Misdiagnosis Happens, Really

Usually when you read about misdiagnosis in psychiatry it means that someone who was previously diagnosed with unipolar depressive disorder has come to be re-diagnosed a bipolar disorder sufferer. Okay, replace unipolar depressive disorder with ADHD, and that happens, too. Seldom is the consideration ever made that maybe there aren’t so many things wrong with your diagnosed patient as might have been thought prior to diagnosis. This fact can make de-diagnosing, or recovery, all the more precarious because it often depends on the former patient’s opinion coming into sharp conflict with medical advice.

In a New York Times opinion piece, I Had Asperger Syndrome. Briefly., you get another side of this story. Asperger Sydrome is one of those things people are supposed to be stuck with for life. Either he had it, and he still has it, or he never had it in the first place, but, of course, in the collective consciousness, yes, we have the evidence.

There’s an educational video from that time, called “Understanding Asperger’s,” in which I appear. I am the affected 20-year-old in the wannabe-hipster vintage polo shirt talking about how keen his understanding of literature is and how misunderstood he was in fifth grade. The film was a research project directed by my mother, a psychology professor and Asperger specialist, and another expert in her department. It presents me as a young man living a full, meaningful life, despite his mental abnormality.

Do you mean shrinks make mistakes? That just can’t be. Think of the repercussions. Think of where so many of us loony birds would be if that was true. That’s right, false is the correct answer. Flying free is the idiom.

The thing is, after college I moved to New York City and became a writer and met some people who shared my obsessions, and I ditched the Forsterian narrator thing, and then I wasn’t that awkward or isolated anymore. According to the diagnostic manual, Asperger syndrome is “a continuous and lifelong disorder,” but my symptoms had vanished.

Oh oh.

Perhaps the APA has reasons for wanting to narrow the diagnostic criteria for autism in the DSM-5.

But my experience can’t be unique. Under the rules in place today, any nerd, any withdrawn, bookish kid, can have Asperger syndrome.

I would suggest that Asperger diagnostic mistakes are only the tip of the misdiagnostic iceberg. It is quite conceivable that a great number of people psychiatrically labeled today have much less seriously wrong with them than the doctor thought. Considering the present epidemic in “mental illness” labeling that we are enduring, this is good news indeed. One thing more, if you think you could be one of the people so mislabeled, by all means, don’t let your psychiatrist know that you’re onto him or her. Doctors have been known to be hypersensitive, arrogant, unforgiving and vengeful. There is a world beyond psychiatry, and hopefully this insight you have made will help you arrive at that world.