When you shouldn’t diagnose children…

You know when you shouldn’t diagnose children?

You should never diagnose them ONLINE.

Everywhere I look, parents are reaching out online, asking for advice or wondering what other people’s thoughts might be on a particular situation. I’ve done it plenty of times. Being a first-time parent, I’ve asked for help, I’ve googled the “When will my baby know how to…” I don’t get hung up on it, but of course I’m curious. I want to see where he is at, in the scheme of things. I want to feel excited when he is on target, and I want to know how I can support him if things ‘don’t seem right’.

There’s some big name Facebook pages that let people post their questions (or frustrations) anonymously. The experts write back if they have the time, and they also encourage people to offer advice or talk about their own experiences, in order to help this anonymous person out.

I came across one a few weeks back, and it has been playing on my mind ever since. Here’s a snippet…


The reason I wrote what I did, is because I had seen 2 people say that it “sounds like Autism” and I was horrified. I don’t think the people who wrote that felt that they were doing anything wrong. They had simply experienced children with Autism and thought that this little boy’s characteristics resembled that of a child with Autism.

I put myself in that parent’s shoes. I’m scrolling, hopeful at the sight of so many comments and words of advice. The word Autism flashes on my page – more than once. And it flashes on their page in direct relation to my son. Maybe it has already crossed my mind…or maybe it hasn’t in the slightest. Maybe it’s been suggested by others, or maybe I’m hearing this for the very first time. Either way, does anyone really have the right to diagnose children online? However ‘casual’ it may be? If you saw someone down the street who was looking for the same advice, would you have the gall to say “Maybe your child has Autism?”

I would hope not. Those words that we throw around all the time – Asperger’s, Autism and ADD are pretty popular ones. We throw them around without thinking what this might do to parents and to children. We say them without consequence online, because it’s just so easy.

I don’t know that boy. I don’t know his history or his temperament. I can’t see him, or talk to him. I don’t know if he makes eye contact or what he is like in social situations. I don’t know what his academic track record is like or his sleeping patterns. Furthermore, I don’t have the right to make THAT call. I don’t have the right to say “It sounds like Autism to me” from a mere few paragraphs…

Or do I? What do you think?

12 thoughts on “When you shouldn’t diagnose children…

  • I think your right. Unfortunately we live in an online world wherein this is now acceptable. Its horrid. And I hate those just post your question sites, they end up in nasty mothers debates!!

    • They do sometimes Ali, but I’m starting to see the other side to it now too…they can be helpful for some

  • As a mother of a child with an ASD diagnosis (properly diagnosed through professional assessments), I do agree in part with what you are saying, the people who leave one sentence comments of “sounds like autism to me” are not providing constructive nor helpful advice at all! BUT, from experience, navigating the path of knowing when there is something ‘different’ with your child or if he will just ‘get there in his own time’ is hard. It is hard to find the right support services, it is hard to know who to talk to and then it is even harder to get to see the right people who can actually help! I think these types of online support networks are a fantastic resource for people who may have that niggling feeling at the back of their mind of ‘IS there actually anything amiss with my child?”. BUT what I dislike even more about these types of questions are that a mother might be beside herself with worry that her child is not speaking, write in her question and another ill-informed parent writes back and says ‘he will speak when he is ready, don’t give it another thought’. Early intervention is the key to managing many disorders, not just ASD, and these types of services are hard enough to come by and then get into without parents being told to not worry about it when NOW is the time to act if there is something going on. So I do agree wholeheartedly that only professionals should be diagnosing any problems, yet the same should stand for statements of ‘your child is normal’. Thanks for talking about this, its nice to see some dialogue on this topic. Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Thanks Megan! Reading other people’s experiences has really opened my eyes up to the ‘other side’ of it all!

  • It is a tricky one, this child seems perfectly normal to me from the one and only paragraph on his life. But his parent is clearly concerned and wanting to know they are not alone in this parenting gig. The internet provides parents with so much information – that is why you write a blog, to help other people learn things – that when they have an issue the online world is often the first place they turn to – which means you get EVERYONES opinion, be it wrong, right, etc

    • Agreed Caz. I googled to my heart’s content when I was pregnant and it was definitely a blessing AND a curse haha

  • I tend to agree with you and the comments above. I think it’s great to garner some mum feedback on general topics – it’s nice to get insights into how other families operate – but it can lead to parent anxiety when someone is diagnosing a child they’ve never met. Whether you seek online help or not, I think ultimately you need to speak to a professional who can give a more expert opinion.

    • Yes I think that’s true. It’s nice to reach out, I just wish we wouldn’t ‘label’ so readily…

  • I think your response was perfect. There are a lot of internet wannabe doctors out there that think they’ve seen it all and know it all.
    Like they say – if you’ve met one child with Autism, you’ve met one child with Autism.
    Advice is great online. Diagnoses are not.

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