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Test child early for mental illness

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Dear Abby: This is for "Angry Mother in Texas," who was offended when "Uncle Pete" (who is schizophrenic) voiced his concerns that her 8-year-old son might also have a mental illness. You were right to advise her to have her son evaluated.

I am a patient care coordinator for a pediatric outpatient facility. I talk to parents who call our facility seeking help for the first time.

Recently I spoke with a woman whose seventh-grader was showing signs of mental instability. She said her daughter had always been different, but now she was having more difficulty than ever. The mother was heartbroken that her daughter had no friends and no one to talk to. The mother knew she was in denial, but she wanted to protect her daughter from being labeled. Resistant to seeking mental health services, the mother finally agreed to a neurologic evaluation with our pediatric neurologist.

Before that visit could occur, the mother called me again expressing concern about her daughter's behavior. After consultation with our psychiatrist, the girl was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for intensive treatment.

Abby, as parents, our instincts are to protect our children. That mother had tried everything from divorcing her husband, to moving to a different city, to placing her daughter in a private school. Had she sought evaluation and treatment sooner, it is likely that therapy and medication could have managed the child's symptoms and saved them all much heartache, turmoil and expense.

Sometimes parents are blinded by love and do not see their children with open eyes. I hope "Angry Mother" takes your advice, if only to put her fears to rest. — A Caring Mother in Michigan

Dear Caring Mother: So do I. The most responsible and loving thing parents can do is to be certain that their children's health is absolutely sound, both physically and mentally. Read on:

Dear Abby: This is for "Angry Mother in Texas":

PLEASE have your child checked. My cousin is autistic and mentally retarded. When his mother (my aunt) first saw my youngest son at the age of 1, she told me he should be tested. I was so upset I ignored her.

Luckily, our pediatrician also suspected there might be a problem and had my child tested. My son is also autistic. Knowing and understanding the disability has helped our family as well as my son. I apologized to my aunt for doubting her. My son says he loves visiting "Aunt Betty" the best because she understands his autism. — Another Texas Mother

Dear Mother: Some parents fail to realize that having a child with a mental illness is not a reflection on themselves or their parenting ability. The elephant in the living room can't be denied forever, and the sooner the child receives proper diagnosis and treatment, the better for the child and the family.

Dear Abby: I'm writing concerning the letter about ethnic stereotyping. Comedian Red Skelton used to tell a story that perfectly ridiculed such stereotyping:

A man was seated next to a Chinese gentleman at a banquet. Attempting to make conversation, the man said in Chinese pidgin, "You likee food?"

Just then his table partner was introduced to the crowd. He walked to the dais and delivered a beautiful speech in perfect English. When he returned to the table, he turned to his seat partner and said, "You likee speech?" — Jack Runninger, Rome, Ga.

Dear Jack: I'm sure the man was left speechless.

Pauline Phillips and her daughter Jeanne Phillips share the pseudonym Abigail Van Buren. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $10 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby — Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.) © Universal Press Syndicate