Trusting Your GUT when your child is ill

What happens when your child is ill?

Have you ever thought you were going crazy when it came to your kids? Sure, we all get stressed out by the demands parenting requires of us whether they be mundane, daily happenings (“No you can’t have another cookie!”, “Stop teasing your brother!”) or extreme, unlikely circumstances (Hello pandemic-looking at you!)

But, what if there was something wrong with your child, (who also happens to have neurodevelopmental delays or another neurodivergent diagnosis)  and no experts had any answers for you? What if you took your kiddo to all the “BEST” doctors out there and they either had no answers, their diagnosis conflicted with one another, or worst of all, they just didn’t believe your child had a problem?

Mom gives daughter medicine

Misdiagnosis happens.

I am here to tell you that it happens.  And when it is your child who is struggling and suffering, it is exquisitely painful. You feel like you are living in a nightmare that you simply cannot wake from and that somehow, those around you are seeing a distorted view of reality.  A 2019 article* states that, “the mindset that young children are rarely seriously ill is one of the main reasons that they are more likely to be misdiagnosed than adults are. That’s on top of all of the ways that approximately 10 percent of American adults are misdiagnosed every year. When doctors and nurses expect to see a healthy child with a common short-lived illness, they may miss the uncommon ones.”  

The article goes on to list the main reasons for children receiving a diagnosis that’s wrong or delayed:

  1. Attitude: Since most children are healthy, and most illnesses resolve on their own, doctors may tend to reassure parents rather than accept concerns are real
  2. Biology: Young children’s bodies and systems are radically different than adults, so they present and respond in unexpected ways
  3. Unequipped: Most children’s emergency room visits are to community or adult hospitals that often don’t have needed kid-sized equipment or pediatric experts. Urgent care centers have similar issues.
  4. Communication: Young children don’t understand or know what is wrong so they’re dependent on parents or caregivers to recognize and then interpret their symptoms

Experts may give you the brush off.

However, there are cases where a parent’s concerns are dismissed, as I was when my daughter presented with a long, puzzling, seemingly unrelated laundry list of symptoms that spanned years, nearly a decade by the time a diagnosis was finally rendered.  During that time period, I was given advice from some well-meaning individuals who said things like:

  • “Just accept her as she is and stop looking for answers that aren’t there.”
  • “Doctors are the experts and you have to trust them when they tell you something, even when treatments don’t work or something seems to be missing in their answer.”
  • “You want her to be sick so that you get attention or sympathy”
lab test machine

Did any of this help my daughter get better or me find answers? That would be a resounding no.  Oh, and by the way, that last piece of “advice” above was given to me, in front of my child, by a supposedly well-respected doctor. He dismissed all the hundreds of pages of tests, scans, medical records and prior diagnosis, didn’t help my daughter, and charged for it!

So what DO YOU DO?  You don’t give up- you trust your gut! Parents know their children best and what their “normal” looks like, even if it doesn’t match the textbook image. Remember to believe in yourself and your ability to help your child. Make a bulleted list of every symptom, even if it does not seem totally related, and the date the symptom started. Research the heck out of your child’s symptoms and any test results you have, using the best and most trusted resources you can find.  Become well acquainted with clinical research papers, societies for various branches of disease types ( think brain, stomach, nervous system, etc.)  Join an online group for other parents who may be seeking answers for their child or who may have information to share.

The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine says not to get overwhelmed by the risks of misdiagnosis. Rather, recognize there are a few key things to do, to assist in getting an accurate and (hopefully) prompt diagnosis. These tips also help if your child is in the middle of a diagnostic journey today.

  1. Sign up for the doctors’ or hospitals’ patient portal and check the records thoroughly. “Is the information correct? Are the medications and medical history correct? Read it, correct it, and tell the doctor” or the staff.
  2. Important test results can slip through the cracks and that may lead to misdiagnosis and lack of treatment. Keep track of any tests that are done on your child. That includes blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, and any other type of scan. If your child has a test, simply ask when the results are expected and note it in your calendar. If you don’t get called or emailed with results, call and ask about them. Remember, “No News is No News.” Don’t accept being told, “We will call you if there’s a problem.”
  3. Trust your gut. You’re the people who know and care about your child the most. All of the experts encourage parents to speak up if they feel their child’s symptoms aren’t getting enough attention or if there’s any confusion between what the family is saying and the medical professional is hearing.
  4. If your child isn’t showing signs of improvement, get a second opinion. Ask friends and family members in town for a recommendation of a pediatrician in a different practice, or ask your current pediatrician for a specialist to give a second opinion.
  5. Be prepared before you bring your child to the doctor or an emergency room. While your child is healthy, check if there’s a pediatric urgent care or emergency room close to where you live. If you have a planned appointment, there is a valuable tool you can start using today. The SIDM Patient Toolkit is a handy step-by-step workbook with sections to fill out before, during and after your doctor’s appointment.
  6. If you’re using the internet to look for more information, be sure to use reliable and trusted sources. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Healthy Children section is a great place to begin. 

In closing, you, as a parent, are the most trusted authority on your child.  If you feel that something is wrong with your child and it is not getting resolved, don’t be afraid to speak up.  Your child and your family deserve answers and the best possible care.  Be brave and know that what your GUT is telling you, may be right. (If you have a question for Melanie (author/Kid PT Marketing) email her at info@kidpt.com)

*References

https://www.improvediagnosis.org/dxiq-column/why-your-child-is-more-likely-to-be-misdiagnosed-than-you-are/

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