(Ireland) More kids are disabled: autism, ADHD, learning disabilities

July 25, 2017, Irish Times: Rising cost of special needs education (Letter to the editor from psychologist, William Wilkinson) Sir, – The reference in Pat Leahy’s article, “Alarm over soaring cost of special needs education” (Home News, July 21st), to fears that “children are being diagnosed inappropriately for resource reasons rather than health or educational reasons,” is an affront to professionals and public alike. The “diagnoses” a psychologist offers are based first and foremost on the data obtained from parents, teachers, previous reports, rating scales, standardised tests, and observations of the child during the assessment. To form conclusions based on what parents or schools desire would be unethical, unprofessional, and a complete travesty of the assessment process. Having conducted thousands of assessments over the past 20 years, there is a 10 to 15 per cent chance that the results will not support any diagnosis, at least not in the parameters of the practitioners’ competence (eg psychologists cannot diagnose certain special educational needs). It is equally misleading to the reader of the article to think that parents’ primary motive in seeking an assessment is to get a “label” in order to access resources in schools. The main desire of parents is to know if there is a problem, what is the problem, how much of a problem, and what can be done about it. This is the constant refrain from parents. At the root of the rising cost of special education is the increased frequency in which parents seek formal assessments due to greater awareness of the various disabilities that afflict children, including specific learning disability, dyspraxia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autistic spectrum disorders, and other commonly occurring social – emotional – behaviour disorders. Certainly, the blame for the increased costs of special education cannot be pinned on assessing professionals; this is disingenuous. Relative to the previous allocation system, the new Department of Education plan is completely opaque as to what will constitute a special need, which special needs will have priority, and how, or by whom, any of these decisions will be made. – Yours, etc,