Continuing a search for a diagnosis: the impact of adolescence and family dynamics

Undiagnosed Disease Network

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The “diagnostic odyssey” describes the process those with undiagnosed conditions undergo to identify a diagnosis. Throughout this process, families of children with undiagnosed conditions have multiple opportunities to decide whether to continue or stop their search for a diagnosis and accept the lack of a diagnostic label. Previous studies identified factors motivating a family to begin searching, but there is limited information about the decision-making process in a prolonged search and how the affected child impacts a family’s decision. This study aimed to understand how families of children with undiagnosed diseases decide whether to continue to pursue a diagnosis after standard clinical testing has failed. Parents who applied to the Undiagnosed Disease Network (UDN) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were recruited to participate in semi-structured interviews. The 2015 Supportive Care Needs model by Pelenstov, which defines critical needs in families with rare/undiagnosed diseases, provided a framework for interview guide development and transcript analysis (Pelentsov et al in Disabil Health J 8(4):475–491, 2015. A deductive, iterative coding approach was used to identify common unifying themes. Fourteen parents from 13 families were interviewed. The average child’s age was 11 years (range 3–18) and an average 63% of their life had been spent searching for a diagnosis. Our analysis found that alignment or misalignment of parent and child needs impact the trajectory of the diagnostic search. When needs and desires align, reevaluation of a decision to pursue a diagnosis is limited. However, when there is conflict between parent and child desires, there is reevaluation, and often a pause, in the search. This tension is exacerbated when children are adolescents and attempting to balance their dependence on parents for medical care with a natural desire for independence. Our results provide novel insights into the roles of adolescents in the diagnostic odyssey. The tension between desired and realistic developmental outcomes for parents and adolescents impacts if, and how, the search for a diagnosis progresses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalOrphanet Journal of Rare Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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