Over the last two decades, the number of brain disorder diagnoses in general has increased exponentially. While some of this increase is due to kids being diagnosed with disorders they don’t have, there is a documented increase in autism, ADD, ADHD, sensory integration disorder, depression, bipolar, anorexia, bulimia, and other brain disorders in children in the industrialized world, especially in the United States. Also, these brain disorders disproportionately affect boys.

If you wonder if your son or daughter has a brain disorder, here are some rules of thumb that might help you work with the professionals in your child’s life.

  1. Diagnosis of a brain disorder such as ADD or ADHD should come from a specialist (a child psychologist or psychiatrist) who has performed neuropsychological batteries. These batteries (and similar protocols) take many hours. If your son did not go through these sorts of tests, or if he was diagnosed after only a few minutes of meeting with a professional, make sure to ask why the diagnosis came with so little study of your son. Consider getting a second opinion.
  1. Diagnosis of a brain disorder generally should not come from a school counselor, teacher, or school staff member. Nor should it come from a parent, grandparent, or friend. Even a pediatrician is not a specialist on your son’s brain. A brain specialist, a psychologist or psychiatrist, is generally needed.
  1. Except in extreme cases, it is generally not useful to diagnose a child with a brain disorder before the age of seven. However, if your child is younger than seven and having extreme difficulty, you will most likely need to see a pediatric mental-health specialist immediately.
  1. Enter the journey of possible diagnosis without expectations of what a normal boy is. If a childcare provider, teacher or friend is saying that your son is “maybe ADD” or “fidgets too much” or “pushes other kids” or “can’t sit still at story-time” or “has trouble reading” or “can’t focus,” he may have a brain disorder. But in our present school and social climate, it is just as likely to be a normal boy who is stressed out or just not a fit for some of his educational environments.
  1. Do your own study of your child’s life. Is he or she having troubles at home or only at school (or vice versa)? If the answer is yes, then study the environment in which he’s not having trouble and try to replicate it for him in the environment that is troublesome. If school is great for him, but home is troublesome, figure out what school has that home doesn’t. Structure? Other kids? A better way of directing his energy? If he is having little or no trouble at home, but a lot at school, study the school to figure out why.
  1. The single most helpful thing a family can do for a son who may or may not have a brain disorder is to alter the pattern of devotion to design in the care given the boys. A boy who is “troubled” may simply be a high demand boy who needs more of your and your family’s devotion. He may be designed to need extra help from one or more of you. The parenting, family, or school system may need to devote someone to provide greater one-on-one attention to this boy, his needs, and his design.
  1. When you see a school or childcare system that is hard on boys, join together with other parents to meet with the principal and staff to advocate for boys. If your son is having trouble, many other boys may be, as well. The school or system may need training in how to approach the diversity of boys in their care.

If your son or daughter has a brain or developmental disorder, remember this, too, may be part of this particular organic design. Brain and developmental disorders carry a genetic component. This disorder may be a difficult part of your child’s life now, but it can also be a rewarding part later, especially if your family, schools, and community stretch themselves to understand him, structure his life, give him extra attention, and learn the beautiful lessons he will teach through his life journey.

To learn more about raising children, especially boys, read Dr. Gregory Jantz’s bestselling book Raising Boys by Design.