric bipolar disorder, and when are they just normal development? When is the desire to spend time alone a sign of shyness, and when is it a hallmark of early onset depression? How can a parent find the right expert to help him decide whether to treat his child with antidepressants that have been designed for and tested on adults, not children?
1. Record keeping
Organize and keep accurate records related to your child’s emotional, behavioral, social, and developmental history. The records should include observations of the child at home, in school, and in the community. They should be shared with the child’s treating provider to help in making a diagnosis. The records should include the following information:
- Primary symptoms, behaviors, and emotions of concern
- A list of the child’s strengths
- A history of when the child first talked, walked, and developed social skills
- A complete family history of mental illness and substance use disorders (many mental illnesses run in families)
- Challenges the child is facing with school, social-skill progression, developmental milestones, behaviors, and emotions
- The times of day or year when the child is most challenged
- Interventions and supportsincluding therapy, medication, residential or community services, hospitalization, and morethat have been used to help the child, and their effectiveness
- Settings that are most difficult for the child (e.g., school, home, social situations)
- Any major changes or stresses in the child’s life (e.g., divorce, death of a love one)
- Factors that may act as triggers or worsen the child’s behaviors or emotions
- Significant mood instability or disruptive sleep patterns
Families know their child best and their expertise is essential in securing an accurate diagnosis for their child.