Rethinking: Diagnosing Children with Developmental Disorders

I’ve been watching some of the TED talks that have been done over the past few years. There is no doubt that it’s becoming ever more difficult to keep up with the changing world of science and especially anything to do with healthcare. Just a couple of days ago I learned that antioxidants may not be the panacea they have been touted to be. So now I have to rethink my supplement choices and make sure my vitamins are “low dose.”

One of the most important TED talks I’ve seen concerned diagnosing children with developmental disorders and how we’re doing it all wrong. An estimated one in six children suffers from a developmental disorder including:

Mental retardation
Learning disorders (Dyslexia, speech & language disorders)
Attention disorders (ADD, ADHD)
Autism spectrum (Autism, Asperger’s)
Genetic disorders (Down & William Syndromes)
Sensory processing disorder
Epilepsy, seizures, sleep disorder

Traditionally, these disorders have been diagnosed in children by observing their behavior.

EEG 32 electrodes

In 2010, Aditi Shankardass gave a short TED talk about research she and her colleagues were doing at Harvard. Using an EEG, researchers were able to look at a child’s brain activity while awake and map the areas of activity in real time. Use of these tools leads to a precise neurological diagnosis. She goes on to explain that about 50% of those seen in the clinic diagnosed with autism, actually have brain seizures not detectable from observing behavior alone. Once these children receive appropriate anti- seizure meds, their conditions resolve.

Which leads to all kinds of questions. The latest statistic about the prevalence of autism is that it affects 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys: 1 in 252 girls). Does this research mean that half of autism isn’t autism, and in fact, easily treatable? What about the rest of the disorders? How many haven’t been diagnosed because observing behavior doesn’t catch the problem, and just as scary, how many are wrongly diagnosed? How many children and parents are suffering needlessly?

Dr. Shankardass ends her talk with a plea to spread the word about this non-invasive, diagnostic technique.

Watch TED talk:

Read article from MEDICAL NEWS TODAY: June 2012: New EEG Test for Autism


Filed under health

52 responses to “Rethinking: Diagnosing Children with Developmental Disorders

  1. Hi there fantastic website! Does running a blog similar to this take a great deal of work?

    I’ve virtually no expertise in computer programming however I was hoping to start my
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    I know this is off topic but I just needed to ask. Cheers!

    • Hi Thomas,
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  2. I found this post very interesting; I am a retired Math Chair in Middle School and found to my dismay, many children wrongly or mis-diagnosed and over-medicated. This is an area of great interest. I will listen to the TED talk later.

  3. Interesting stuff. I’m going to bookmark it and check out the links later. I’d love to have a different diagnosis for my autistic son.
    Thanks for this 🙂

  4. Finding symptoms of difficulties such as ADD and teaching behaviour modification to relieve the issues is one thing. However, when I was still working with children, I had to argue with teachers demanding students be put on medications often when they were not indicated.

    • So maybe a brain imaging diagnostic approach might help parents, teachers, and doctors negotiate these decisions. The problem right now seems to be access (and affordability).

  5. Thanks for posting and spreading so much awareness about all this !

  6. Thanks for posting on this topic, I have 2 children and myself with ASD’s. On one hand I appreciate that there is a test that can differentiate between these disorders and brain seizures, on the other hand however most of the fight that parents and family members have is that a lot of people don’t believe these disorders exist in the first place, I don’t like my children being labeled, but if they are we have access to a lot of help and needed therapies. My son was 2 when he went for his first brain scan because he would stop suddenly and stare. they thought he might be having seizures, but it turned out it was part of his autism. with the high amount of children being diagnosed with Developmental disorders drs will not fund EEG’s for every child being diagnosed nor can parents afford it especially those that have to fund their own therapies. Diagnoses are made not just by observing behaviour there is a strict guideline that practitioners must follow for a diagnosis. Really these medical tests are great if you can afford them if not, well then you are really just giving more fuel to those who believe these disorders aren’t real, and adding more stress to the parents. I accept my children for who they are, I give them every opportunity to learn, grow and be accepted for who they are quirks and all. I think that is all anyone could ever hope for children who can be given the best chance in life.

  7. I find some of the data staggering. Are we really seeing more of it, or just finding more of it? As an author, I’ve often wondered about the the nature of “reverse Darwinism.” and please, creationists need not reply.

  8. This gives even more credence to what I talked about in one of my blogs titled (A.D.H.D And Socrates. Really?) which talked about this very same concern of the high probability of wrong diagnosis either over or under because of subjective screening and seemingly no definitive tests available.
    Thank you Aditi Shankardass and elisnelson for bringing this up through your blog.


    • any medical diagnosis has the chance for misdiagnosis. when you have a child that won’t let you touch them, won’t look at you and will scream for any reason that you can’t find them nor cuddle them or comfort them. It is heartbreaking and when people that have not personally experienced this start sprouting their views on the topic it really upsets me. Developmental Disorders exist, how do I know? because I have lived it my whole life. There are other disorders that do not have definitive tests, does that mean that they are labeled wrong?

