From 20 years of serving as a clinical, forensic and talent development psychologist, I have evaluated over a 1,000 people. I have found the following 5 conditions are the most often misdiagnosed. After discussing these five conditions I give you tactical advice so you can avoid being misdiagnosed.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): This is because ADHD simply means you have trouble focusing or you have trouble containing your energy. What looks like ADHD is often due to anxiety, unidentified trauma, lack of student to educational environment fit, or autism. Because those with autism tend to become preoccupied with narrow areas of interest, they overfocus on a few areas and tend to be uninterested in other areas. Thus, they look like they have ADHD but their inattentiveness is actually due to narrow preoccupation.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): This is because those with socially awkward presentations are too quickly diagnosed with autism. Cutting edge behavioral scientists are recognizing there are actually many different types of neuro-diversity, and autism is only one of many. One of the most impressive books to discuss this is entitled NeuroTribes, which was a New York Times bestseller. Secondly, often individuals have some qualities that are reminiscent of autism but simply indicate the person is socially delayed or highly introverted.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is because this condition indicates one worries significantly, but when closely inspected this is often due to factors including problems with adjusting to a significant life event, focusing, insomnia, or unidentified trauma.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD): I call this diagnosis the lazy diagnosis. Many non-psychologically trained professionals diagnose those this when a child has a significant pattern of not listening to their parents. When children are diagnosed with this condition I have rarely ended up validating that diagnosis with my second opinion. Rather, the vast majority of time I find there are specific factors driving the oppositional behavior including poor parenting tactics, lack of parental firmness, anger management problems, or simply a strong-willed child who is being pathologized.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): Often when people are diagnosed with depression it is because the underlying issue is long-term anxiety that was never dealt with. Also, depression is often the result of trauma that was never identified or reported to anybody. I have also often found depression can be due to a variety of medical factors that no one took the time to evaluate. Finally, many people who suffer from low mood, after improving their lifestyle, improve significantly and no longer look depressed. Thus, there never needed to be a diagnosis, but rather, there just needed to be a lifestyle change.
How to avoid being misdiagnosed
The vast majority of behavioral health assessments are what I call drive-by, shallow assessments. See my deeper discussion of how generic diagnosis falls far short of what you need when the problems are emotional, behavioral or learning related. You can prevent wasting money on shallow evaluations by reading my blog for signs of great psychological assessment. You can also use my blog 12 questions to ask your counselor, therapist or mentor you’re considering seeing to know how to interview a potential behavioral health professional.
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Why you might want to have your child assess for giftedness this summer
Listen to interview of Dr. Brunner or talk about what great psychological assessment can do for you