How To Explain a Diagnosis to Kids

By the time we start an assessment, many kids already have a sense that they are different in some way.  Still, for many the kids I’ve worked with, learning that there is a name for their experience didn’t necessarily bring a sense of relief.  

In fact, for some, it just seemed to confirm that they were somehow broken.

The DSM doesn’t help.  It’s written with “broken” language, with detailed lists of what needs to be “wrong” to meet criteria.  

Given this as our starting point, how can we turn a child’s diagnosis into:

  • Empowering language…
  • Capturing both their gifts and needs
  • So that they can self-advocate in a positive way?

At the child’s feedback session, we have an opportunity to define the language the child and their adults will use to describe their relationship to learning for the rest of their life

We have an opportunity to shift the narrative from “here’s how I’m broken,” to “here’s why my brain is amazing!”  

An Empowering Diagnosis

The neurodiversity perspective takes the view that our brains are built in different ways, which is an amazing and necessary gift to the world, and can also make some things quite challenging.  

With this in mind, I’ve started thinking about explaining a diagnosis in 3 parts:

1. Identifying Strengths and Challenges

“We all have things that make some situations easier than others.

In our work together, we learned that your brain is built in a way that makes (strengths)¬†come easily and (challenges) much more difficult.”

2. You’re Not Alone!

“It turns out, you’re not alone!¬† This pattern happens a lot, and we call it (ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, etc.)

3. Building Your Skills

“Now that we know, our job is to find ways to maximize your amazing superpowers and to build your skills so that the hard part gets easier.

Let’s make a plan!”

For example:

“In our work together, we learned that your brain is built in a way that makes it easy to come up with new ideas, and much more difficult to get those ideas down on paper.

It turns out, you’re not alone!  This pattern happens a lot, and we call it Dysgraphia.

Now that we know, our job is to find ways to maximize your amazing idea-making superpowers, and build your writing fluency skills so that the hard part gets easier.

Let’s make a plan!”

More Helpful Language

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the specific ways I’ve described different diagnoses and profiles using this framework.  

If this language could be helpful to others you know, please share this post and tell them to subscribe!

I hope this has been helpful. As always, please let me know what else you need!