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A veteran clinical psychologist exposes why doctors, teachers, and parents incorrectly diagnose healthy American children with serious psychiatric conditions.
In recent years there has been an alarming rise in the number of American children and youth assigned a mental health diagnosis. Current data from the Centers for Disease Control reveal a 41 percent increase in rates of ADHD diagnoses over the past decade and a forty-fold spike in bipolar disorder diagnoses. Similarly, diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, once considered, has increased by 78 percent since 2002.
Dr. Enrico Gnaulati, a clinical psychologist specializing in childhood and adolescent therapy and assessment, has witnessed firsthand the push to diagnose these disorders in youngsters. Drawing both on his own clinical experience and on cutting-edge research, with Back to Normal he has written the definitive account of why our kids are being dramatically overdiagnosed—and how parents and professionals can distinguish between true psychiatric disorders and normal childhood reactions to stressful life situations.
Gnaulati begins with the complex web of factors that have led to our current crisis. These include questionable education and training practices that cloud mental health professionals’ ability to distinguish normal from abnormal behavior in children, monetary incentives favoring prescriptions, check-list diagnosing, and high-stakes testing in schools. We’ve also developed an increasingly casual attitude about labeling kids and putting them on psychiatric drugs.
So how do we differentiate between a child with, say, Asperger’s syndrome and a child who is simply introverted, brainy, and single-minded? As Gnaulati notes, many of the symptoms associated with these disorders are similar to everyday childhood behaviors. In the second half of the book Gnaulati tells detailed stories of wrongly diagnosed kids, providing parents and others with information about the developmental, temperamental, and environmentally driven symptoms that to a casual or untrained eye can mimic a psychiatric disorder. These stories also reveal how nonmedical interventions, whether in the therapist’s office or through changes made at home, can help children.
Back to Normal reminds us of the normalcy of children’s seemingly abnormal behavior. It will give parents of struggling children hope, perspective, and direction. And it will make everyone who deals with children question the changes in our society that have contributed to the astonishing increase in childhood psychiatric diagnoses.
This well-documented work by clinical psychologist Gnaulti explores children's seemingly abnormal behavior behavior whose causes are often incorrectly attributed to psychiatric disorders. Perplexed parents and teachers will find helpful information about such behavior, helping them to distinguish between ADHD, ASD, and bipolar disorder, and allowing them to determine when kids are suffering from these disorders and when they are simply on different developmental schedules. Children are increasingly analyzed and diagnosed as early as toddlerhood; the upshot is an epidemic of misdiagnosis, Gnaulti argues, giving children lifelong labels instead of understanding. Each chapter provides case studies and anecdotes describing different approaches to psychological evaluation and treatment. Is a five-year-old who seeks autonomy in kindergarten hyperactive or gifted? Is a preteen who doesn't pay attention in class and is easily angered bipolar or slow to mature? And is a brainy, willful, adolescent introvert autistic or unchallenged academically? Gnaulti warns that the goal of medicating children should not be to make them docile and help them achieve good grades. He explains why kids act out and the consequences of such behavior. The final chapter, titled "Parenting Tips," describes roles, rules, and responsibilities that can empower parents and professionals to affect remedial action. This book is a welcome antidote to an alarming trend.