Thursday, March 19, 2009

Accepting Children For Who They Are

It has happened again.  I'm reading a blog, a message board post, or a group email and someone starts listing what they think may be wrong with their child.  ADD, ADHD, SPD, ODD, etc. Somehow the child's behavior doesn't conform to some external norm and there is a need to slap a label on it.

I'm really uncomfortable with the labeling.  Someone says her child exhibits signs of ADD because he doesn't pay attention, or he has ADHD, which seems to mean that he doesn't pay attention and can't hold still.  A father says his child has ODD because he doesn't do what he is told or challenges the father's authority.

Parents compare their children to other children and worry that the behavior they see in their own child is somehow deficient.  Other kids are well-behaved, they sit still and pay attention, they do what they are told.  Well, I'm told that other children are like this; I've yet to meet a perfect child.

I have a child who is dreamy, who gets lost in thought and doesn't hear me speaking to him, who starts a task but gets sidetracked easily.  I suppose that in a school setting a teacher or administrator might bring up the ADD/ADHD label and suggest medication.  Obviously these medications do something that improves the situation for teachers attempting to control a classroom and parents who are frustrated by the child's behavior, and certainly within the range of children with these disorders there will be some children and families for who medication is the best choice.

This same child is stubborn.  He doesn't want to do things; he stomps his feet, he cries, he says "no".  He is as stubborn as his brother is compliant and eager to please.  When he was two he would simply drop himself to the floor when he didn't want to do something (one time dislocating his elbow in the process).  I don't see the behavior as defiance; I see a child who knows what he wants and is not easily swayed.  There will come a day when his tenacity helps him fulfill his goals.

Neither of my children blends seamlessly into the world, but is it harder for this sensitive, dreamy, stubborn child.  The air is too hot or too cold, the sounds too loud, the texture of the food too gooey or crunchy or lumpy.  There are foods that smell too strongly (bananas?).

Now, can I tell you something?  As a child I hated lemonade because of the pulp (still do).  I hated that everyone else wanted the TV louder than was comfortable for me.  I disliked the feel of the breeze on my skin (still do).  The sun was too bright (still is).  I was always cold (still am).  I couldn't stand the texture of nuts cooked into food, of shredded coconut, of what I referred to as pieces in my food (still can't).

I was stubborn.  I knew what I wanted and found ways to get it.  I cried a lot.  I doodled all the time in classes and meetings.  As an adult I still get distracted; I can hardly sit through a symphony or play.  Instead of doodling I now knit in meetings, classes, etc.

No one labelled me.  Well, that isn't entirely true; I received the gifted label early on.  But none of my traits was a medical condition requiring intervention.  I was allowed to be me.  If I didn't like the pulp in lemonade or orange juice I could choose another beverage or strain out the pulp.  I could wear sunglasses.  My stubborn nature was considered an asset, and teachers praised my natural leadership ability, which meant that I could get other kids to do what I wanted to do.

We aren't all the same, but it doesn't mean that we need to medicalize each and every one of our differences.

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