Thursday, November 29, 2007

Please Don't Label My Client

Last week I caught a portion of an NPR show called The Parents Journal which featured Dr. Scott Shannon, author of Please Don't Label My Child. The book's subtitle gets closer to its real point: "Break the Doctor-Diagnosis-Drug Cycle and Discover Safe, Effective Choices for Your Child's Emotional Health"

At first I thought this was another John Rosemond wannabe, simplifying a complex problem into a simple solution and who was probably more of a political commentator than a true child advocate. But I was wrong. It was a story he told that convinced me he was truly onto something. I haven't read the book, but the story reminded me of a lot of delinquents who have their symptoms treated but sometimes aren't able to address the root of their problems.

Dr. Shannon described a child being referred to him who was exhibiting a lot of behavior problems in school. After diagnosing him as something along the lines of "oppositional defiant" the doctor prescribed mood stabilizing drugs and the kid's behaviors improved greatly. End of story? Nope, not quite.

Shortly thereafter the kid disclosed ongoing sexual abuse, meaning that the behaviors weren't organic, but were more like a pool ball responding to being struck, repeatedly, by an outside source. In "numbing" the child's behaviors rather than getting to the root of them, the doctor was confusing causes and effects, and perhaps allowing the continuance of an abusive situation for a young child.

So that's what brought the book about. It reminded me of the juvenile delinquency client who disclosed to me that he'd been sexually abused by an older relative. Until we learned this, we treated the symptoms without realizing that they were responses to abuse and not manifestations of delinquency.

I haven't read the book yet, but I wonder how many other kids are "treated" this way: comfortably numbed and blamed, even sent back to abusive situations when the focus is on them and not on the source of the behavior.

Medication can be miraculous, but it can also be an easy way out for doctors, judges, attorneys and providers. Like Juvenile Detention Centers, it's probably overused, becoming the default treatment when the bureaucracy fails to get to the root of a kid's problem.

Along those same lines, Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice links to a link to a New York Post OpEd by an autistic man suffered from a system that tried to make him be "normal" when he was simply misunderstood. An excerpt:

"My isolation, combined with a longstanding rift I had with my family, led to severe depression by age 9, which went undiscovered until I was 14 or so. Unable to express my emotions, I was placed in outpatient therapy for four years, which was enough to allow me to see my existence as valid. In all, I'd say that part of my life wouldn't have happened if I were better understood and wasn't persuaded that I was diseased, disordered or sick and in need of a cure.

Parents, educators and others who work with autistic people should take these words to heart, and continue to do all they can to work with autistic kids and teens, rather than trying to make them normal."

1 comment:

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