Saturday, March 10, 2007

Too Many Disorders and Syndromes?

There are people I consider mental health hypochondriacs. They read a list of "symptoms" and self-diagnose themselves with everything from attention deficits to autism disorders. If there's a way to excuse a lack of success, self-control, organization, healthy relationships, and general contentment, these people will find it in a book or on a Web site. Worse, we have parents and teachers labeling students in ways that might end up doing real harm to future generations.

I'll offer the standard disclaimer: I do believe there are disorders and conditions affecting a lot of students. I also admit that some might be more common than in the past — might be, but not necessarily are.
What qualifies me to say this? Aren't I being a hypocrite if I'm accepting the label of "autistic" and writing about my experiences? Blunt answer: I was seriously injured during birth. I do not doubt my medical history is being overlaid with current trends in psychology.

However, let's be honest. There are too many children being treated with psychopharmacology instead of good parenting and classroom management. I wasn't on medications in elementary school, wasn't seeing a psychologist, and wasn't pampered by my parents. Now, the parents of students are also on medications. They view medicating as a normal, acceptable way to deal with life.

I fear that "normal" has become a disorder. Boys squirming in plastic chairs after 40 minutes? Must be hyperactivity! A girl who likes to sit and read for hours? Could be introversion from ADHD with OCD tendencies! Mood swings and foot tapping? Maybe it's Asperger's Syndrome. Anger management issues? Clearly that's a disability we need to treat, not punish. In some classes, a third of the students are on medications -- and those are "normal" classes, not special education.

Let's hope we aren't numbing creativity or teaching our children they aren't responsible for their own actions. I wish I knew how we can separate genuine disabilities from our desire to subdue every "flaw" in our children.

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