  9. You might be my function designs. Thanks for the article

  10. mrhugo2013

    This is very interesting thanks for posting this. I have a few learning difficulties including ADD and I’d love have been tested like this it would have been fascinating. Nice blog.

    • I wonder how available the test is. No one has said they’ve had it. It might still be in the experimental phase. But maybe if you live near one of the research facilities, it might be possible. Then there’s that guy on Dr. Phil, Dr Frank Lawless(?) who has a diagnostice center in TX that uses a lot of brain imaging. It will definitely take some work on the part of anyone who wants this, to find it.

      • mrhugo2013

        I find it interesting but I don’t really have the time to peruse having the process done. If I was approached I’d defiantly give it a shot.

  11. Excellent points! Another illustration of why we need more scientific research – NOT funded by pharmaceuticals or other corporations with an interest in the outcome. People just don’t seem to get ‘conflict of interest’. Looking at behaviour also may lead to meds which merely change the behaviour — how sad and unscientific…. 😦

  12. There’s is something going on….though it’s not exactly clear. As both a parent of a child wiht special needs and as a heathcare practitioner who treats this population, I can tell you that it’s “in the water,” — our food suppy, the air we breath, the products we use on our body and in our homes and more. We need to help women (and men who supply half of the chromosomal material!) to lead “clean” lives prior to conception. Check out my blog about my daughter Isabella Speranza Her trasnlated name means beautiful hope! Health & happiness Laura Lagano

  13. This is very interesting… As a parent of a child with a language issue it is very difficult to explain what the issue is and so difficult to get them through the education system… Schools would rather a vague diagnosis and push on a problem than adjust and help the child learn in a different way… I hope as a society we do make advances in how we educate.

  14. I do not think that we are over medicating our children, I know it.

  15. Reblogged this on chipsterhealth's Blog and commented:
    Yes, knowledge and science are moving at unprecedented speeds. And, trying to keep up with it all can be in daunting. But for me this is an exciting time when because of this vast amount of available knowledge even a 15 year can devise an even more effective procedure for detecting pancreatic cancer. So let us keep on searching and learning.

  16. This is really interesting. It just shows that we always need to be thinking widely about what is causing certain behaviours in our children. I’ve read about the impact that food may have as well – i.e. The Fed Up diet by Sue Dengate. Really intriguing stuff as the salicylates found in many fruits and vegetables seems to have an effect on our son’s behaviour. So we are careful with that, as well as looking at psychological intervention to help with attention and sensory stuff. Plus a bit of mindfulness and yoga thrown in at times. I think it all helps! Thanks for posting this, Ellis.

  17. I teach kids in college, a most unlikely outcome for a kid who did not speak until her was three and had issues with linear methods of communication for years. My sense even when young was that what they wanted to term dyslexia was itself not a learning disability, but offered me a different way to relate to the world around me. I now see I was also ADD in the eyes of modern diagnostics. My take is that NONE of this is a hinderance, but can be used as a great advantage. I get bored fast. I have to keep moving. My mind needs to move so fast, but when it does, a rich realm of experience emerges. Ideas and connections are made that simply cannot happen in the slow paced world that most often takes place in schools. I have students who I observe are ADD and they always soar when I can do something that engages them body and soul. They just need a different way of being that the cookie cutter system does not provide. ADD can be a huge benefit, but the ADD person is going to need to understand that they will need to seek work in an area of the workforce that is going to be constantly changing. Curiously, my dyslexia (as it was called) I observe is the very thing that has helped me to understand and relate to nonduality and the working of the whole brain in enlightened states. I’d say that’s a pretty big plus. Sorry for the ramble, but your story hit a nerve. A juicy one.

    • My personal view is that we are probably medicating lots of kids who don’t need it because “we” need them to fit into a certain mold. Unfortunately we don’t have a system that honors differences and sees them as assets. As an adult, you have the ability to to choose your work (or life) environment and honor your talents. So I’m in agreement with you. Diversity is a plus.

      • With classrooms filled to the brim, 25 to 30 to a elementary teacher, I think the options are limited. If we could just put a seventh of what we put to defense budget-wise for more teachers and teams of teachers who can take children with different needs I think it could be so much better all the way around.

      • I agree. We need to put more resources into education and less into Defense. The whole system needs an overhaul. I did some subbing at the elementary level and saw lots of problems. I was horrified at lunch time when the kids were sent to the office to have their meds distributed by the school secretary. There wasn’t even a full time nurse on staff.

  18. Very interesting post. I, too, wonder how many of these problems are caused by all the chemicals and toxins that are in the air, food, water, clothing, household items, and cleaners. I suspect a lot, and I also believe the situation will never change because of the power of the “food” industry, drug companies, and other giant corporations. And now fracking appears, which threatens to contaminate the groundwater with even more chemicals. It seems there’s no end.
    Thanks for sharing this article, and it’s good to know someone out there is working on that side of the problem.

