Church, what if we think _______ diagnosis isn’t a real thing?

shutterstock_149729270May 3rd-9th is Children’s Mental Health Week. Today, Shannon speaks out about the propensity of others to question the legitimacy of a child’s psychiatric diagnosis.

Everybody has that nowadays.

Isn’t that just a checklist thing? I mean, it’s not a real diagnosis, right?

That’s just an excuse for bad behaviors.

That’s so overdiagnosed.

When I was growing up, we didn’t label kids like that, and we did just fine.

I hear these comments often, usually about ADHD,  Asperger’s Disorder and childhood trauma. I’d love to address them, first as a special educator, then as a ministry leader, and finally as a mom.

In this post, I’m going to focus specifically on ADHD, but please keep in mind that these are CERTAINLY not limited to that areas of diagnosis. In my city and at my church, I’ve noticed that people only make such comments with boldness about ADHD. When they make comments like this about other special needs, they usually used more hushed tones…or they just think the comment instead of saying it.

As a trained special education teacher with my MAEd in the field, I’m no stranger to ADHD in the classroom setting. Is ADHD prevalent nowadays? Yes. It possible that some ADHD diagnoses aren’t legit? Yes. Is it a real disorder? Yes. Can you or I conclusively pass judgment on whether or not a specific individual has a legit diagnosis? Nope.

As a special needs ministry leader, is it be wise or profitable for you or I to try to pass judgment on whether or not an individual has a legit diagnosis? No. If you want to debate the issue from a diagnostic or theoretical perspective, particularly if you work in a field related to special education, go for it. Just don’t bring that into your ministry.

shutterstock_68372575As a mom, my daughter’s diagnosis of cerebral palsy is easier at church than the behavioral concerns I have for my son who will probably end up with a diagnosis of ADHD, Asperger’s, or sensory processing disorder. Why? Because I know no one is going to question her wheelchair and inability to walk in the way they might question his sensory meltdown or difficulty sitting through a church service designed for adults rather than kids. Others view my daughter’s disability objectively but my son’s subjectively (that is, assuming I’m right about the diagnosis to come for him).

Whenever you are tempted to pass judgment on the legitimacy of someone’s diagnosis, stop. Remember that God is all-knowing and you are not. He knows the ins and outs of each person’s life; you only know the tiny sliver of interaction that you have each week or month with that individual.

I don’t see Christ analyzing whether or not the woman who was hemorrhaging had sought adequate care first or bled enough to warrant healing. No, instead He noticed her desperate touch on His robe and called her daughter. I don’t hear Jesus suggesting that we place bouncers at the door of a Luke 14 banquet to ensure that folks are crippled enough, lame enough, or blind enough. No, He says, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” I don’t read about Christ ignoring the pain of His friends when Lazarus died, even though He knows that the death won’t stick because healing will be provided. No, He cares enough and feels enough to weep.

The comments I shared at the beginning remind me of comments I often hear about people who are homeless or poor. Well, we shouldn’t help them because they could be making a lot of money panhandling. They could be abusing my kindness. They might even {gasp!} buy alcohol with my money. And so those attitudes provide an excuse not to help others, not to care about them. Could those statements be true? Sure. But can you know with certainly whether or not they are? No.

Why are we so afraid of helping someone who might not be “worthy” (according to our own assumptions, that is)? Could it be that we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that we have made ourselves worthy in some way instead of acknowledging that not one of us is deserving of grace? God is the only one who knows without a doubt if a person was rightly diagnosed with a disorder or if a person really needs food. And He is the only one who can take a proficient sinner like me and turn her messy life into a masterpiece worthy of reflecting His glory.

What if we became less concerned about trying to be God – which is what we’re doing when we try to decide who is and isn’t worthy – and became more concerned about loving and serving others?

ShannonShannon Dingle provides consultation, training and support to pastors, ministry staff and volunteers from churches requesting assistance from Key Ministry. In addition, Shannon regularly blogs for Key Ministry on topics related to adoption and foster care, and serves on the Program Committee for Inclusion Fusion, Key Ministry’s Disability Ministry Web Summit. Shannon and her husband (Lee) serve as coordinators of the Access Ministry, the Special Needs Ministry of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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5 Responses to Church, what if we think _______ diagnosis isn’t a real thing?

  1. Carolyn says:

    Mrs. Dingle’s message is spot on, truth both believers and society at large need to hear. I had conversations just this week about the poor and panhandling, and I appreciate that she so articulately voiced my thoughts on the subject. As an adult with ADHD and the mom of a child with ADHD, I am grateful that she is educating others and challenging Christians to stop judging what they do not understand. (BTW, please correct the grammatical errors in the introduction to the piece [‘about,’ ‘legitimacy’]. Details like this compromise credibility. Then, edit this comment to delete this parenthetical. 😉)



    AMEN, Shannon! AMEN!


  3. Wow! Very profound. This can be said of not only diagnoses, but of lifestyles, other behaviors, whatever. Love it!


  4. Syndal Leigh says:

    Reblogged this on extraordinarily normal and commented:
    As one with a “subjective” illness (actually several of them), explaining what I can and can’t do on any given day, feeling the eye rolls as I say I can’t do the stairs today, having someone say “you don’t look sick” a hundred times a year, or that on certain days I can’t eat certain foods… It’s hard. I have often wished I had something like a missing limb as an observable representation of my challenges, something understandable to those on the outside who have not yet experienced, chronic, progressive disease. The physiological and emotional struggles can be hard, but the weight of how others perceive it and communicate verbally and non verbally about it can add an unnecessary added burden that turns to shame. As if I should be ashamed of things I didn’t choose over my life and health. I appreciated this article for it’s clear communication and biblical examples that touch a tender place in me.


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