Benjamin Nugent believes he had Asperger’s Syndrome (a milder form of austim).
Who made this diagnosis? His mom.
His mom was so convinced that her then 17-year-old teenage son had this disorder, she put in him in an educational video about Asperger’s. Asperger’s is usually diagnosed in childhood or as a young teenager, and is characterized by a severe degree of social impairment, isolation, and what others might see as eccentric behavior.
While I commend Mr. Nugent for sharing his story with the world, I have to really question his understanding of how mental disorders are diagnosed by mental health clinicians.
Here’s his story…
Benjamin Nugent appeared in an educational video about Asperger’s, created by his mom, apparently an expert in Asperger’s:
The film was a research project directed by my mother, a psychology professor and Asperger specialist, and another expert in her department. It presents me as a young man living a full, meaningful life, despite his mental abnormality. […]
Both my mother and her colleague believed I met the diagnostic criteria laid out in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition.
First of all, it’s highly unethical to go around diagnosing your family members — much less your children. Any first-year graduate student knows this.
Nugent was apparently only “diagnosed” by these two academicians — his mom and his mom’s colleague working alongside her in her own department.
I don’t care if your mom was the equivalent of Einstein in Asperger’s research — it’s just not ethical for a mental health clinician to diagnose someone they know (at least not in any official capacity). It’s also not very ethical for researchers or academicians to make clinical judgments about people they know.
That’s what licensed clinical psychologists do. I wonder if Nugent ever saw one of those?
You also can self-diagnose according to the DSM criteria as much as you’d like. But such self-diagnosis is also not valid or equivalent to a clinical diagnosis from a mental health professional.
I’m sorry to be the bringer of bad news, but the only person who could objectively diagnose Nugent — a mental health clinician — never did (at least according to the limited information he provided in his blog entry).
Mental disorder diagnoses are not simple things. An experienced clinician brings all of their wisdom and years of seeing similar children and young adults into play when deciding whether a mental disorder diagnosis is appropriate. So while you can indeed screen yourself to see if it’s something that you should go see a professional about (for instance, using one of our screening quizzes), it’s not something you can do to yourself — or your family members — with any degree of accuracy or objectivity.
Asperger’s, like most mental disorders, must also cause significant distress and impairment in at least one area of your life. In other words, YOU have to actually feel like this is a serious problem. If you are you, and you’re okay with whatever “you” is, it is virtually never appropriate to diagnose a mental disorder (there are some exceptions to this, but for most people, it’s the general rule).
So while I’m sorry to hear of Nugent’s young adult Asperger’s diagnosis — and I agree, such diagnoses should be made more conservatively — I think this story best illustrates the dangers of unqualified (or biased) professionals making mental disorder diagnoses. If your mom or dad thinks you might have a problem, go see a clinician who is experienced and a specialist in the area of your concern.
I would include most family physicians and general practitioners in this category of professionals who shouldn’t be diagnosing mental disorders as well — the folks responsible for prescribing the majority of anti-depressants in the U.S.
The best person to get a mental health diagnosis from? A qualified mental health professional, preferably a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Read the full blog entry: I Had Asperger Syndrome. Briefly.