Getting an autism diagnosis can take months, even years of doctor’s visits, and the diagnosis depends largely on watching a child play. As a result, who gets put on the spectrum and who doesn’t can depend on who and where the doctor is. “Your likelihood of receiving an autism diagnosis, unfortunately, is very much dependent on where you live and which clinic you’re able to get to—if you’re able to get to a clinic at all,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, an advocacy group that supports autism research. Activists like Singer have been trying to address this lack of consistency for years. But science has worked against them.
This much we know: Boys and girls are different. We also know this: Adolescence is the most challenging time of life, and teen girls are particularly challenged to get through those years unscathed. Suicide attempts spike during the teen years, yet even with all that, it’s tough to know what’s “normal,” and what is cause for alarm. And that’s even truer for girls. By the time girls and boys hit their teen years, girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder than are teen boys.
Morbidly obese individuals who had weight loss surgery are seeking treatment for eating disorders years after their procedure, prompting concerns among some experts about the assessment process used to identify surgical candidates. “They are terrified of gaining the weight back,” said Dr. Sara Niego, medical director of the Eating Disorders Program at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, who has treated patients with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder years after weight loss surgery. The lack of a national “gold standard” to psychologically assess prospective patients has led Connecticut mental health professionals to call for standardized criteria to identify those who are at risk before and after surgery. They worry some patients with mental health problems may slip through the cracks because each hospital and insurance company has different psychological screening requirements. “Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the field regarding what constitutes a psychological evaluation or what would prohibit an individual from obtaining surgery from a psychological standpoint,” said Kimberly Daniels, a clinical psychologist with the Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Middlesex Hospital.
Thousands of Connecticut adults and children – some as young as 10 – struggle with eating disorders with many suffering secretly because the life-threatening psychiatric condition has gone undiagnosed and untreated, experts in the field report. “We used to see eating disorders start at 13 or 14. Now we frequently see 10- and 11-year olds,” said Dr. Diane Mickley, founder and director of the Wilkins Center for Eating Disorders in Greenwich, which has treated females and males for three decades. Mickley is a founder and past president of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). “We’re concerned that there are many boys and girls flying under the radar who could be struggling with eating disorders that aren’t diagnosed or treated,” said Craig Brown, a founder and chief executive officer for Center for Discovery, which since 2011 has opened two adolescent residential treatment centers in Fairfield County for youth ages 11 to 17.