According to numerous studies and expert organizations, only between 2-5% of children are “gifted,” have “autism,” or are afflicted with “ADD” or “ADHD.” Roughly the same number of children suffer from peanut allergies. Isn’t it amazing, then, how it seems that 95% of parents say their child falls into one of these groups? It is nearly impossible to meet a parent today who doesn’t seem to think their child is gifted or needs some sort of special treatment at school due to being “on the autism spectrum,” being “highly gifted,” or having “dangerous allergies.”
Many times, the mental/psychological diagnoses go hand in hand, and it is not uncommon for parents to state that their child has been diagnosed as falling on the autism spectrum and being highly gifted or having ADD/ADHD. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD has risen a whopping 41% in the past decade and the diagnosis of autism has risen an astounding 72% in the last four years alone. Peanut allergies have tripled in the past decade. What accounts for this drastic and enormous upswing in such diagnoses?
When it comes to autism, according to Dr. Allen Francis, the phenomenon is due to extreme over diagnosis, and is occurring simply because it’s popular:
The apparent epidemic of autism is in fact the latest instance of the fads that litter the history of psychiatry. We have a strong urge to find labels for disturbing behaviors; naming things gives us an (often false) feeling that we control them. So, time and again, an obscure diagnosis suddenly comes out of nowhere to achieve great popularity. It seems temporarily to explain a lot of previously confusing behavior — but then suddenly and mysteriously returns to obscurity.
Francis says that half of the children who have been labeled autistic don’t actually meet the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. He also says that many diagnoses are handed out by people who don’t have proper training, and who mistake certain behaviors in children as meeting the diagnostic criteria when the behaviors are actually normal. He also explains the problem is caused by “widespread publicity, Internet support and advocacy groups, and the fact that expensive school services are provided only for those who have received the diagnosis.”
Psychiatrist Paul Steinberg says the over diagnosis problem in ADHD is the result of “too little science” and that the phenomenon causes too many bad consequences, such as children who do not have Asperger’s being labeled as being “on the spectrum,” which can lead to low self-esteem and poorer performance in school.
According to a German study, ADHD is over diagnosed in at least 20% of children due to a failure on the part of clinicians to adhere to accepted diagnostic criteria, while Psychology Today reports that the over diagnosis is caused by a large variety of factors including the pushy nature and greed of pharmaceutical companies.
It’s not just the mental/psychological disorders that are being over diagnosed; a recent study showed that peanut allergies are also being over diagnosed. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, inaccurate blood tests are the main culprit, and after testing the same “allergic” kids on actual food, 84-93% of foods the kids had been avoiding were able to be implemented back into their diets.
Setting all the expert opinion and studies aside for a brief moment, even anecdotally, it seem that a tremendous amount of kids are called “gifted,” “autistic” “ADD” or “allergic” by their parents when in reality, all of these classifications are extraordinarily rare. Experts are in agreement that all of these groups are drastically over diagnosed, so when will parents start to catch on?
Everyone wants to be special in some way, but labeling normal children as gifted, autistic or allergic when they’re actually just expressing normal variations of their personality is not a good way to achieve a “special” status. Similarly, dragging them to the doctor for all sorts of blood tests because they scratched their arm one day after eating peanuts verges on ridiculous.
Does this mean that actual autism, giftedness, ADD and allergies should not be taken seriously? Not at all. There are absolutely very real and authentic cases of all of these catagorizations, and children who really do fall into one of these categories need special consideration. However, the amount of children who can actually be put into one of these groups is about the same amount as people who have Von Willebrand Disease. Never heard of it? That’s because it is incredibly rare. The next time someone says their kid is gifted, has ADD/ADHD, autism or a peanut allergy, take it with a grain of salt.
By: Rebecca Savastio