Waiting Im[Patient]ly

When tests fail those who need it most.

Over the weekend I was speaking with my mom, who is the principal of a high-needs elementary school. On a regular basis she deals with students and children with conduct problems, neuropsychological disorders, and kids that come from a tough home environment. Having to dodge airborne objects and taking verbal abuse from five to ten year olds is part of her day and in the fine print of her job description. On this particular night, she was talking to me about a ten-year-old child who had recently regressed into behavioural symptoms that he hadn’t had presented with for over five years. One thing that peaked my attention was the fact that he had recently been diagnosed with Opposition Defiance Disorder (ODD).

Asking her about it, she told me that he had a history of different disorders that have progressed as he grew older. When he first started presenting with symptoms at a young age, three different clinicians diagnosed him with three very different disorders — one simply said it was a product of his parent’s divorce and he will get over it in time and with support. Thinking it over, it really started to anger me that even the best, most reproducible tests meant to give a reliable diagnosis can have such differing results.

This is not a new issue in psychological testing — but at what cost are we going to start finding more reliable tests that give a child like this a fighting chance? It’s easy to blame the clinician, the parents, the teachers, but what if there is something fundamentally wrong with how we view disorders? What if a checklist and a few observations isn’t all it takes?

Waiting on results, waiting on interpretation just to find out that it is something completely different than initially was thought is nothing short of annoying, and one of the most frustrating things that administrators, teachers, parents, and patients can experience. Going from doctor to doctor and diagnosis to diagnosis has a negative impact on the child’s education, relationships and overall well- being.

There have been steps in the right direction — for instance the battery of tests and assessments required for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder — but a rethinking of how we view diagnostics and psychological disorders is necessary. Especially in children and especially in schools.

This doesn’t just apply for psychological disorders, but also testing for children who are considered gifted and talented. Should a standardized test allow for a child to skip a grade? Achievement is often being placed above social well-being and some children won’t be as socially mature as their intellectual level and as a result have social problems.

The use of psychological tests is necessary, but there needs to be a upheaval and revamping of how we interpret and use the results — particularly in schools — in order to to prevent an accumulation of any more issues than a child may already have.