Thomas Sowell has a provocative article at National Review about the growing frequency of autism diagnoses for children who do not fit the average development patterns. He seems to imply that recently touted successful therapies for children diagnoses very early in life may be the simple result of wrong diagnoses: "If a child is not autistic to begin with, almost anything will “cure” him with the passage of time."
Autism is one of the scarier (in my opinion) developmental disability diagnoses out there, because we don't understand it. We don't know what causes autism, how exactly to screen for it, or how to overcome it. Compared to something like Down's Syndrome, it's the unknown. Still, over-eagerness to diagnose could clearly cause unnecessary emotional trauma for families.
Our society is so anxious to label anyone who doesn't fit the mold with some sort of condition or disease. When a little boy in 1st grade can't sit still through the 15 minute reading lesson, we helpfully label him ADD or ADHD, give him Ritalin, and merrily continue on our way--when all the while, the only problem may just be that he's a little boy (which, incidentally, is not a problem at all).
I'm not suggesting that there are no developmental disabilities or challenges. I'm not even suggesting that we avoid looking at them as possible reasons for behavior. I'm just saying that we should tread carefully. . .we already have the highest rates of medicated developmentally challenged children in the industrialized world. The solution, if there is one, has to involve individual doctors and parents who are willing to give their children space to be different. Hopefully, that can be done without compromising the possibility of successful early intervention.