Saturday, January 28, 2012

Psychological disorder or chemical exposure

I wanted to share this story. 12 students at one school have become suddenly stricken with symptoms of tics and outbursts that resemble Tourette's.  10 of them are being treated by the same neurologist, and he diagnoses them with a psychological condition.  The school swears there is nothing wrong with the environment, the superintendent is backing this claim.

One thing I don't understand is how easy it was for Erin Brockovich, with no medical background, to link their symptoms to a past chemical spill, but the neurologist has "ruled out any medical and environmental factors." What are the motives of the neurologist? I think that, as a nurse practitioner, if I had 10 patients walk into my clinic with the same symptoms, I would start trying to connect the dots. I feel like this "conversion" diagnosis, might be a bit hasty and more research is warranted before these kids get straddled with a psychological "disorder."

 According to the U.S National Library of Medicine "Conversion disorder symptoms may occur because of a psychological conflict. Symptoms usually begin suddenly after a stressful experience."  It states that, the symptoms are: blindness, paralysis, inability to speak and numbness.  Nowhere does it state that there are tics involved or Tourette's like symptoms. So, you mean to tell me that all these kids have been exposed to some major psychological conflict and everyone of them are suffering from the same symptoms as a result? I am only family nurse practitioner, I didn't specialize in psychology, so maybe it is more difficult for me to understand.

As a parent, I would start by taking my kids out of this school.  Second, I would take them to another neurologist for a second opinion.  As a nurse practitioner, I would certainly look at the the links that these kids had in common: same school, same town, same drinking water???  I know as a provider when you are in a situation it may be a little murky up close.  It is always easier to see things more clearly as an outsider.  Even if these symptoms are not directly linked to the chemical spill where the school is located, the chemicals have a laundry list of other adverse conditions they can cause.  These are certainly enough reasons to get these kids into another environment or at least another school district until things are sorted out.


  1. I absolutely agree with you regarding the unlikely diagnosis of conversion disorder. I would be looking for something environmental.

  2. I'm not a NP but I also agree that they should fully exhaust any possibility of an environmental cause before they start making psychiatric diagnoses. It would be interesting to see if these kids continue to present with the same s/sx after being relocated a different environment.

  3. Thanks for commenting. Even Erin Brockovich is nowhere near medical in expertise and she is able to locate documentation that supports an environmental cause. I would be curious to see how the neurologist is connected to the community and the school.