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Reading the labelling carefully
My concern for the mislabelling or intentional labelling of developmental issues as illness, especially in children, has been mounting with my increased interaction with parents and students over the last three years. And, even as I was contemplating writing on childhood mental health care, a parent brought up another situation that piqued me, confirming there is much that needs to be said on the subject. I’m particularly peeved and exceptionally nervous about self-diagnosing, and self-medicating. But moreover, I loathe when those charged with educating our children rush to make suggestions to the panic of parents who are less informed. It began with a school principal saying that she thought a particular child was autistic. She described him as extremely polite, caring, and super-talented and decided to send for him so I could witness an exchange between them. It was a brilliant idea. I met the pre-teen and having had opportunity to closely examine the indications of autism in recent years, was struck immediately by how obviously “un-autistic “ the child appeared. Before he left the room he extemporised two verses on his respect and affection for the principal, then politely asked to be excused. He then turned to me and said, “It was a pleasure meeting you Miss Caroline.”
Of course this boy was different but I could not pin it down, and being careful about labelling, I tactfully suggested to the principal that she look up some information on autism and autistic children. I began thinking that while it was important that we had as much information and access as we do today, it begs more responsibility on the part of everyone using the information so as not to skew the perspective of a child, parent, teacher, minister, employer, about normal growing-up issues. There has been a much-criticised trend with the disapproval taking the trajectory towards the American Psychiatric Association (APA) the publishers of what many deem the Psych bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The last version of the manual DSM-5 was published in 2013. One of the common criticisms of the DSM is that “it is part of a wider reshaping of our understanding of what it means to be human: the pathologising of everyday experiences.”