The Baskin-Robbins Approach to Diagnosing Kids and Adults

Posted by admin on Dec 3, 2013 in Brain Development 
dsm-5 brain highways diagnosis checklist
The DSM guide lists many, many mental health conditions, yet overlooks a common thread that may tie many of those diagnoses together.  

I was recently talking with one of our Brain Highways parents, and we were discussing kids who act as though they (rather than the adults) are in charge.  The parent nodded, saying, “Yes, my child definitely has Alpha Dog Syndrome.”

Now here’s the sad part. I actually paused a moment before I realized she was making a joke.

But I also cut myself some slack.  That’s because, right now, there are so many diagnoses for kids and adults that Alpha Dog Syndrome doesn’t really seem like much of a stretch.

For example, guess what’s now included in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—the holy grail guide that doctors refer to in terms of what’s a “true” diagnosis or not? Irritable kids who throw frequent temper tantrums may now be diagnosed as having “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.”

And most recently, a group of Australian scientists say extreme laziness may have a medical basis, describing it as a condition called motivational deficiency disorder—MoDeD.

Seriously. I’m not making any of this up.

Apparently, the trend of creating mental diseases to “fit” a behavior is nothing new. For example, after studying runaway slaves who had been caught and returned to their owners, Louisiana physician Samuel A. Cartwright became convinced he had discovered a new mental disease. So, in 1851, the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal reported that these slaves suffered from drapetomania, a disease that caused them to flee.

Somehow, having a desire for freedom became a medical condition.

But before we shake our heads and judge how such a notion could have ever appeared in a medical journal, we might pause and ponder who (in the future) will do the very same when reviewing all the diagnoses that we now slap on both adults and kids.

Please note: I’m not saying there are no mental health conditions. But the current trend is what I’ve come to think of as the Baskin-Robbins marketing strategy.

When this famous ice cream company first presented to the world that there were now thirty-one flavors of ice cream (who knew?!), consumers readily bought the concept. So many choices!

And yet, it’s not all that different when it comes to diagnosing today’s mental health conditions. So many choices!

Also, keep this in mind: The diagnoses in the DSM guide are often made by pure subjective evaluation, based solely on observed behavior—and nothing more. In other words, these diagnoses do not come about in the same way a doctor may diagnose cancer—where cancer cells truly differ from normal cells when looking at a biopsy.

Regardless, this influential guide is what’s considered the credible source that draws the line between what is normal and what is not. That’s even more concerning when we note the following: According to Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, more than 46 percent of the U.S. population will meet the criteria for at least one DSM diagnosis during their lifetime.

That means this guide has an awful lot of power that may then greatly affect many people’s lives—from determining whether or not someone qualifies for special education services or disability benefits to whether someone may be prescribed and treated with a variety of drugs.

But what if there’s a different way of viewing those very same behaviors that are presently justifying a diagnosis?

Turns out . . . that’s not just wishful thinking. After 14+ years of working with over 6,000 families in the Brain Highways program, I have long lost count of all the different diagnoses that have come my way. But there was always this common thread: Such kids and adults had not yet completed their lower brain development.

This isn’t really surprising when we note how behaviors associated with such underdevelopment so closely parallel those that are used as the criteria for mental health conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disease, autism, OCD, and more. 

Yet, here’s the big difference when we view such behaviors as symptoms of underdeveloped lower centers of the brain as compared to symptoms of a disease.  We can actually do something about the former. That’s because neuroplasticity, the brain’s proven ability to change, makes it possible to go back and finish that development—at any age.

That way of thinking, in itself, is often a great catalyst for change, since research has also documented how our beliefs are so interconnected to how we act and how we expect others to behave.

In other words, a diagnosis almost always comes with restrictions and parameters as to what we may now “expect” from that person—like forever. Yet, none of that limited thinking is even on the radar when the focus is on completing lower brain development. Neuroplasticity is all about hope and curiosity in regards to how life might improve once those highways are in place.

Now, it should be noted that Baskin-Robbins has long surpassed offering just thirty-one flavors, as they continue to add more and more selections. As far as the ice cream world goes, I don’t see that as a problem.

But as a trend that seems to be presenting the newest “flavor” (i.e. disease) of the month, I am worried. So, I am encouraging everyone to pass along what’s been excluded from the DSM guide. Namely, symptoms of incomplete lower brain development may mimic symptoms of many of today’s diagnoses.

Seems like people should (at least) know this possibility exists, especially considering how so many diagnoses come with some pretty serious ramifications.