Psychology also has its flavours of the month. They come in the forms of diagnostic labels that gain popularity and ascendancy until it seems everyone is talking about them. Once accepted into everyday language they tend to get used to explain anything that challenges the prevailing quest for zero defect in children. Spawned by many vested interests, academic and commercial, they have descriptions like ADHD, Aspergers and Tourettes Syndrome.

There are circumstances where these descriptions do apply. I am not arguing against the legitimate diagnosis of real phenomena by a competent professional. I am questioning if everybody who makes such diagnosis is competent and appreciates the real consequences of the label for the person and the parents.

Unlike medical diagnosis, psychological diagnosis is not objective and scientific. There is a lot of variance between diagnoses and even between different professional communities. The value of psychological diagnosis is mainly for shorthand communication between professionals who can challenge , debate and understand the wider context in which such language is being used.

Not every unruly, ill-mannered and impulsive child had ADHD. The child has probably just never learned limits and has continued to act ten years old the way they did at two when it was appropriate. The consequence of medicating such a child, beside the issue of unnecessary psychotropic medication is that the child will never learn the skills and character traits needed to become a mature well-functioning adult.

There is a danger in the liberal use of and the systematic recruitment of parents and teachers into the idea that the label defines the child’s identity. This makes the child feel damaged and the parents feel inadequate and guilty for failing the child or even resentful towards the child for failing them. The child is then seen through the prism of the label, and gets referred to as the label. All other resources, sparks’ of brilliance or mitigating qualities become rendered invisible.  Parents of children with Down’s Syndrome will tell you of the profound lessons of unconditional love, patience, hope and faith that their child taught them They will talk of how their biggest nightmare when the child was born became their biggest blessing when they realised how special their child really was. How much more so does this apply when children have mild or moderate quirks or issues that can be addressed through a nuanced understanding.  We can help children to become the best of that they can be by teaching them the limits or skills they require, without defining them by what they lack.

I would like to see a return of the days when people are allowed to be themselves and be respected and appreciated for who they are.

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