Let Go of Labels

What is it with our culture’s obsessive need to label and compartmentalize everything in our lives, including our children? Perhaps I am treading into controversial territory here, but I feel I must. Our children are being labeled and drugged daily by well-meaning parents and money-driven pharmaceutical companies. The following article has sent me on a bit of a rant. 😉

ADHD a Fraud? Harvard Now Thinks So Too

Yes, now even some of the “experts” are starting to see that perhaps we’ve done a disservice to an entire generation of children.

I am often grateful that I did not grow up in a time of ADD/ADHD and its treatment of prescribing drugs. I know without question I would have been one of the first to be given Ritalin! I never fit in with the rest of the class. I was always the one staring out the window, eyes glazed over, off in a dream land somewhere far, far away from the sterile confines of my classroom. I am a creative type. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to focus.

I literally remember having thoughts like these:

Okay, I am going to FOCUS today! Yes! I can do this.

Teacher: “So, when the pioneers traveled west in their covered wagons…”

Wow! I wonder where they slept? Did they have pillows? Maybe they used some of their supplies as makeshift pillows? Hmmm…what kind of supplies would they have had? Would they have to bring everything they had in their house? That’s a lot of stuff to fit in one covered wagon! Maybe they had a big yard sale. Wait. Did they have yard sales back then? Hmmm…I wonder when yard sales started. Hey! I should really go yard saling with Dad this weekend! That would be so fun. We haven’t gone in a while. Not since my birthday. Wow, my birthday was so great! I should play with some of my presents today…

Teacher: “Danielle, do you know the answer?”

“Ummmm….the gold rush?”

Ugh! WHY can I not seem to pay attention?! I wonder if Sarah ever has this kind of trouble. She sure has on a cute dress today! I wish I had a nice dress like that…

Yeah. That was my life around the age of 10.

And as I was failing math and not performing in a stellar fashion in any other subjects, either, the theme song that ran through my dream-land brain was, “Que Sera Sera.” (We had it on a record. Seriously. This was my theme song!) I couldn’t focus no matter how hard I tried, so why stress? Life would go on.

And do you know what my wonderful 5th grade teacher, Mr. Bolton, did? He did not tell my mom I may need to be evaluated for ADD/ADHD. No, he did not turn to a label to explain my problems. Instead, he found some very practical solutions. First, he had my hearing tested, as my go-to response for missing things in class was, “I didn’t hear you.” Once that little exercise showed my hearing was perfectly normal, he asked my mom if she would be willing to pick me up an hour later each day so that I could stay after school in the classroom to work on my homework. In this way, he was able to give personalized attention and help me focus because I wanted to get done and get home!

But most importantly, he encouraged my imagination and gift of writing by sending me to a special workshop that only two of his students could attend. He had seen my talent surface when he began requiring the class to write a story each week, and he told my parents I had a very special gift that needed to be valued and developed, and that I should start keeping a journal daily. And I did. For the next 7 years I wrote daily, and off and on for several years after that. That practice writing whatever came to me, without the pressure of guidelines or a grade, is probably what refined my writing skill more than anything else I’ve done in my life, thanks to the intentional efforts of Mr. Bolton.

Instead of feeling like I had something wrong with me, I felt like this difference between me and my classmates was something to be treasured. It was a gift. I had a special talent, not a label. If I had any label at all, it was “writer.”

Instead of compartmentalizing and marginalizing our children by labeling them ADD/ADHD or any other burdensome, disabling letters, why don’t we treat them as special individuals with unique gifts and needs? Why don’t we get a little creative and ask ourselves how we can accommodate each unique child without putting a label on them that they will carry for the rest of their lives?

I know there are some parents that will still insist that their child is different. Their child definitely has a disability and simply cannot focus without some kind of intervention. Well, perhaps so. But I would ask that parent to please at least avoid the labels. Labels carry with them everyone else’s connotations, impressions, and baggage; They are heavy for a child and remain in the psyche for a lifetime, usually causing them to feel inferior. And certainly that parent should consider very seriously before giving them a pill daily that, to my knowledge, has not been studied for its long-term effects. (Not to mention the fact that it is extremely hard to be giving your child a pill every day without them coming to the logical conclusion that there is “something wrong” with them).

So, did I pass 5th grade? Yes. And I actually made it through my entire childhood without being put into the disability box. It goes to show that if you treat your child like an individual; find ways to help them learn the important life skills of listening and focusing; and find opportunities to authentically celebrate their special gifts, they will thrive.

I thank the Lord for the Mr. Boltons of the world. And I hope we will begin to see more of them.

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