One of the hardest decisions I need to make following an assessment is whether to officially diagnose a learning difficulty or not. As a young Ed. Psych. student I thought it would be pretty simple – identify what’s wrong, name it and send the family off in the right direction, relieved that they finally know what is going on.
But in reality, diagnoses can have very negative implications. Despite the inclusive education policy in our country students are sometimes still denied enrollment at certain schools based on a specific diagnosis. Parents tend to fear diagnoses, worrying that their children will be “boxed” and that teachers and friends will no longer see their individual strengths but rather falsely perceive stereotyped behaviour and have lowered expectations of their potential. For these very reasons, I often have parents ask whether it’s possible for me to not include an official diagnosis in a report!
But a diagnosis remains crucial for the following reasons:
* It helps us understand how the child is affected.
* It helps us determine whether any further investigations (which might have the implication of high costs) may be needed in the future so that we can prepare parents to plan accordingly.
* It can help identify possible complication which may be prevented with the correct intervention.
* It helps us decide how best to try and remediate the learning difficulty and in which ways we can offer support and guidance to the parents and other family members.
So, in my mind a diagnosis is not a negative thing – but it can become one when we (and here I mean all of us in our everyday lives) start treating individuals with diagnosed learning difficulties as if they were “different” from us and as if there is something “wrong” with them. Diagnoses only become labels if we fail to recognise the individual behind the learning difficulty.