Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More on the Limits of Labels

A recent article in the New York Times Well blog ("Little Known Disorder Can Take A Toll on Learning") about a constellation of learning and communication difficulties that are often referred to as "auditory processing disorder" illustrates why labels frequently miss the mark. It points out why labels like “autism” and “ADHD” do not adequately capture the whole picture of what is going on when a child struggles in school or in life.

Rather, it is critical to take a broad approach that considers the whole child and does not reduce these complex issues into simple labels. For example, we frequently see children previously diagnosed with attention deficit who have the kinds of language problems described in this article. When we do, we include the kinds of strategies and interventions described in the article, but as part of a broader, comprehensive learning plan. In fact, we think that even the label “auditory processing disorder” is often too narrow a focus that does not fully account for a child’s entire profile of strengths and challenges that relate to learning and behavior. Therefore, diagnosis and treatment of learning problems needs to begin with a comprehensive assessment that examines all of the factors that affect learning and academic performance. Students and their families should emerge with an understanding of their profile of strengths and challenges and a learning plan based on this profile - not with a label.

Paul B. Yellin, M.D., FAAP

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