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 Under the rules in place today, any nerd, any withdrawn, bookish kid, can have Asperger syndrome.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.

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2 Responses

  1. One of the reasons I think the shrinks wanted to remove Asperger Syndrome from the DSM is that the people who are diagnosed with it are awfully bright. They also tend to be quite articulate, mouthy and critical when it comes to psychiatry and the front organization for autism, AutismSpeaks. They make no apologies for themselves and see no reason why they should be helped to change. They are who they are. End of story.

    They advocate for “neurodiversity” and the right to go their own way. Not exactly good candidates for coerced psychiatric treatment.

    I always thought the psychiatric survivor movement could learn a lot from these people.

    • I’m sure the psychiatric survivor movement could benefit from the input and participation of people labeled on what the clinicians call the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. I don’t think this is the reason shrinks wanted to remove Asperger Syndrome. It’s been on all the major news channels. We’ve been experiencing an autism boom in this country that defies analysis. It defies analysis, that is, until it receives analysis. Once upon a time high-functioning autism didn’t qualify as autism. It is always debateable, in fact, whether some of the people tagged with the high-functioning autistic label should be so tagged at all. (Function in the DSM, the shrink’s bible, is that thing which separates the normies from the crazies.) The DSM-5 is seriously busy trying to correct, in its fashion, the undoubtably false childhood bipolar boom engineered by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman among others. Just as the DSM-5 has to contend with that mistake, the DSM-5 has to contend with the loosening of criteria in the DSM-IV that has led to other false “disorder” booms. One of these false booms is the current autism epidemic. Understandably, and unfortunately, going hand in hand with this adjustment, you’ve got a loosening of criteria for making other diagnoses. You’ve also got the additional categories to tackle the problem of people who no longer fit the criteria for old disorders. Any way you look at it, the DSM-5 is paving the way for those adjustments that can only come with revisions in the DSM-6. The “mental illness” rate is going to go up because of DSM revisions, and this rise is going to lead to further revisions somewhere down the road. The DSM, btw, is not my idea of a good book.

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