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It's Complicated: Multiple Diagnoses in Children

Kids can be complicated. Let's face it, we are all complicated. It's a beautiful, frustrating, miraculous thing. It is part of life - navigating the complexities of our own needs, navigating the complexities of relationships, and then, having children and navigating their whole new set of needs. I have three children and I don't have all the answers, but I wanted to share with you some insight that I have gained from parenting two children with special needs. 

Dysregulated. My spell check doesn't like this word - and to be honest, it's not my favorite either. But it is a word, whether spell check believes it or not. It's a good place to start for this article - it was the feeling I picked up on even when my children were very little. They are only 7 and 9 now, so they are still "little", but I mean when they were babies. My oldest "didn't transition well" in daycare. After we got her autism diagnosis two years ago, I could see immediately how all of the little dysregulations in her life made sense. She's wired differently. Her brain likes to see things very rigidly - good/bad, black/white, yes/absolutely NO. Flexibility is hard for her. 

Along the way, we also had picked up the diagnoses of ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Anxiety. She also had eye crossing (strabismus) and has had two binocular eye surgeries to correct the turning in the last year. In the grand scheme of things, Olivia has a very mild autism diagnosis and manages day to day very well. We've had a lot of hard days and have sought out specialized care for her since she was about 2 years old. Currently, Olivia sees a pediatrician, a developmental pediatrician, a pediatric ophthalmologist and an occupational therapist. Mixed in there are physical therapy techniques, intermittent psychological testing, genetic testing, and working closely with her school to address her educational needs. 

Again, I know that this is just the TIP of the iceberg for many families with children who have special needs. This is a walk in the park for many. But I wanted to share with you a glimpse of my journey down this road of diagnosis for Olivia because I wanted to encourage you that there are no perfect answers or perfect parents. When I first started noticing that Olivia had a lot of dysregulation going on, I thought - let's figure it out! And then we will get the right treatments and FIX HER. The first thing I learned is that there are a ton of crossovers in diagnosis. ADHD can look like OCD and vice versa, Autism can cross many lines and go many directions, vision problems can cause reading problems but so can mental processing problems... stimming can look like a neurological disorder. The list can go on and on. So it is exhausting trying to pinpoint the root of the issue sometimes. You have to turn over many rocks. You have to rule out many things. 

Go down this road a little further with me if you will... the next thing I learned is that medicines and therapy help, but your child is hardwired to be the person that they are born to be. This was a moment of clarity for me in this journey. Yes, we can learn to stop throwing ourselves on the floor when we are upset, but we still might feel very strongly about the texture of mashed potatoes or that too mushy apple. Yes we can take medicine to help us stay on task, but perhaps we also need to learn how our brain organizes information differently and then figure out a way that works for us to be successful - and it might not be the way others do it.

It's complicated. You try a medicine and the side effects are no good. You try a therapist and it doesn't go anywhere. You think you have a genius way to get your child to try new foods and they just won't. But you keep trying, and along the way you get to know your child like no one else knows your child and it's beautiful! You learn what helps and you learn what doesn't help and you keep giving them the tools they need to grow and learn in their own ways. Then, things change again and you have to start over. It's a long journey my friends - and it's long for everyone - not just special needs families. Keep going. Take a break if you need to, but get back up and try again. You will win and they will win. Take care!

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