I wanted to build upon my last post about the dangers of going overboard with labels by exploring lazy diagnoses. Like a cowboy with his hands drawn by his holsters, ready for some fast hip shooting, society seems equally prone to slap medical labels on everything.
It’s fine when it’s apt, but we’ve learned a lot from our education system over the years about when it’s not.
We’ll dive into some studies, and then deconstruct.
Some kids have learning disorders. But too often they don’t, and doctors and school admins are too quick on the draw to dole out labels like ADHD. Dr. Daniela Drake wrote an article on ADDitude.com calling out that over an eight year span of time the diagnoses of ADHD spiked 42%, to a whopping 6.5 million children.
Sure, you can explain some of that away by arguing that as our ability to identify disorders becomes more sophisticated, seeing more instances of it is natural. But that much, that fast?
Over the last 30 years, the medication used to treat this “epidemic” has grown 20-fold.
Even aside the often unnecessary spending on so many drugs — which by the way is estimated at $320-500 million — aside the drug dependencies it can create, one of the bigger tragedies is that the real source of the issue isn’t being addressed as long as the kid and their doctor still believe it’s all about ADHD. “I have a disorder; what can I do except swallow more pills?”
Michigan State University estimates nearly 1 million children are misdiagnosed with ADHD.
Anecdotal examples are just as prevalent.
My best friend was your classic example of very smart kid that was bored at the pace most classes moved. He saw homework as a pointless reiteration of basic concepts, and didn’t need to show his work in math because he could do it in his head. Teachers thought he was either lazy or stupid, and “clearly” had a mood disorder.
In reality, what he probably needed most was to be in more advanced classes.
One science teacher even told him he’d never amount to anything. No shit.
Nowadays he’s a successful software engineer who’s entering the cryptocurrency arena.
When I was probably 5 I was painfully shy. I’m told I had trouble talking to strangers, especially men. Folks at my school thought I should undergo some tests to see why. From a gambit of hearing/recognition tests to verbal ones, it quickly became clear they thought I was linguistically challenged.
“He’s not ready to advance yet like the other kids,” they told my parents. So I went to pre-first instead of moving straight onto first grade. Obviously the thinking was that I’d be behind my classmates forever, that it was questionable whether my parents should expect much.
So this linguistically retarded kid went on to be in advanced reading classes that were still too easy the rest of grade school, then straight A’s in high school. He fell asleep in English classes and still got A’s.
I began my adult career as a professional writer. Oh, and my auditory comprehension? I became an audiophile.
If that’s not a sad yet laughable example of school admins getting it wrong, I don’t know what is. I say all this to illustrate a very important point.
I didn’t go on to write well in spite of my difficulties. This is not an adorable story of a kid overcoming a disorder against all odds. It’s a story of a kid that never had a disorder that got a label, a kid that went on to prove the label was never appropriate. Because the school wasn’t equipped to deal with shy kids, or bored kids, or gifted kids. So they resorted to assuming there was a developmental disorder for anyone not behaving within their definition of the “proper” 5-6 year old.
Why am I a little acerbic about this?
Because I feel like I got lucky and dodged a bullet.
Expectation Can Steer Development
When you tell someone they’re no good at something, especially when there’s even a little bit of supportive evidence, it changes how they see that something. In the future they may not really try when presented with that challenge. “Why try so hard,” they say to themselves, “I’ll never get it anyway.”
“A growing body of evidence suggests that one’s perception of ability or self-confidence is the central mediating construct of achievement strivings.”
Put another way, you’ll try harder at something you feel confident about, and are less likely to put the same effort into things you don’t feel confident about.
Not only is this self destructive even if they indeed aren’t good at it (since the right effort could still overcome it), but what if you’re wrong about their aptitude? What if they could be good at it, and the doubt you’ve instilled in them blocks a whole path of development into something beautiful?
These are a person’s formative years after all.
What if my friend believed he wasn’t good at math because some teacher told him so over not showing work? Or over not doing homework? The teacher said, “I know you didn’t do this in your head because I can’t do it in my head.”
You know what? I’m glad my friend was mouthy and replied “Wow, I’m sorry to hear that.”
Because the alternative might have been believing he was less than he is. Might have been not pursuing a career he’s done so well in.
Let’s be more conscious of how easily we limit people, tell them they can or can’t do something, or fail adapt to how people learn. Otherwise it becomes more about a box we’re stuffing everyone into and less about growing.