The Myth of the Normal Brain

I want to share an article that Thomas Armstrong Ph.D. wrote in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics about neurodiversity that proposes that there is no such thing as a “normal” brain.  I have always felt that kids labeled with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Autism have learning differences, not learning disabilities. I do not like the way people with learning differences and mental health issues are often pathologized.

A great thing my credential program in Special Education emphasized was to focus on the person’s strengths. And as this article says, everyone has strengths. Kids can actually develop Depression from being labeled and having everyone focusing on their weaknesses.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb Ph.D. talks about her experience in her article ” Just Down- Not Out!” that many times after kids are diagnosed with ADHD they develop depression. She states, ” Being diagnosed with ADHD often makes a child or adult feel like there is something intrinsically wrong with their brain..that it impacts all areas of their life…, and that the disorder will not go away. In short, an ADHD diagnosis is a formula for developing depression.”

Dr. Armstrong points out all the things that people are labeled for may actually be adaptive in survival and can still be seen as a strength. Dr. Edward Hallowell was one of the first to write a book about ADD and has resisted labeling ADHD as a disorder. He says, ” The best way to think of ADD is not as a mental disorder but a collection of traits and tendencies that define a way of being in the world. There is some positive to it and some negative, some glory and some pain. If the negative becomes disabling, then this way of being in the world can become a disorder. The point of diagnosis and treatment is to transform the disorder into an asset.” (1)

It makes sense that if you label someone as disordered or tell them they have a disorder they are going to be seen as defective and feel defective. I hope more people in education and medicine adopt the attitude that Dr. Armstrong proposes and see these differences as diversity not disorder. And to focus on the strengths when working with kids.

The Myth of the Normal Brain: Embracing Neurodiversity, Apr 15 – AMA Journal of Ethics (formerly Virtual Mentor).

1. Delivered from distraction: getting the most out of life with attention deficit disorder
By Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey
Published by Random House, Inc., 2005
ISBN 034544230X, 9780345442307

6 thoughts on “The Myth of the Normal Brain

  1. Laura L.

    Excellent topic, and thanks for the citing of the original article. I was thinking similar things today, especially the “Being diagnosed with ADHD often makes a child or adult feel like there is something intrinsically wrong with their brain..that it impacts all areas of their life.” and stated something similar in my A to Z post today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Yes, I think it is important for people to know about their differences and how they may operate differently from someone else and to get support and learn how to navigate in the world with these differences. But on the other hand, it is important to emphasize that the person has strengths and that they may be different but not less than other people.


  2. irenedesign2011

    I really agree with this topic Deborah. Kids with special needs just have their strength other places than usual kids and it is all about supporting them where they are doing great, so they learn to believe in themselves and become able to adapt the more difficult things for them to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Prajakta

    This really brings up the sensitivity of handling these children. Just because their brains work differently, does not mean it is not normal! Thank you for sharing this and the original article.

    Liked by 1 person



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