Hyderabad: Are parents looking for excuses for their perfectly normal children underperforming in school? Psychologists and psychiatrists say there is an over diagnosis of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, and that in some cases, this is because parents are looking to pin the poor academic performance of their children on these conditions.
Dr Pragya Rashmi, consultant psychologist, explained, “Autism is no longer a disorder but a spectrum of diseases. There are proper guidelines issued by the government of India which have to be followed (to diagnose the condition) diagnosis is a challenge. It is a communication disorder and to diagnose it in a child as early as two years of age is difficult. Highly aware parents come to us but not every case is that of autism. They are also over-anxious parents.”
Autism can be defined only after 3.7 years of age. Earlier than that are those cases which come with very high range of disorders where the normal functionality of day to day basis like talking properly, seeing and engaging only in one set of playing can be a cause of concern.
Dr I. Bharat Kumar Reddy, consultant psychiatrist at Apollo Hospitals says that when, during the school admission process children are found to be autistic or have learning disabilities like dyslexia, the parents are not willing to talk about it.
“It is only when the report cards are not good that they open up. But there is a difference between those who genuinely suffer from the problem and those being goaded to do well in academics.”
“There are children who are good in art, sports, dance or other forms of learning but parents are inclined only towards academics and their over expectations are not met in the report cards,” Dr Reddy says.
He adds that in senior classes, parents often look for a medical solution for their child’s under performance and that is when they get them diagnosed with a developmental disorder. That way the parent has an excuse for maybe not doing enough for the child.
There is another and more unsavoury reason for the large number of ADHD diagnoses. The special medication prescribed for ADHD syndrome is a lucrative market for doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
A senior psychologist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “One of the major reasons for over diagnosis of ADHD is that apart from the hyper activity of the child, there is a section of doctors who prescribe these medicines and push up the sales. “The child’s behaviour is controlled - less aggression and fewer remarks from school about bad behaviour.”
He adds, this makes a lot of difference at home and parents are happy. To add to this, there is behaviour counselling for six months after the course of medication of two to three months. This does not mean that the underlying condition does not exist.
Psychiatrist Dr Srinivas Kandrakonda says, “We are seeing this particular set of behaviour in parents in the affluent and upper middle class. “There are two reasons: either the child is missing the parents as they are not around, or, whenever they are around, they only want to see a particular kind of behaviour which they approve of. “Due to these norms, the child does what they don’t like and that lands them in the clinic.”
When children are interviewed on their own, they open up about missing time with their parents, and how they are pushed too much into academics, how they are goaded all the time and lectured about how their peers are so hard working and doing so well. The comparison with peers irritates children and they often become aggressive or hyperactive, or shy away and keep to themselves.
Benefits students will get from school and education board
- Dyslexia is diagnosed through tests in government hospitals. The condition permits a child 20 minutes more for writing exams in CBSE/ ICSE/ state board.
- From this year, a coach will be given to write the papers.
- The certificate of dyslexia is given after evaluation by a government psychiatrist who conducts the tests.
- A child identified as having ADHD gets treated differently by teachers and staff.
- There will be a counselling session rather than the usual punishment of kneeling down or standing outside the class for bad behaviour.
- Consideration is also given in internal assessments and other activities in school.
- Children with more severe forms of autism are better off in special schools.
- Results take at least four months to conclude this is a learning disorder.
- Low-intensity autism is handled by giving extra writing time for exams.
- But it is done only after evaluation by counsellors at a hospital and also counsellors at the school level.
- In the higher grades, if the child fails to cope or perform, he or she may be asked to shift to a special school.
- Their condition is more visible and they require different sets of training both at mental and physical level.