Time To Drop Diagnosis In The Schools
The Fictional Interviewer (FI) interviewed Don Asbridge (DA) in 2005.
FI: “I have to give you credit... you sure know how to make friends."
DA: “Tnank you!"
FI: “How dare you go after another person's job."
DA: “Okay, let's get this straight right from the start. I'm not saying take away psychologists - some psychologists provide outstanding services for students, I'm saying take away psychological diagnosis in the schools.
FI: “What's the difference? That's what shrinks do, right? Diagnose... if they're not diagnosing, then what are they doing?”
DA: “Well, they could be providing quality educational, mental health, and psychological services for students."
FI: “But the teachers need to know if the student has been diagnosed with a learning disability in order to teach them correctly.”
DA: “Teachers want to know if the kid has a learning disability so they can ship the kid out of their class so the teacher's test scores won't be low."
FI: “But the teachers need to know if the student has been diagnosed with an emotional disturbance in order to teach them correctly.”
DA: “In eighteen years I have never seen a student's education improve once they've been labeled with an emotional disturbance. I take that back, I did see one such student improve once we removed the ED label."
FI: “You're looking at this backwards. A student needs a diagnosis to receive a free and appropriate education."
DA: “You're right... I'm looking at this backwards because the process is backwards. Listen to what you just said: 'a student needs a label to receive a free and appropriate education'? If so, why can't that label just be, "student'?"
FI: “You don't seem to be taking the responsibilities and duties of your job very seriously. Parents, teachers, and students need to know a student's diagnosis."
“...There is no reason... and the truth is plain to see.”
Procol Harum, A Whiter Shade of Pale
FI: “Look, let me tell you about my kid. My kid went off to kindergarten and came home with an attention deficit disorder."
DA: “He might as well have, so did all the rest of them.”
FI: “But with the diagnosis, we were able to find out he sometimes gets distracted, sometimes doesn't pay attention, and sometimes bounces off the walls."
DA: “You needed a professional to tell you that? Sounds like a typical kindergartener to me.”
FI: “But then we knew he was different. We had it in writing. It was official. And then we were able to put him on some pretty powerful medications."
DA: “Did you read the label on the bottle? Were you aware of all the side effects to those meds?”
FI: “But you're missing the point. This diagnosis set the stage for the rest of his educational career - and the rest of his life! You see, with the ADHD diagnosis, we weren't surprised to hear he was failing behind academically in the first grade. In fact, we expected it! We planned for it. And because of that diagnosis we were able to start holding low expectations for hime and we continue to hold low expectations for him to this day. We knew right away not to expect anything good from him. And we weren't surprised when we heard he was diagnosed with a conduct disorder first thing in second grade because we were fortunate to have a clinical psychologist who explained to us that he wasn't a 'bad kid,' but that his behaviors were due to his ADHD. After that, we never really had to provide discipline in the home... you know, because these attention problems and behavior problems go hand-in-hand... there's a correlation. That's another reason that understanding these diagnosis is so important for parents. But the school was to blame from the very start. They knew he had attention difficulties and wouldn't provide the interventions he required. They just kept saying that now that he's been diagnosed by the mental health field as having ADHD, they know he just can't pay attention and trying to educate him would be different and not to expect much.
DA: “That's what I'm proposing here... provide interventions and services if necessary and appropriate... something more than just having these young children sit bored at the computer all day with only a diagnosis branded into their foreheads."
FI: “In all fairness, I have to point out that the teachers provided the same interventions for our son that they provided for the twenty-seven other ADHD students in the classroom, but he still got scolded a few times and was suspended for a day or two, irreparably harming his self esteem. Then he kind of withdrew from a lot of things... he just quietly sat there, appearing to listen - he even started turning in some work... some of it was high-quality stuff. He was almost like a normal child for awhile. That was when we became very concerned. Thankfully, a psychiatrist was able to help us understand that he had Asperger's Syndrome. I have to point out that we received great services that year. He got not one, but two diagnosis in second grade."
DA: “What did the schools do to address his Asperger's Syndrome?”
FI: “Well, they put him on a behavior plan. They gave him M&M's every time he raised his hand in class."
DA: “How did that work out?”
