School Identification of Autism: Over-Identification

Journalists report significant public debate and awareness over the growing numbers of children identified medically as autistic.  In the 1940s of course the condition was just being discovered and therefore was under-identified in U. S. schools.  Now school psychologists, speech-language pathologists and special educators must fight through all the issues mentioned in the press.  The implication is that autism is now being over-identified in U. S. schools.  A recent conference reported out the following:

“Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are estimated to occur among about 1% of children in the U.S. This is in line with estimates from other industrialized countries. However, the identified prevalence of ASDs has increased significantly in a short time period based on data from multiple studies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM)”

Network (  / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  Tom Harkin Global Communications Center | 1600 Clifton Road, N.E. | Atlanta, Georgia

Right now identification is being driven by medical diagnostic theories and protocols, a confound for proper special education identification in schools.  The use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, sets up a conflict of epistemology as to school special education placement decisions.

Epistemology  is “… the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity…” A question is whether “…the primary task of epistemology is to provide justifications for broad categories of knowledge claim or merely to describe what kinds of things are known and how that knowledge is acquired.”  Merriam-Webster online.

Diagnosis based solely on medical criteria is invalid for educational decisions for reasons we have pointed out routinely (i.e., diagnostic “dualism”*).  Not all autistic individuals  qualify for special education, and some succeed at post-secondary institutions.

Medical diagnosis can be a negative factor in a child’s life because of the high respect educators and parents have for medical personnel.  The risks are:

1.  The child is  automatically put in special education based on medical criteria only;

2. The nature of the placement as to least restrictive environment and intensity is distorted for optimal learning until high school graduation;

3. The child receives the social stigma of the labels “special education pupil” and “autism;”

4. Instruction is less demanding when special education placements are made;

5. Isolated instruction reduces opportunities for social communication, a featural deficit of autism.

6. Autistic pupils are often retained indefinitely in special education whether assistance is needed or not;

7. Expectations for high school graduation are reduced by special education status.

8. Medical diagnosticians do not follow through on the long-term educational implications of medical diagnosis, such as attending yearly IEP meetings.

9. Medical assessments do not include “dynamic assessment” in the vein of Response to Intervention.

Astute parents often learn that their autism spectrum children can do things the experts didn’t predict.

*”In philosophy of minddualism is the assumption that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical,[1] or that the mind and body are not identical.[2] Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and is contrasted with other positions, such asphysicalism, in the mind–body problem.[1][2]”  Wikipedia   

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  • Epistemological Foundation  On August 11, 2014 at 9:25 am

    I usually do not write a comment, however after reading a few of the remarks on this page School Identification of Autism: Over-Identification | School Speech Pathology Blog.
    I do have some questions for you if you tend not to mind.
    Could it be just me or does it give the impression like a few of the responses come across like they are coming from brain dead visitors?
    😛 And, if you are posting on additional social sites, I
    would like to keep up with everything fresh you have to post.
    Would you list of all of all your shared sites like your twitter feed, Facebook
    page or linkedin profile?

    • schoolspeechpathology  On August 11, 2014 at 10:10 am

      I work at understanding “awareness.” It is often mentioned as a factor in education, and “training” is thought to be a remedy for low awareness. We do no know enough of our cultural history to understand what we see. For example, why are so many boys placed in special education in American schools? I can point out this fact and make teachers aware but nothing comes of it. Thanks for your interest. I do not try to use many outlets. I think that is more of a marketing concept than a knowledge concept.

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