Comment on ‘What’s in a Label”

What’s in a Label? – Today’s Parent Magazine

I strongly disagree with the recent article in Today’s parent magazine “What’s in a Label?” http://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/kids-health-labelling-behaviour/, which states that labeling a child with a disorder, be it ADHD, ODD, anxiety or OCD, imprisons a child and gives them the feeling of a life sentence. Liza Finlay, a psychotherapist, goes on to say that these labels allow a child to sidestep any effort to improve. My experiences are far different. From a personal family perspective as well as the perspective of someone who has spoken to thousands of families over the past twenty years, it is the lack of early diagnosis and therefore lack of treatment and access of resources that have imprisoned many children into a life of dealing with the consequences of these disorders. Left untreated, ADHD can lead to additional mental health disorders, increased rates of high school dropout, less years of education, self-medication leading to substance abuse, involvement with the justice system, as well as increased socioeconomic costs.

A psychologist who believes that the earlier mentioned disorders are nothing but behaviours, and that children can simply choose to adopt different behaviours, is an affront to decades of medical research. Does therapy combined with other treatments for these conditions prove helpful? Sometimes, but that does not mean that ADHD is simply a set of behaviours that can be unlearned.

The notion that “once a child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents stop expecting them to behave” is not only ludicrous, it is insulting. Once a diagnosis happens, parents are able to put the child’s behaviour into perspective. They are then able to focus on appropriate parenting strategies to assist that child with their behaviours and access other appropriate treatments.

I certainly agree that additionally focusing on a child’s strengths and working to increase their capacities is essential, but the best way to do this is within the understanding of a child’s overall profile. The lack of understanding of a child with ADHD can lead to all of the above mentioned consequences as well as increased childhood and family stress, family breakup, and, in extreme cases, abuse and children leaving home.

Do we need increased tolerance for those who do not fit into society’s definition of normal? Do we need to expand society’s definition of normal? The answer to both of these questions, of course, is yes. But we need to make sure that while we work on this goal, we don’t neglect the children who are labeling themselves as stupid, lazy and bad because no one has let them know why they might be finding it more difficult to succeed than their peers.

 

Heidi Bernhardt

President

www.caddac.ca

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