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Op-Ed: Rise of disabilities among wealthy youth not surprising

By Calvin Wolf     Sep 23, 2014 in Health
A new report finds a surge in disabilities among wealthier youth, which is surprising some analysts. This trend should come as no surprise: A combination of better diagnostic abilities and competitive gamesmanship explain the boost.
More rich kids have a disability these days, reports Vox. The journal Pediatrics found an increase of 10.7 cases of disability per 1,000 children between 2001 and 2011, with most of the increase among higher-income youth. Interestingly, this is the first time that disability has increased more among the wealthy than the poor since measurements began in the 1950s.
The prevailing explanation is that rich parents have better access to doctors, meaning that their children's disabilities get diagnosed more often and more accurately. This especially makes sense in regard to mental disabilities, which are increasingly more common, since psychologists and psychiatrists are professionals who are more likely to be utilized by the rich. Poor people often lack the resources to seek professional mental health counseling and treatment. Paying for emergency treatment for asthma attacks and broken bones is one thing — but paying big bucks for a fancy therapist, whose results may be intangible, can be something else. Sadly, many families do not have the luxury of paying for therapy, antidepressants, and other, more "abstract," mental health treatments.
Additionally, from a more controversial standpoint, higher-income parents may more actively seek disability status for their children to provide them an edge in the classroom. Students with disabilities traditionally receive accommodations when it comes to classwork, homework, and test-taking. For those who still wonder why more and more rich kids are being diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, and other mental health problems, look at some of the accommodations these students can receive at school: Lighter course work, guided notes, additional time for assignments and tests, etc.
This is not to say that many, or even most, wealthy children with mental disabilities are not truly disabled, but that there may be an element of competition spurring wealthy parents, as opposed to non-wealthy parents, to seek an unfair advantage in terms of grades and access to teachers and school administrators. Some parents may "doctor shop" or encourage physicians to diagnose their children as having ADD, ADHD, or other conditions as a way to seek school accommodations. In our current climate of obsession with higher education and getting our progeny into "good" colleges, it stands to reason that parents will seek any available avenue to boost high school GPAs.
What we need is some investigative journalism on the possibility that wealthy parents may be trying to "game" the system by seeking school accommodations for their children in disproportionate amounts compared to non-wealthy parents.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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