FI: “He got pretty fat that year. Thank goodness the schools identified his learning disability in his third grade year and he started special education."
DA: “How did that work out?”
FI: “He's still in special education, and it's worked out great. He had a second grade reading level when he started in second grade and by the end of his high school career, he had raised his reading level to the third grade level. But there's more I have to share about how psychological diagnosis has helped my kid. In fourth grade, an alert neuropsychologist gave him a test and recognized he had some strengths and weakness, kind of like a 'pattern,' you know, a chemical imbalance, a brain disorder. He was able to get our son on an even more intensive schedule of medications. He also received a CAT scan and MRIs.
DA: “I bet that's helped a lot. I'm just wondering what the CAT scan and MRIs showed."
FI: Nothing showed up on the CAT scans and MRIs but at least we were assured that his brain disorder was being addressed and we think that helped him get through the fourth grade year, at least until he was diagnosed with clinical depression. He was a pretty sad little kid that year once he found out he was officially sad with the new diagnosis. It didn't help that my wife and I were constantly fighting that whole year."
DA: “There was marital discord?”
FI: “It was a tough year. I pretty much was drinking every night, I was out carousing, sometimes I slapped my wife around..."
DA: “What did you do to help your son deal with all that family conflict?”
FI: “We got him on some more meds.”
DA: “Hopefully that helped?”
FI: “Oh, yes... he pretty much slept through most of those problems - man, he was doped up... he was on just about every medication known to humankind - he was like some Coke addict or something... like a zombie... completely whacked. It was pretty wild. I have to admit though, I wasn't prepared for his fifth grade year. Things were getting pretty chaotic by then. Thank goodness we found an advocate who was able to administer a myriad of tests and discovered that he had a bipolar disorder. You know, some good days and some bad days. It was a miracle we found her. My wife and I would have never survived that year without that diagnosis and prayer. We finally understood why he was having good and bad days - it was because of his bipolar disorder."
DA: “I'm glad the diagnosis was so helpful. Did things start to improve?”
FI: “Yeah, I'd say! His sixth grade year was spectacular! Probably his best year in education. You know, hormones and all. The mental health therapist said his problems were due to normal kid stuff... an adjustment disorder.
DA: “I don't understand... you said it was his best year ever, but he was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder?”
DA: “Well, okay, then.”
FI: “The seventh grade year. That's when the big time problems really began.”
DA: “Uh, oh. What happened?”
FI: “The new psychologist warned us about the possibility of an antisocial personality disorder emerging in the future. She said that, if he didn't begin attending school, behaving better, following the rules, and choosing to get his grades up, he might be diagnosed with APD. We tried to explain to her about his problems, but she didn't seem to understand. She inferred that he should start to make better choices and become more responsible. She said she would be happy to work with him in problem solving activities but whether he had labels or not, he might not graduate or might even end up in the criminal justice system if he didn't start changing his ways. She asked for our help as parents. We told her not to have high expectations because we didn't. She said if he had a difficult time paying attention, he at least needed to learn to better cope with it. She even worked with him in a few sessions using reality therapy."
DA: “So she actually offered him some positive choices? How did he respond?”
FI: “Oh, he stepped right up to the plate. He started attending regularly, got on the Principal's Honor Roll, and got himself off probation. They were even thinking of exiting him from special education for awhile. He batted .342 on the baseball team, made a lot of friends, and had a lot of fun."
DA: “So let me get this straight... the psychologist worked with him on his difficulties, accepted no excuses, treated him with respect and dignity, helped him to solve some problems, and encouraged him to make important decisions and better choices in his life, and challenged him to cast off his labels and diagnosis and instead pursue positive mental health and self-responsibility, thus, empowering him! In effect, your son was rejecting the concept of mental illness and was choosing to pursue mentally healthy pathways. That sounds great, and that's the approach I always use too!
“We got no choice... all the girls and boys.”
Alice Cooper, School's Out
FI: “Well, a behaviorist alerted us to the fact that such cognitive approaches don't work. It ended up being a horrible year. We hated that shrink. She had a lot of nerve taking away all we had worked so hard for. For the first time in our lives, we weren't sure what was wrong with our son."
DA: “But it sounds like there was some pretty good progress being made.”
