If you suspected that your child had a mental health problem, wouldn’t you want to know?

I had an odd conversation not long ago with a mother who thought her 6 years old son could suffer from autism, she even mentioned Asperger, but was hesitant to investigate the matter further.

I first thought she was being irrational, but then I heard her reasons. She worried that knowing for certain her son had a mental condition would label him forever, preclude him a normal life, and she didn’t want that for him, particularly because the whole family had learned to cope with his behaviour well.

They love their child for who he is–bad behaviours, cheeky smiles and all–and they would hate for anyone to look at him any different. So they’d rather take the criticism of relatives and the glances of random strangers, rather than giving them the chance to stick a label on their child and be done with it.

I didn’t want to judge them, also because I was too busy pretending not to notice how much of the unusual traits of their child behaviour mirrored my own child’s behaviour, and worry that my son could have Asperger too. I didn’t openly disagree with this parent, but I still thought she was wrong.

Pretending everything is fine when it might not be is unfair to her child. Autism would make his life so much harder, and not recognising it as a disadvantage will end up hurting him.

The stigma around mental health illnesses might be partially to blame here. It would have been a completely different conversation if she suspected the problem was with one of her child’s legs. I’m sure in that case she would have wasted no time in seeking medical advice rather that having him limping for the rest of his life.

Or it might be that when your child is involved, it’s much harder to be impartial. Much of what she said was challenging about her child’s behaviour sounded too familiar for comfort, but I didn’t exactly hurry to look for our GP phone number to find out more.

Some of you might be in a situation very much alike this family, or have been in the past. What advice would you have for them?

Thanks to Jay Wen for making the feature photo used in the article available freely on Unsplash.

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