Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Clinic Notes: ABA for ASD, ADD, ADHD, SD, ODD, OCD, TS, and Whatever Else is That is Left in the Alphabet

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms. So if we say a child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) we know that this child has problems paying attention, is easily distracted, will not stay on task, will not sit still, will get out of his seat, not listen to the teacher, etc. Naming a syndrome such as Autism (ASD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), is the short hand of clinicians as they communicate with each other, patients and their families, and the public. Clinicians also have shorthand for therapies. For example, Applied Behavior Analysis includes a long list of behavior therapies.
In a recent Schafer Report, an article titled, "The Rise of the Alphabet Kids," the author asks if the rise in the use of acronyms, such as ADHD, ASD, or ODD is helping or hindering treatment. In his view many British children have a list of diagnostic letters following their names because they have overlapping disorders. In my clinic I see this all the time. A child comes in with a diagnosis of Autism (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Does the child have both? Or does the child have autism? Or does the child have ADHD? Usually, the child has autism. Many kids with autism have problems paying attention and many kids with autism are hyperactive. In my view, the added ADHD diagnosis is only describing a common feature of autism. The same is true of some of the other alphabet disorders. The added diagnosis is describing a feature of another diagnosis and is redundant. Of course, when you define behavior problems behaviorally (what is observable and measurable) then the problem disappears.