Sunday, December 16, 2012

Armchair Diagnoses

After the shootings this past week, many people, even "experts", have come forth with conclusions of why the young men would shoot innocent strangers. We all want answers, and people will have various insights because of their education or experiences. I can understand people suggesting certain reasons be looked into by those closest to investigations. I've done that myself. But what concerns me are the people who jump to conclusions and go on air or on line with misinformation. It will be difficult for investigators to piece together a motive since the shooters aren't there anymore to be examined. Many people will have to be interviewed to see what went horribly wrong. It isn't something that can be done in an hour in time for prime time news. And the experts should know better.

I have had others make those kind of quick diagnoses. It really bothered me when both a psychologist and a neurologist told me in the past year that Ms. D didn't "look FAS." They made that conclusion by what they saw at first glance and missed some obvious signs, at least obvious to me. They didn't spend time looking at pictures from before puberty, when some features of FAS fade, examine her carefully enough to see the features that are still present, take into consideration that FAS looks different in different races, go over her growth history, or a positive admission by the birth family that her mother drank. The psychologist even said that Ms. D didn't have small ears, so she couldn't be FAS. It was obvious to me that the psychologist didn't even look at her ears, because they are small. I then started to tell her some of the features that led the kids' doctor to diagnose Ms. D with FAS. I am pretty confident that the doctor, who cared for many foster children, was correct. To have others ignore me and flippantly say otherwise is foolish. Worse yet, it sometimes might keep Ms. D from getting the correct type of help.

In a way, my experience has helped me to be more careful in the advice I do give. A friend told me a story about her daughter which made me suspect autism. It's pretty common in Silicon Valley, and I know a lot of people with that diagnosis who act in similar ways. I suggested she go to her doctor, tell the same story, and see if they could evaluate the girl. It was autism, but there were other things that it could have been. I could have been wrong. Only a thorough testing procedure could verify my hunch.

Many times, armchair diagnoses are wrong. They can lead people in wrong directions and cause unnecessary grief. The best thing I can do is when people ask, to tell them my opinion. But that it is only an opinion and needs to be thoroughly checked out by someone who really knows what they are doing. And if something doesn't seem right, if someone seems in a rush or doesn't seem to know what they are saying, then get another opinion.

I hope that the investigators figure out why those young men in the news did what they did. But the answers, if they do come, will take time.

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