Benefits of a Diagnosis – It all Depends on the Individual Doesn’t It?

Like my colleague I too have been watching Derek on Channel 4. Aside from being a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to watch (causing me to almost cry one minute then laugh uncontrollably the next) it does bring to light some very real issues which many other programme makers would fear to broach.

One very poignant issue came to light in one of the first episodes of this series, which has stayed with me for some time. In the ending scene of this episode Roger, the local Council Officer, (whom, as an audience we were already set up to dislike because of his negative, cold and judgemental attitude) questioned Derek on whether he had been tested for autism, to which Derek responded:

Derek: “If I’m autistic would it change me? Would it kill me? Would it make me a different person?”
Roger: “No.”
Derek: “Then leave it.”

In this programme we understand that Derek lives a happy life, surrounded by people who understand and care about him because of his selfless, positive and caring nature. Indeed one would question what being tested would do for Derek.

On a wider scale of course, the issue of diagnosis and its effects – restricting or enabling, clearly depends on individual experience.

I certainly know individuals that feel liberated in being diagnosed. People can feel relief in not being alone, begin to understand their own behaviours more, learn more about their condition, able to explain to others and access appropriate support. This can also have a domino effect, healthy in mind, healthy in body.

Others, however, argue that diagnosis can be a generic label, which can result in defining a person, rather than being a part of who they are. Does it suit the needs of others rather than the individual themselves? Could it even be suggested that being diagnosed alone could change or influence an individual’s behaviours?

What is also of interest is the emergence of self diagnosis from information freely available (although not always accurate) online. Be honest, how quickly have you ‘Googled’ your symptoms to see what it is you may have? And more importantly, how many different things could it have been – was it even accurate? Is it in anyway beneficial without seeing a health professional? Some people would argue that it is enough.

Why is this information so openly available? Because almost everything is online? But is it not also because of all the campaigning to break down the barriers and stigma attached to mental health and learning disabilities by making information more accessible, understandable and talked about than ever before?

What may be damaging isn’t necessarily the issue of no diagnosis, but perhaps the issue of misdiagnosis and the subsequent symptoms, behaviour, support and treatment.

What isn’t addressed so much in the programme is what Derek does outside of the care home. Is he faced with challenges in his everyday life that would be more manageable if he were diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum? (If, indeed he is!) – Derek’s response would suggest not.

For Derek, it is straightforward, he is happy and surrounded by people that understand, accept and love him, so what difference would it make? Are we all so lucky?

By Jess Johal, Midlands Business Development Manager




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