3 year olds will get mental health checks – how can this be good?

In category In The News

There has been an announcement this week that 3 year olds will get mental health checks. “Things that they are looking for are autism spectrum disorder which is a broad base multi area problem, behavioural sensory and communication issues, depression and anxiety”

The responses have been fairly predictable. There are the Aspergers-believers and their service providers applauding the move, and there are the people who just have a gut feeling that it’s not right. “Let children be children”, they say. Of course, neither side will influence the other.

Here’s a link to the story…
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-06-10/preschoolers-to-get-voluntary-mental-health-checks/4062566

and another story critical of the move…
US psychiatrist calls Australia’s screening of 3 year olds ridiculous
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-06-11/us-psychiatrist-calls-australias-screening-of-3/4064390

While Professor Allen Frances is, in my opinion, quite right, his views will also make little difference.

This funding announcement is an indication of the power of the Aspergers lobby. It is more powerful and more organised than any religious cult. It has gurus making their pronouncements to the faithful, it has the second level of disciples, spreading the word, publishing websites, writing books, running support groups, lobbying government for services and funding. And it has the flock – harried parents, usually mothers, and many adult “Aspie’s”. There is no real science involved, this is a faith-based movement which gives comfort by offering a reassuring way of interpreting the world.

I first became aware of the religious nature of the movement when I attended an information evening in suburban Brisbane many years ago as part of a research project. The audience was made up of parents. The speaker was an accomplished and persuasive speaker – one of the gurus of the Aspergers movement. As the talk went on, the women edged further and further forward in their chairs drawing in every word. There were smiles of recognition and nods of agreement as we went through one anecdote after another about dealing with these strange children. There were laughs at the jokes including the old one about universities being sheltered workshops for people with Aspergers. And there were the occasional “see” glances at their partners.

Some men I noticed had a very different reaction. They were leaning back in their chairs, arms crossed, faces like masks. Only once in my life I have felt an atmosphere like that – at a Billy Graham evangelical event at the old Lang Park. At both events, I felt totally unmoved yet intrigued. Evangelists are like that – you either fall under their spell or you watch with bemusement, wariness and sometimes embarrassment.

Since then, the Aspergers movement has strengthened as the number of diagnoses has increased. For a politician to challenge them would be like taking on the Australian Christian Lobby… x 10. They are a large group of people who believe that they have truth on their side. Furthermore at the bottom level, they have distressed parents trying to do the best for their children and a great need for that truth to be real. So, of course they will get the funding and it wouldn’t matter which political party was in power.

So what are we to do? We could just let this run its course and hope that some good or at least not too much harm is done to the children. I think this has been happening for some time with the Aspergers movement because non-believers know that questioning the faith will be seen as a hostile attack. I think it is time to stop tiptoeing around the feelings of individuals and start examining the industry of products, services, service providers and the careers behind it.

It is quite possible to debate the Aspergers Syndrome theories without dismissing the pain and distress that people feel.

It is quite possible to question the explanations put forward by the proponents of the theory while accepting the reality of the individual experiences.

At least it is possible to have such debates if you expect the theory to be scientific and logical.

The discourse has been claimed by psychologists – let’s take it back and examine whether the problems experienced by these children, their parents and their teachers should be addressed within frameworks other than psychology and mental health.

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