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.