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When Allen Frances and thousands of others in the field of mental health scream about the next, even heftier, edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, they have in mind, among many other forms of psychosprawl, learning disorder psychosprawl.

When the manual that university mental health people rely on to confirm a learning disorder in a student has a page like this – in which, as it appears to be saying, you can have the learning disorder known as Not Otherwise Specified (i.e., not captured by the DSM’s already immense number of diagnostic categories) – you know that universities are screwed. Virtually any student who wants special accommodations for tests and papers and projects can go to the campus disability office and come out with a diagnosis.

A medical student at UD‘s George Washington University was flunking courses and had been told that expulsion was imminent. Off she went to the disability people who duly

concluded that [she] had a reading disorder — dyslexia — as well as a mild processing-speed disorder. [The disability office] recommended a number of academic accommodations, psychotherapy, investigation of the appropriateness of psychostimulant medication…

The whole enchilada. Psychotherapy, powerful stimulants…

GW Med was unimpressed with the disability office’s generous alarm and reiterated that the student was expelled, at which point she sued.

And sued. And sued. Tenaciously, the student has dragged her disability from court to court, only to lose again and again.

She has now lost yet again.


This post’s headline is from a Scott Jaschik piece in Inside Higher Education. Scott links to a friend of the court addition to this case, brought by a number of university organizations. Basically, they argue that universities have had it with the costs imposed (let’s not even talk about how unfair this scheme is to other students) by increasing numbers of students taking advantage of an air-tight combination of the anything goes DSM and disability offices.

These organizations point out that among the accommodations universities have had to make are “comfort animals.”

How far does this go? What if you’re someone whose learning disability can only be comforted by masturbation?

Sure, we can laugh now. GW prevailed. But it’s not funny. These cases impose enormous burdens on schools. They make already obscene tuitions rise. Allen Frances is right to be angry about the DSM‘s crucial contribution to this scam.

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7 Responses to “‘While the brief stated that the groups do believe that some students have learning disabilities, it offered much skepticism about the growing number of such diagnoses made on behalf of students.’”

  1. Nellie in NZ Says:

    Additionally, they trivialize genuine disabilities that do deserve accommodation.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Nellie: Absolutely. It’s also terribly destructive to actually disabled people.

  3. Prof. Mondo Says:

    I riffed on this one a while back myself… http://profmondo.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/blazing-saddles-and-higher-ed/

  4. dave.s. Says:

    Oops – I put this comment on the wrong post, at first:

    December 12th, 2011 at 5:47PM

    Fifteen minute breaks every two hours…


  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    dave: OMG

  6. University Diaries » “The entire entreprise of artificially and endlessly cataloguing every conceivable form of human suffering or perceived dysfunction is neither helpful nor sound.” Says:

    […] psychiatrists who unwarily hand out diagnoses and pills to students, or who, as researchers sometimes compromised by industry affiliations, lend academic legitimacy to […]

  7. Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion « Clarissa's Blog Says:

    […] “Learning disorder psychosprawl.” […]

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