FI: “Well, there was good progress at school for awhile, but you should have seen him at home. You know that shrink was so cruel as to suggest that I might be having some kind of a negative effect on my own son? She offered some suggestions on parenting techniques. Why do you shrinks always want to worry about people's home life - all you should worry about is what happens at school. You should mind your own business. She had the gall to suggest i should quit slapping my son around whenever he messed up."
DA: “Hmmmm, sounds like she had a lot of nerve.”
FI: “Like I say, we never liked her. We had to get things back under control, so in the eighth grade year we got him out of baseball, away from the other kids who were influencing him, and we hired a private practitioner. It was expensive, but she was able to help. She diagnosed a Parent-Child Relationship problem."
DA: “How did that help?”
FI: “Well, we paid a lot of money so we know it was the right diagnosis. Plus, it helped us, as parents, understand he was an out-of-control teenager and we needed to take immediate action."
DA: “What action did you take?”
FI: “We grounded him for life.”
DA: “Whoa! That's pretty severe.”
FI: “Well, he needed it! By then his ADHD was pretty intense. He just wouldn't listen to his parents, especially after we took away baseball and grounded him for life. A behavior specialist was able to come into the house and set up a complete token economy and a step program where every aspect of his life was controlled. She called it 'milleau therapy,' kind of like what Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys benefitted from."
DA: “Was that pretty expensive?”
FI: “Oh no, the school paid for it all. It was about $75,000 per year throughout high school, but not to worry, the taxpayers covered it."
DA: “Did it work?”
FI: “It didn't work at all, in fact, we all spent a lot of time sitting around and laughing about it all - a little grounding, restriction, tough love, and constant spanking never even phased him."
DA: “Was there any good that ever came out of it?”
FI: “Oh yes, definitely! I was learning a lot about how the mental health system works. I was able to invest in some Big Pharma stocks and i must say I'm doing great financially."
DA: “Wow! Any other positives?"
FI: “Yeah, it made him eligible for SSI; he's covered for life.”
DA: “Well, I'm anxious to hear about how the remaining three years of his high school career went.”
FI: “I need to take a moment to point out how appreciative I am of the services my son received throughout his education. Thankfully, a psychologist, psychiatrist, MSW, advocate, mental health therapist, behaviorist, counselor, and outside practitioners have always been there for him every year and with only a few exceptions, we've received every diagnosis we've needed to reach our goals for him."
DA: “What are your goals?”
FI: “Don't be an idiot! Our goals are the same as all other parents - we love our son and we want only the best for him... we want him to be successful and to be able to pursue his dreams, goals, and happiness."
DA: “Well, I'm anxious to hear how he's doing now, but I also want to hear about his last three years in high school.”
FI: “Well, in his sophomore year he was diagnosed as mildly autistic. We had never even suspected that one - what a bonus! We knew he had Aspergers but the therapist told us that disability had been invented and was going to be disinvented in the new DSM and that we should be proactive and just, um, call it mild autism. That diagnosis was so beneficial because that's when we first started to realize we could make some pretty good bucks out of this. I mean some really great bucks. His Junior year was pretty exciting too, with the new diagnosis of a, um, a little sexual sadism. It's a long story but the bottom line is they tried to expel him, but you know, that can't ever happen because, given his mild autism, he's not responsible for his own actions... he can do whatever he wants! Heh, heh. See how important and powerful these diagnosis are? i still don't know where you're coming from... without these diagnosis, he probably would have gone to boot camp and there would be some touchy-feely shrink there trying to encourage him to make better choices, to become a 'better' citizen. Hah! Plus, my wife and I would have probably had to pay some money to the victims."
DA: “Uh, okay, what about his senior year? You said it was good too.”
FI: “It was great. By then we had all we needed. Since he had all these diagnosis and the school had never cured him, his district paid for four years of college for my son... you know, compensatory education. It was great and it remains great."
DA: “So you won a big lawsuit?”
FI: “No, I didn't... this isn't about me, you still don't get it. This is about my son! He won the big lawsuit. By then he was eighteen. It was his life, his education, his suffering. My cut of the take went solely to cover my efforts during his first eighteen years."
DA: "So the taxpayers are paying for your son's education? I'm assuming he continues to have some struggles?"
