Dear Carolyn: I always thought being a parent was just hard. But recently, a number of people have said things casually like, “Yeah, and you don’t have easy kids,” or thought my daughter had autism, ADHD or any other number of things. While I don’t take offense — having wondered these things myself — we have seen a number of specialists.

My daughter is in kindergarten, and I often just find her difficult. Really unreasonable, extremely loud (we've had her hearing tested a number of times), lots of big emotions, and has trouble socializing with her peers. She's just loud and weird, and a lot of them are much more normal.

Is therapy ever useful for kids this young? We are an outdoorsy family, and with seven hours a day in school, I’ve been reluctant to add more indoor stuff. I just don’t know how to help her. It often takes HOURS for her to be ready to talk about something so we can together find a solution. It’s exhausting.


Exhausted: I’ll get to your question, but as I read this I kept thinking, more activity! Being outdoorsy is a huge natural advantage, to have gross motor options for family time. Some “indoor stuff” allows big motion, too, like climbing walls.

Plus, seven hours is an eternity cooped up in school — so, is there movement, recess? How much? Do other schools offer more hands-on learning, fewer worksheets?

This is tied to the idea of her being “ready to talk.” There is an established link between physical activity and verbal expression. Some therapists even walk or run with clients now.

And of course there's play therapy for small children, which can be very effective.

Your description of your daughter does fit with some things professionals seek for an ADHD or autism diagnosis — but that doesn't mean you're there. Could be something else entirely, too, or ultimately nothing serious. Nervous systems have their own maturity timetables, just like kids themselves do overall, so a diagnosis can become a moot point or involve a longer process than you might expect going in.

Regardless, big physical activity can help. Also make sure you have a pediatrician who stays current and is plugged in to your area's network of specialists, and who is talking and advising you through the various possibilities vs. scooting you out the door.

Good for you, by the way, for not getting defensive about people's observations. Some kids aren't getting a closer diagnostic look who would benefit from it, just because their parents take offense at the suggestion there might be something else going on.

Readers' thoughts:

· A relative’s daughter was an incredible handful. A team was formed: psychiatrist to prescribe medication, yoga-like personal “trainer” in self-calming, psychologist to oversee the whole treatment. Diagnosis was OCD and sensory processing disorder. She’s now a wonderful college graduate.

· My young daughter had a lot of compulsive behaviors, and a cognitive behavioral therapist stopped the OCD in its tracks. But the first couple of people evaluating couldn’t help. Sometimes it takes a bit until you find the right person.

· I was a loud and weird kid. You know what I could have used most? A parent who said, “I love you just as you are and it’s safe to be you here.”