There has been some talk around the UK special needs blogosphere about a recent report that suggests parents may be pushing for special needs diagnoses when these are not needed. The report is poignantly called “Hooked On Labels”. It points out that many teachers feel that pushy parents are responsible for unwarranted learning or behavioral difficulty diagnoses. The report does not ask for parents’ views and did not ask anyone to quantify how many parents might be working the system to gain diagnoses their children don’t need.
I understand both sides of the issue. My father used to work at a secondary school with at the time around 1500 students. Of these, at one point, 139 had a formal dyslexia diagnosis. At the time, it was thought that only 1% of the population have dyslexia, hence suggesting a serious overdiagnosis. I just googled it and found current estimated prevalence rates as high as 17%. Assuming that reading ability runs on a bell curve, this would indicate that those only one standard deviation below the norm would be classified as dyslexic. Now I have no clue whether reading ability runs on a bell curve, but if a disability occurs in as many as 17% of the population, in my opinion, it can barely be called a disability. This means the system is failing, not the student. Either that, or parents are being pushy.
I find it interesting that parents are automatically blamed for overdiagnosis of learning or behavioral difficulties. Some teachers surveyed for the report suggested parents were working the sysstem to get accommodations for their children. Some even said perhaps parents wanted these children to enter into more competitive education which they otherwise would not have been able enough for. I do believe there may be some parents who get their children labeled with disabilities in order for them to be able to compete. However, doesn’t that mean that schools are just too focused on competition rather than individual differences? If you need a diagnosis to get your idnividual strengths and weaknesses recognized, isn’t that the problem rather than parents seeking that diagnosis?
I have always, ever since I first self-diagnosed with autism in 2002, believed that, if a child doesn’t cope, either the child has something going on or the system is screwed. I have always advocated for more individualized educational programming, but this doesn’t happen yet.
Mind you, I disapprove of parents seeking labels for their child – or adults seeking a label for themselves – just so they can get into special ed, collect disability benefits or the like. That’s not fair and if it happens, it needs to stop. This is however talking extreme examples. With how restrictive the special education and benefits systems are these days, I don’t believe many people would be able to fake themselves or their children into them. Where accommodations at home or at school are concerned, I don’t think anything is wrong with demanding them. Like I said, the need for labels to qualify for them, is the problem.
Some people see me as “working the system”, too. They don’t deny that I’m disabled – they can’t deny my blindness -, but they do deny that I’m as disabled as I claim to be. I asked for a second opinion when I was given a diagnosis that by some is perceived as meaning I misuse the system. Now dependent personality disorder is a genuine mental health condition, not willful behavior, but even my psychologist has some trouble seeing that. Treatment for DPD is not a kick in the behind to solve your own shit, but even my psychologist has some trouble seeing that, too.
In my case, the DPD diagnosis resulted from the same flawed logic that might get parents to seek learning or behavioral difficulty diagnoses for their children: the need to always have a label to explain every single need a person has. The occupational therapist from the blindness agency said my difficulty making tea wasn’t due to blindness. Another occupational therapist said it wasn’t due to motor difficulties. My psychologist assumed there are no executive functioning diffiuclties, so it wans’t due to that either. Since there needs to be some explanation, my psychologist decided to consider it a sign of dependence and to label that dependence DPD. As a side note, my husband tried to make tea with his eyes closed and it was way harder than it is with his eyes open.
I am often told that I desperately want to be different and that’s why I seek an autism diagnosis. I do see myself as different indeed, but I don’t need an autism diagnosis for that. There’s “highly sensitive”, “introverted”, “intellectually gifted”, and probably others that don’t require a shrink. I don’t even seek an autism diagnosis specifically – I seek recognition of my impairments.
Like I said, I have always felt that, if I fall through the cracks with the support I do get, either something’s wrong with me or something’s wrong with the support system. If blindness could get me the support I need, I wouldn’t have sought a mental diagnosis. For your information, it wasn’t me who sought my first autism diagnosis in 2007. They were professionals working with the blind. If I am just a lazy, unmotivated fatass who willfully misuses the system, I shouldn’t even get a DPD diagnosis – the label for that is malingering.
Back to pushy parents. It is my firm belief that there are as many parents who ask for labels their child doesn’t need, as there are parents who deny their child labels they do need. The solution to both is individualized support.