Sometimes things are not black and white.

When discussing children with mental illness or autism there is the gray area. The gray area is HUGE! It is vast and it is where confusion and misinterpretation can determine outcomes. It is where we find the most confusion and difficulty in understanding and treating children and teens. It is where misdiagnosis is common and judgment rampant.

The black and white merged with gray on a painter’s palette is easily blurred to the eye and lost among the vibrant colors. Metaphorically, the palette represents the two discussions that I often see weaved into one and have tried to approach separately over the past three years.

I was asked yesterday why I speak and write with such different views on the same topic ….. I don’t.  They are different topics that require different conversations.

The black and white children are with clear, severe, debilitating disorders, the gray children are different, they are challenging to define and some almost invisible when placed near the vibrance of “normal”.   A spectrum, a palette, a difference so subtle to the eye when focusing on only one end and overshadowed by the other. Colors of the palette so easily displayed in their predictable place leading to categorized thinking of shades and tones. These are the shades and tones of subgroups, phenotypes and labels.  Even on a palette, the blacks, whites and grays are apart from the rest of the other colors, they are less appealing and harder to define with their overlapping similarities.

For me there is nothing harder for a parent than having a child with a severe mental illness or autism.  There is nothing harder for a child or teen than to have a mental illness being consumed with fear, confusion, broken relationships and broken dreams.  It is the illness that isolates, devastates and stigmatizes families.  It is the “no one is bringing over a gift or pot of soup” illness.   It is the illness that even when properly diagnosed is difficult to manage and treat.  It is usually life long and life altering for the entire family.  It is  black and white at its absolute worst.  Like black and white it has no variations, it is clearly defined.  It is schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression or other severe mental illnesses.  For this end of the palette the discussion to me is just as easily defined; bring parents evidence based treatments, multiple approaches and medication options to provide a quality of life and hope for the future.  It is not a wait and see conversation, it is not a “to medicate or not medicate” debate, it is a conversation of urgency and accuracy.  It is the black and white conversation of compassion, control and perseverance. It is a conversation of profound pain and immeasurable resolve to regain the life they deserve.

The kids on the black and white end of the palette stand out, they are not muted or difficult to name or define like the grays.  The grays are different, not as bold, not as overwhelming or striking and take more time to take a look at to notice the differences between them.  When looking at the palette they are overwhelmingly the largest group or category of color yet they are almost invisible and usually ignored.  These are our gray kids. The aspie kid, the adhd kid, the anxious kid, the quirky kid, the gifted kid, the twice exceptional kid, the sensory kid, the kids whose differences create challenges.  The kids of gray are the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed and overmedicated.  This for me is the gray discussion and one of the most important conversations I share.  The grays of the palette, if closely looked at, can show hues of blue or green and can blend with the pinks and yellows.  Due to their vast shadings they can be the most difficult to identify and categorize.

The gray needs just a touch of blue to make a beautiful wedgewood, a hint of green to make a soft moss, a splash of pink to make a peachy blush.  The kids of gray can often be transformed with a touch of sensory awareness, a hint of collaborative problem solving or a splash of differentiated education. Keep in mind the gray’s can be stubborn, both on our heads and in our children, they are not a quick fix with a stroke of an additional color.  These are the kids that take time, these are the kids that quick diagnosis, quick blasts of color and quick labeling when mixed with the wrong hue can turn dark.   These are the kids that in time may need more drastic treatments with medications, these are the kids that may need multiple approaches, these are the kids that with some detective work can make enormous strides, these are the kids that create doubt and misunderstanding.  These are the kids, that just like their color, need to be observed for a while to understand their differences.  The gray is the discussion of patience, unravelling, understanding, and individualizing.  It, for me, is the discussion of degree of impairment and neurodiversity.

Dr Thomas Armstrong said on our interview ……  If a flower is missing a petal we don’t call it “Petal Deficit Disorder” we still call it a flower and see its difference as beauty.

Take another look at the palette, really look at the subtle, sweet, unnoticed differences in those gray’s that you didn’t see before.  Look at the black and admire its strong and bold qualities.  Instead of envying or striving to be the bright orange, find the marvel on your own palette.

In the end what I most want to do is have the discussions that need to be had about the palette of colors that make up our kids.

Wishing you strength and calm,






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