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Coming soon: a rapid increase in diagnosed learning disabilities

January 3, 2012

I’ve read before that the number of kids diagnosed as learning disabled (one way or another) has increased rapidly over the last couple decades. My usual amount (5 minutes) of internet research didn’t turn up a lot, but have a look at this (emphasis in the original):

Jane Healy, in her book “Endangered Minds”, investigated the rise of ABC disorders. She found both overdiagnosis and overmedication, but nevertheless identified this as a real problem that is getting progressively worse.

She evaluated standardized test scores for 4th graders, comparing the 1960s to 1980s, and noted a huge decrease in the difficulty of the tests. Despite this, scores decreased during this period, and continue to do so, particularly in measurements of language skills and cognitive abilities.

  • In NYC, there is a 55% increase in Learning Disability diagnoses from 1983-1996.
  • California reported Autism diagnoses increased by 210% from 1987-1998
  • other states have shown 1000% increases.
  • In 2000, 1 in 6 kids fall into the ABC spectrum
  • 1 in 10 kids have some form of affective disorder.

I’m not commenting on whether these diagnoses are correct or not. Not my call, nor should it be. But I will note that everyone involved seems to have an incentive to find a positive diagnosis.

And now we come to Bruce McQuain, who asks:

Is being a slacker now a disability?

He links this story:

…Employers are facing more uncertainty in the wake of a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warning them that requiring a high school diploma from a job applicant might violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Requiring actual credentials…that’s un-American!

This isn’t a law, mind you. Nor a regulation. It’s just an “informal discussion letter,” which I take it lies somewhere between “thinking out loud” and a “meaningful nudge.”

Still. You can’t require a high school diploma? The EEOC may not be aware of this, but even learning disabled students manage to graduate. No, really. It’s true*.

Some don’t, I’m sure. I’m also sure that many students who aren’t learning disabled also fail to graduate.

But wait a minute – if I’m interpreting this correctly, then an employer can require a high school diploma if you dropped out due to your own laziness or incompetence or circumstances. If you’re not diagnosed learning disabled, good luck getting a job, loser!

Which means: if you’re a high school dropout, or you think you might become one, then get yourself diagnosed.

Makes me wonder how one gets credentialed for making that diagnosis, and how much one could charge. Because I’m envisioning a franchise of 15-minute-diagnosis storefronts – satisfaction guaranteed! Maybe we could just set up kiosks in shopping malls.

Next stop: forcing insurance companies to pay for it!

* I’m sure there’s a bowling joke in here somewhere.

11 Comments
  1. January 3, 2012 9:02 pm

    OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I read that book when it first came out. I’ve been trying to remember her name and the title for at least A YEAR!!!! Maybe even TWO years!!!

    I LOVE YOU!!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    BTW – both my husband and I have studied brain development extensively and Jane is dead on with her assessments. .

  2. January 3, 2012 9:05 pm

    And the first publication was in 1991…

    Did I say thank you??

  3. January 3, 2012 9:10 pm

    Granted that there is a problem with over diagnoses, especially among children, but your dismissive attitude towards people with disabilities is rather vulgar and I would strongly encourage you to rephrase things.

  4. January 3, 2012 9:11 pm

    Hubby says thank you. too (but refuses to say he loves you.)

    May I say thank you again?? Of course I can. Doing the happy dance ;-)

  5. January 3, 2012 9:13 pm

    Capper – Lance is not being “dismissive”, he’s being realistic and speaking the truth.

  6. January 3, 2012 9:19 pm

    Adrienne – No, he is being rude to those who have genuine disabilities and he needs to address it. That kind of prejudice does not play well and is very offensive. And having loved ones with disabilities and having worked in the human services field for more than twenty years, I can tell the difference between genuine disabilities and malingerers.

  7. January 3, 2012 9:43 pm

    Capper – he was only being speaking the truth about malingerers. I saw no evidence of him picking on truly disabled people.

    For one thing, I don’t approve of things such as ADD being called “disabilities.” It’s not a disability – it’s simply a different way of learning. If they quit pumping these kids full of drugs and teach them in the correct way, there would be way fewer problems. The fact is that most ADD children have a very high IQ and to label them “disabled” is perverse.

    I have adult ADD and don’t consider myself one teeny tiny bit “disabled.” I consider myself blessed. I have taught many, many ADD children and have had marvelous results without the use of stimulant drugs. And I taught in a private school with standards vastly higher than any public school.

    It is to the schools benefit to diagnose as many “disabilities” as they can because of the increase in federal and state money.

    The only young people that are not able to honestly acquire a high school degree, particularly considering the low standards of the average government-run high school. are ones who are so disabled they would be what we used to call “retarded” and is still called that for matters of school reporting.

  8. January 3, 2012 9:52 pm

    Then you should also be aware that ADHD and ADD come in various degrees of severity.

    And for the record, my loved one, who also has ADHD was socially graduated through a private school with the supposed higher standards and given a full diploma even though they only have a third degree reading and math skill. And it’s only at that level after receiving further education at a public tech college.

    It would seem to me that your issue with this subject is more personal than objective. And your last paragraph shows your limited understanding of all the sorts of disabilities there are.

    For example, there are variations in autism that also have very level of IQs, but there inability to process all aspects of life prevents them from performing up to the falsely and arbitrary expectations.

  9. January 3, 2012 11:37 pm

    Oh. Please…

  10. January 4, 2012 8:48 am

    Adrienne, you’re very welcome. What are the odds, huh? My lazy research habits actually scored one.

    Capper, there’s no dismissiveness here. You’re pre-inclined to believe the worst in any post I write, no matter what. If I’m being dismissive at all, it’s of this bureaucratic nonsense. The first article I linked discusses the incentives everyone has to over-diagnose. I’m simply extrapolating along normal human nature and predicting that this kind of crap will create even more incentive.

  11. January 4, 2012 9:15 am

    The question of BFOQ is very pertinent, and legitimate, however.

Comments are closed.

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