Friday, December 25, 2009

On the Subject of Labeling

It's clean-up time and I'm moving some stuff over from my other journal.

I originally wrote this in January, 2004.

"What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think." – Emerson

I guess this is a sensitive topic for me. My three-year-old son was just diagnosed as having a "Biologically-Based Disinhibition Disorder"; that is, ADHD. This diagnosis comes as no surprise to those who know him well. C. has always been unique in many ways. It's difficult to adequately describe how we knew that something about him was more unique than other children. From his behavior to his speech, something was definitely amiss. We had him evaluated first by the school system's Child Find program. They indicated that he had delays in receptive and expressive speech, social and emotional growth, as well as gross and fine motor delays. They said that ADHD was a strong possibility. From there we went to a neurologist who sent us to a neuropsychologist. After extensive testing, the neuropsychologist pronounced C. to be a very bright little boy with ADHD.

For us, the diagnosis was confirmation of what we had already suspected. Our attitude is, here's our answer, now what can we do about it. In the coming months we will be working with a behavioral management specialist, among others. Whatever we can learn and do to make all of our lives better, we'll do. Knowing that he has ADHD clarifies why he sometimes behaves the way he does. It also lets us learn how we can best deal with him.

The strange part of this comes about when we let others know about his ADHD. For us it is a way of explaining why he seems so beyond energetic and outgoing. "Disinhibition" ought to be C.'s middle name - he's never met a stranger and thinks nothing of sitting on a complete stranger's lap and starting a conversation. Another ADHD description, "runs as if driven by a motor", also suits C. He is as rough and tumble as a little boy can get, except sometimes more so. Our neighbor, when discussing this with me, explained that she thought too many kids were diagnosed and that C. was just a typical little boy. But! Her son “was never like that” . Oh, and her daughter, who is C.'s age, is afraid of C. Wow, thanks. Just because ADHD is over diagnosed, doesn't mean he doesn't have it.

But I digress. Too many people are astonished that we'd allow someone to "label" such a young child. What, like we hadn't already? "C. E." was his first label, followed closely by "Big Man", "Destructo Boy", and “Conzilla” . His personal favorite is "C. Shine", which must always be followed by his song. He is an amazingly cheerful little boy who is enthusiastic about every success. Anyone who looks only at his ADHD "label" and ignores his beautiful smile and sweet disposition is missing out. Of course, their vision may be clouded by having been on the receiving end of one of his hair-pulling or shoving episodes. Or maybe they've had to chase after him as he ran out of the classroom. His teachers still manage a smile at the end of their day with him. They see the boy, not the diagnosis. Why can't everyone else?

The other concern that I've heard is, “I know the way people talk about ADHD kids. I don't want my child to be one of the kids they're talking about”. My guess is, if your child is exhibiting the kind of behaviors that would lead someone to suggest the child be evaluated for ADHD, it's too late. Trust me, people are already talking about the child. Know that the people talking about those kids are petty, narrow-minded folk. Anyone who judges a person based on their medical condition is an idiot who does not deserve my respect or consideration. There, I said it. If you can't handle childish behavior, get out of the field that causes you to deal with children. 'Nuf said.

I have little regard for labels. They are just something that someone calls us. My name is a label. To my husband, I am Julie or Jules. To my kids I am Mommy. Different labels, same me. My eldest daughter K. is often known as "the girl who wears glasses". Last year she was "the girl with the eye patch". My younger daughter A. is now known as "that cute baby". As a newborn she was known as "the baby with the rash". In the future she will likely be known as "that kid with no teeth" or hopefully "that kid with dentures" (at which point we will be known as "that family wearing barrels"). All different labels, for a different reason.

Labels don't scare me. People using labels scare me. The best thing I've read is that a label is only harmful if it is misused. If I use his diagnosis to figure out the best way to treat him, that is using the label properly. If I say "Oh, he has ADHD" to explain why he hit a kid while not disciplining him, that's misuse. Another misuse of labels, in my opinion, is refusing to try to get a diagnosis because you don't want your child labeled. Will ignoring the problem make it go away? I don't understand. I'm not saying you have to get him or her diagnosed with something. If you think there is a problem with your child, get him evaluated. If there is a problem, get the child the help he or she needs. If not, sit back and count your blessings. Parents should be their child's advocate at all times, regardless of the outcome. You know your child, you know when something is amiss. Act on it, don't try to wish it away. I cannot imagine not having C. evaluated for ADHD any more than I can imagine not having K. evaluated for lazy eye. But I suppose it is less socially acceptable to have an emotionally and socially challenged child than a nearly-blind-in-one-eye child.

The range of potential manifestations for C.'s "label" isn't much shorter that A.'s. No two kids with their conditions react the same. No one has a problem accepting that she has a medical condition, but his diagnosis often draws challenges. Why? Because his "label" isn't acceptable in our society. Hopefully someday it will be.


Jeff Deutsch said...


Speaking as an Aspie, I know people accept things like vision and hearing impairments than social and behavioral ones. That's because the former aren't easily confused with being a plain old butt-head. People tend to jump to conclusions too quickly; on the other hand the latter kind of impairments give plenty of fodder for snap judgments.

Hang in there, and my best to A., C. and K.!

Jeff Deutsch