FI: “Of course... Adult ADD. Haven't you been listening? And you know, the college better be careful because they're already not really providing all he needs. My wife and I are thinking we might need to sue them too because they are discriminating against my son's equal opportunity to be a theoretical astrophysicist. They don't want to accept D's and F's in his classes as reasonable accommodations. They simply don't understand these grades are due to his Adult ADD."
DA: “Well, I'm glad to hear he's at least made the choice to stay out of the legal system.”
FI: “Well, not actually. He's been working on his college education through the prison system... he's serving a five to ten year sentence."
DA: “You're going to sue the prison's educational system?”
“My head is spinning...”
Rob Grill, Grass Roots, Temptation Eyes
FI: “Who's interviewing who here? They're not accommodating his special needs.”
DA: “I'm really sorry to hear he's in prison. What's he in for, if you don't mind me asking?”
FI: “It's not what he did... it's why he did it. He did it because, like I said, he has a diagnosed um, a, bit of sexual sadism and a few, you know, addictions, a diagnosed substance abuse disorder. He got pretty hooked on a lot of these meds they gave him through the years."
DA: “This may sound harsh, but maybe he can learn some important life lessons through natural and logical consequences? Maybe he'll learn not to make similar choices once he gets released."
FI: “This isn't about learning and responsibility and being a good citizen.”
DA: “I guess I'm confused. What is it about?”
FI: “You are confused all right. If you can't even figure that out, you ought to find a new profession. All I can say is thank goodness my son received early psychological diagnosis. Things could've turned out really bad for him without all that prevention, without all those RtI behavioral interventions."
DA: “Uh, yeah. That's good.”
FI: “At the present, he's been struggling with visual and auditory hallucinations. That hasn't helped. The prison's clinical psychologist is evaluating and should be able to forward a diagnosis soon."
DA: “Like you said, maybe the hallucinations are the result of years of Ritalin use?”
FI: “Are you diagnosing that?”
DA: “No, no... just thinking out loud.”
FI: “Okay, let's wrap this up. Can you give me one good reason why psychological diagnosis should be removed from public education? Just one good reason?"
DA: “Gee, I guess I can't really think of any right now.”
“I wish you'd help me escape, help me get away - far away from this masquerade...”
Three Dog Night, The Show Must Go On
FI: “So pick yourself up, get back on your feet, quit whining, and get back to your job. There are a lot of kids out there just like my son. Kids who need that ADHD label so they can progress into their futures. Is there anything else you have to say?"
DA: “No, but you have inspired me. I think I'm going to make a new goal for myself this coming school year. School psychologists don't diagnose ADHD because that's a psychiatric, um, diagnosis but I bet, if I work hard enough, I can diagnose every kid in school with something."
FI: “Go for it! The kids need you.”
DA: “Thank you, as always, it's been my privilege.”
“We knew right away not to expect anything good from him..”
This resource is intended solely to encourage us all to continue to think about what we do.
This resource is not meant to be insensitive to anyone who struggles with real disabilities or those who diagnose and help humans with real disabilities.
This resource is directed toward those who misdiagnose humans with invented disabilities to make money. You know who you are.
UPDATE (July 27th, 2019). This resource was originally authored in 2005, fourteen years ago as the writing was on the wall even back then. This movement to bring mental health into the schools (link coming soon) has been going on for quite awhile and in 2019 we are increasingly seeing the effects. Some studies (link coming soon) suggest that up to 20% of high school boys have been diagnosed with ADHD (and that's just the tip of the iceberg). I tried to warn you. You asked for Trump and you got him. You asked for more mental health in the schools and now you got it. Some districts have hired Marriage and Familiy Therapists (MFTs), clinical social workers, school counselors, behavioral coaches, and other DSM providers to be located on site! And almost all districts contract with local mental health clinics so that the full range of psychiatric, mental health, and therapeutic DSM services (which may include medications, psychosurgery, and/or brain stimulation) are always just a second away. I guess a lot of you must believe that's a good thing, but be careful what you ask for.
Drop Psych Diagnosis © 2005-12, 2019 Donald J. Asbridge, Ed.S. Bakersfield, CA USA Some rights reserved.