Are Learning Disabilities Over Diagnosed, or Are the Numbers Increasing?

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With today’s technology and better understanding, we are able to diagnose disabilities better. A perfect example of this is how autism is now diagnosed. Back when autism was first understood, only the people with the severest of cases were diagnosed. Today the autism spectrum, and more lenient diagnostic criteria have led to more children being diagnosed.

I’ve seen kids diagnosed with things they obviously do not have. In a sad way it’s almost funny to see a parent who thinks their child has autism meet a child who actually is autistic. It’s what I call a “Eureka, what were we thinking?!” moment. But are learning disabilities really on the rise? The number of children diagnosed certainly is.

Many children are, in fact, being put inside the LD box too easily. I own a copy of the DSM-IV-TR and looking at the diagnostic criteria for certain learning disabiliets and disorders, almost any child could fit them. The fact that most people seem to overlook is just because a doctor or psychologist has gone to school and recieved a degree doesn’t mean they are an expert on every topic. For example, a clinical psychologist who had never studied or seen a child with Asperger’s could easily read the DSM and think that a patient of his was a text book case. I think this is a major contribution to the frequency of diagnosis.

Possible Reasoning

Some people feel that only reason the statistics for Learning Disabilities are rising is for the money.

Here’s a brief history of Learning Disabilities; basically once it was discovered that some children had struggles in certain areas, some scientists had a field day. Federal funds were approproved for research and curricula, graduate programs were started, scholarly articles and books began appearing, tests were devised, parents’ groups formed, children were classified and labeled, and prescription drugs were developed. Learning disabilities became an industry. This industry leads some people to believe labels are merely slapped on children so that psychologists and pharmecutical companies can make money.

In all honesty they do have a valid point; for every child that receives a diagnosis, chances are the same child will also recieve costly therapy and medications. But money is not the only reason that more children are being diagnosed. The desire for money alone would not merit the jump in diagnosis seen these past few years.

In the course of one decade more children than ever are being given a label. But why? Even if we’ve gotten better at catching the early warning signs, why have we seen such a dramatic jump? Is it all of the chemicals in our environment, as some say? All of the toxins in our diets? Maybe it is the medications they were taking?

Some people are adamant that vaccines are the cause for many disabilities, especially autism. While it has been shown through testing on monkeys and other animals that mercury can sometimes negatively affect a developing brain, there is not enough conclusive evidence to support the idea that vaccinations are a cause for the increase in learning disabilities diagnosed.

A disturbing fact is that today some diagnoses are considered “trendy”. Though I am studying psychology I have no idea what could be going on in a parent’s mind to let them have their child labeled with something they don’t have.

Some children are also diagnosed because they are not receiving adequate education, so compared to more educated peers they appear to have a handicap. Some children are just plan lazy and don’t try to pay attention. The sad thing is some of these kids will be diagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADD, when they are actually just bored out of their minds.

The Conclusion?

So the question again; are more children being diagnosed with Learning Disabilities or do more children actually have learning disabilities? In my opinion, it’s a little of both. I think that more children are being diagnosed because we have become better at recognizing disabilities, but I also agree that many children are being over diagnosed, which is skewing the figures.

It’s not like you can line up every child in the world, glance over them and say something like, “autistic!” “misdiagnosed as ADHD!” “Actually has ADHD!” So yes, disabilities are on the rise, but the exact figure can’t be deterimined.

What can be determined is that it is not just one thing causing diagnostic rates to go up. The combination which skyrocketing rates of diagnosis consists mainly of three things:

  • Psychologists have become better at diagnosing disorders
  • Children are being put into the LD box too easily
  • Possible factors in our lifestyle and environment are increasing the numbers of some disabilities.

This is a controversial issue any way you look at it. What’s your opinion?