Parents Predicts: The Big Issues for 2013

A look ahead at the kid-focused health stories you'll hear about next year.
Kids on playground

The Book That'll Change How Mental Health Disorders Are Diagnosed

If you're not familiar with the term "DSM-5" yet, you will be. In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) will publish the 5th version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM is used by clinicians use to diagnose psychiatric disorders, and it's what insurance companies and policy makers use to determine whether a person needs treatment, and what type they need. This latest version is well over a decade in the making, and we've already heard lots of debate over the major changes.

For instance, many people--parents and professionals alike-are worried about the plan to eliminate Asperger's Disorder from the DSM-5 and create one category of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Critics contend that kids who currently have Asperger's will either not meet the criteria under the new category, or their educational and therapeutic services won't be covered because their symptoms won't be considered severe enough to require it. Early intervention is critical for improving the developmental progress of children with Asperger's as well as ASD, so any change in criteria that may reduce the likelihood of making services available will be a disservice to parents and their children.

Meanwhile, new categories like Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder have others worrying that kids with massive temper outbursts could get diagnosed, when in fact their behavior is normal (albeit poor). Some parents and doctors fear that these children could undergo unnecessary treatments, especially drug therapy. And yet others argue that the new category will finally get help for kids who need it.

Even conditions that won't be revised in a major way will be scrutinized. For instance, people will look closely to determine whether growing rates of ADHD diagnoses are warranted, especially since they go hand in hand with an increase in drug treatment. We can guarantee one thing: The implementation of DSM-5 will have a profound impact on how we diagnose and treat the more than 15 million kids in the U.S. who struggle with mental health disorders.

Kids and Play

In 2012, intriguing scientific papers revealed conflicts between how much and what type of play toddlers need, and what they're actually doing. Many experts now agree that toddlers and preschoolers should get three hours a day of physical activity--which basically means 15 minutes of every hour. But this can be hard to do, especially in a child-care setting. For one thing, some parents would rather childcare providers emphasize academics over running around and playing. What's more, some play experts contend that our playground equipment has become so safe it's actually boring to toddlers, who end up not using it for very long (or at all).

Physical activity guidelines are not just necessary to combat the obesity epidemic-they impact cognitive development, too. A game-changing review paper published last August in Psychological Bulletin argued that pretend play promotes social and language skills rather than creativity and imagination, which is better cultivated through "playful learning" opportunities that involve more hands-on manipulation and exploration. Although some interpreted this as an argument against the importance of play, it did illuminate how playful learning (which includes activities like drawing along with physical activity) should be an essential part of early childhood education. Simply put, schoolyard activities promote cognitive development by boosting motor skills. We anticipate researchers, educators, and policy makers will focus intently on the barriers that prevent toddlers from getting the amount and type of play they need to best nurture their physical and cognitive development.

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