In the effort to help our children negotiate today’s challenging academic environments, parents and teachers have become vigilant in their observations and analyses of children’s school performance, particularly where there is evidence of some deficit or perceived disparity between performance and potential. These two factors: academic rigor and parental vigilance, in combination with any real increase in the frequency of deficits and differences (which is not debated in this article), yields diagnoses for upward of 15% of all children. Maybe your child, too, has been given such a diagnosis. If so, now what?
The Academic Environment
Among engaged parents who are able to provide a “best” education for their children, the pursuit of academic excellence has become a passion. Many communities have demanded increased academic standards, and the schools have complied, raising the stakes for our children.
Opinions vary as to whether today’s schools are easier or more difficult than those of the past. While standards vary from school to school both then and now, it is clear that both public and private schools in my community require more from children, sooner, than did the excellent public school of my own childhood. The trend of “holding back” before first grade, especially for boys, is in my opinion strongly related to increased expectations in the classroom. Since today’s first grade is very similar to yesteryear’s second grade, and today’s senior year to yesterday’s first or second year of college, it’s no wonder parents hold back their kids, especially those who do not appear to be “natural students.”
But what if your child has already reached third grade, fifth, or ninth, and there’s a problem? Your obviously intelligent child is struggling, and available helps are not addressing the need. Enter psychoeducational testing and, with it, diagnoses such as dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, visual processing disorder, and auditory processing disorder, to name only a very few. The CDC reported in 2015 that about 15% of children ages 3-17 had been diagnosed with one or more developmental disorders. In addition, diagnoses of developmental disabilities had increased by 17.1% from 1997 – 2008, autism by almost 300%, and ADHD by 30%. Science Daily reported that in 2011, the percentage of ADHD-diagnosed children, at 12%, represented a 43% increase within eight years.
Some argue that these numbers (at least those for ADD/ADHD) represent overdiagnosis in order to assure conformation (through medication) of students to teachers’ behavioral and parents’ academic expectations. In any case it is clear that increasing academic expectations have made keeping up more difficult for more children. Even if the incidence of educational deficits has increased (and not only their diagnoses), it cannot be denied that the rigorous academic environments into which we place our children make such deficits more evident. The same child who functions perfectly well in nonacademic environments may stand out in the classroom like a sore thumb, and now there is a diagnosis to explain why.