Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Children in crisis: the real diagnosis

Children's clinics at hospitals nationwide are clogged with youngsters whose real problem is their inability to read rather than a medical ailment. This is according to the chairman of the Federal Government's inquiry into reading.

Dr Ken Rowe, the newly appointed head of the national inquiry into the teaching of literacy, said psychology clinics at hospitals were straining to cope with the deluge of children seeking medical attention for problems caused by their failure to learn to read at school.

"Hospitals are complaining that their clinics are being filled with kids who are being referred for things like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)," said Dr Rowe, who was last week appointed by the federal Education Minister to run the inquiry. "But once the pediatricians sort out the children's literacy problems, the behaviour problems disappear. What is essentially an education issue has become a health issue."

The Royal Children's Hospital is overhauling its clinical services after an internal audit revealed that one-quarter of all children who attended the emergency department and other outpatient services for medical help, were diagnosed as having non-medical conditions, such as learning difficulties and behaviour problems.

Professor Vicki Anderson, director of the hospital's department of psychology, said she and her colleagues were stunned by the audit's findings. About 500 Victorian children over the past year were treated at the hospital's Learning Difficulties Centre and demand for its services has almost doubled each year for the past five years.

Professor Anderson said many children, sent to the clinic because teachers, families and GPs believed they had ADHD, did not have the condition. Instead the child's inattention or poor behaviour in class was secondary to their primary problem of failing to learn to read.

"ADHD is clearly overdiagnosed," Professor Anderson said. "The appeal of a pill for ADHD is much easier than arranging twice-a-week remedial reading sessions."

Professor Anderson said specialists in charge of child psychology clinics at large hospitals in other states had similar concerns about the growing number of struggling readers attending their clinics. She said families often sought help at the Royal Children's Hospital's learning difficulties clinic because of long waiting periods at schools to have a child's learning problems assessed by Education Department psychologists.

A spokesman for Victoria's Education Department said Professor Anderson's concerns related to up to 250 students at the hospital's clinic whose main problem seemed to be reading failure, out of a statewide population of more than 540,000 students at government schools. He said the department was unaware of lengthy waiting lists for students who needed assessment of learning problems.


[Lack of concentration can cause at risk children not to learn, read, or keep up with the class. There are numerous health conditions or even problems at home that tend to defer concentration in children until later on.

So forcing children to concentrate while they're at risk is not the answer either. Children can grow out of learning difficulties but those difficulties must be assessed to find out why there is a problem? So we should not completely dismiss all learning difficulties due to "youngsters whose real problem is their inability to read".

Hives and allergy for instance amongst other things can cause lack of concentration. Once the health or social problem is solved this can change the rate at which a child can concentrate - so that they can learn. Concentration has a lot to do with reading, have you noticed?]

Professor Anderson: "Instead the child's inattention or poor behaviour in class was secondary to their primary problem of failing to learn to read."

[But what is the cause of the primary problem 'failing to read'? This question must be assessed so early intervention can solve the problem, down the track. Those assessed 'at risk children' could do other activities 'now' besides reading that would not need lots of demanding concentration. For instance social skills, life skills, the arts or sport.

The ability to learn to read means more than having brain cells. It also means the child's ability to concentrate which takes into account their status, health, stress, conditions, environment, or even whether their parents can read themselves and help pass it on.]

Professor Anderson said, "Families often sought help at the Royal Children's Hospital's learning difficulties clinic because of 'long waiting periods at schools to have a child's learning problems "assessed" by Education Department psychologists'.

[But why leave it up to the schools to have a child's learning problems assessed by 'Education Department psychologists'?

In my day that was done by parents, outreach clinics, doctors and hospitals. In short it's the communities responsibility to have children assessed for learning difficulties - and not necessarily Education Department psychologists. DO I GET AN "F"?]

By Caroline Milburn and just Us posted 7 December 04


Peta: Not ill, not 'insane', not naughty - can't read. Schools should be for children, not for the system's convenience and a tool of oppression.


Child and Family Psychology Clinic
The Child and Family Psychology Clinic (CFC) is a state-wide fee for service/bulk billing clinic that provides specialist clinical psychology assessment and treatment to children, adolescents and their families for a range of issues; encompassing behavioural, social, emotional and learning problems in infants, children, adolescents and their families.