It’s so common now to hear people of a certain age (roughly mine) half-joking about the diagnosis they would have gotten if they had been children today. It’s usually ADHD or Asperger’s, which I suppose makes sense, given that those diagnoses (as labels) didn’t exist when we were kids, and have more recently been diagnosed with increasing frequency. I say people are “half-joking” because it’s never quite clear whether they’re just engaging in comic hyperbole, or whether they’re actually indignant that they would qualify for a diagnosis, or indignant about not having gotten one. Many of these people are successful in their jobs and happy in their personal lives. Most of them, in my experience, are men.
The joke is clearly true, at least as to many people (though not necessarily those who are joking about it). Many of us would have been diagnosed and treated for mental disorders if we had grown up today. There are, of course, many people who have been diagnosed as adults, and I assume that many of them are glad to finally have received treatment. Yet there must also be many, many adults who would have been diagnosed and treated as children under today’s standards, but, having been born too soon, have gone through life without a diagnosis – and have managed, for better or worse.
I don’t doubt that some kids are better off with treatment, but when I see the numbers – one out of eight boys has ADHD? – it’s hard for me not to think that we must be overdiagnosing kids. (See this post.) In any event, what a peculiar phenomenon: a big chunk of society, having grown up largely without diagnoses, watching as the rest of society is diagnosed and treated at much higher rates. What should we make of it? Does the undiagnosed generation see itself as worse off for having been born too soon? Or would they be reluctant to trade places with the today’s kids?