  19. What has happened to study in this field over the last 15 years o so? One in six has a naturally occurring disorder? This has never been this high. Doctors are either over-prescribing, the fields are too narrow, or all other children in history were misdiagnosed.

  20. Interesting about the micro-seizures. So many mysteries about the brain!

  21. Thanks for sharing an informative post. I think this is one of the parent’s worst fears but a lot of times we are afraid of facing. When my son was about 2-3 years old, we were scared that he had speech delay and have Hyperactive behaviour. We saw professional help and was told he was fine but as a parent our instentions of making sure our kids are alright doesn’t stop there. Every year we watch their developmental milestone as well as how appropriate their behaviour are in school and with their environment. I hope and pray that kids with developmental problems will find the best of help and treatment as well as their families.

  22. WOW. This looks like a huge new piece of this “puzzle.” Bound to help the picture be seen more clearly. Thanks for sharing it!

  23. Reblogged this on Through The Lens and commented:
    This is important information. I hope it helps others as it has me.

  24. Wow, great information. I thought the number was much higher 1 in 100 affected with the Autism Spectrum. There are many more subcategories, Pragmatic Language Disorder is the one that has plagued my grandson. It sets itself apart by a characteristic of the child doing harm to himself. My grandson has wished for death from the age of three. It breaks my heart. When he can’t understand what is going on around him or make himself understood, he hurts himself. It is not as bad now, years of love and therapy have helped him understand the correct way to deal with his emotions, frustrations, limitations….. But I can’t help but think those self-loathing feelings are still inside of him.
    I will be sharing your post with my daughter. Thank you.

    • Thanks for sharing. Every one of us knows someone with these disorders. I have a niece with Aspergers and I think a few more issues with others people have just not shared the info. My son had language problems and it was decades later I discovered how many of the same generation in the family also did. People hide the truth out of shame and it does more harm than good.

  25. My sister is a neurobiologist who develops brain imaging techniques. She helped to develop a “window on the brain,” which allows for very accurate, individual neuron mapping without being invasive while at Yale. I don’t think anybody really knows how the mind/brain works and what the relationships may be between seizures or the causal and resulting factors of various disorders, but I’m not an expert. If you’re interested, I read a piece in the NYTimes yesterday, where scientists have found a common, underlying genetic basis for various disorders, but they still don’t know how or why these common genetic aberrations may lead, in one case, to, schizophrenia, and in another cases to bipolar disorder, major depression or autism: Thanks for the piece!

  26. This is such an important subject! 🙂 🙂 Thanks for sharing. We have an award for you! WOOF WOOF 🙂 :)

  27. I’m a retired teacher of the multiply handicapped. In the past, I’ve taken classes on autism and similar neurological disorders. The huge surge in autism is alarming, to say the least. Be it seizures or autism… either way, more neurological problems are popping up more and more in our children. Part of the problem, I suspect, involves all the junk that is sold in grocery stores that passes for food but that really isn’t. Additionally, farmers are merely adding a lot of low spectrum fertilizers to their fields. A lot of it is just rudimentary chemical fertilizers… without a lot of micronutrients… consisting of ammonia and ground up fossil rock! The brain is complex, and needs more than just some basic ingredients in order to flower healthfully. We need to change the way we accept garbage as being acceptable to consume. Part of the reason Rome went down the tubes was that it wasn’t careful about what it consumed!

    • No doubt some of these chemicals are having bad effects. Most of them have never been tested so we’re swimming in a toxic soup. Soft tissue cancers and thyroid disorders are also rising.

  28. This is such significant information, thank you so much for sharing this,
    I just hope it reahces places that need to hear and know this

  29. Reblogged this on bookofshadowsandblessings and commented:
    absolutely fascinating!

  30. Very interesting! We have a two day intensive neuropsychological evaluation coming up next month for my diagnosis-resistant son. I’ve been looking forward to it because I feel it holds a new kind if promise for us. Thanks for sharing this!

  31. The greatest mysteries of the universe are within the human mind.

  32. Incredible information! Thank you so much for sharing. I shall be having a very important discussion regarding my grandson. Know that you have shed a ray of sunshine on a number of lives today.

  33. Very interesting, thanks for flagging this up

  34. Wow! That is fascinating to learn. I wonder what the long-term effects of all the meds in these children are going to be, too. It’s concerning.

  35. This is powerful, groundbreaking information! I’m wondering how this new EEG scan is being administered here in the US. My son has been diagnosed with both ADHD and sensory processing disorder and it’s very frustrating. I am happy to know that there is a procedure that can target brain activity in able to reveal a more targeted diagnosis. Thank you for sharing.

  36. rebeccavt

    Oh…my…God. The implications of this finding is staggering, and such a glimpse of light for children and their families! Thank you for posting this, and I will be sure to pass it along!

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