Labeling kids with bogus ‘mental disorders’

A Facebook friend of mine posted this video with the comment, “Can I get a f*%cking-A!?” It’s a powerful video with a powerful message. In it, children and young people are shown with psychiatric labels across their chests – oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar disorder, general anxiety disorder, ADHD, etc. The kids then start tearing off the labels to reveal more positive labels underneath – philosopher, revolutionary, activist, etc.

The tagline is “Childhood is not a mental disorder.”


And a big part of me wanted to stand up and scream “Yes!” Because I am the first person to rail against pathologizing normal human behavior – especially in children. It breaks my heart to see parents agonize over a rambunctious boy for fear he has ADHD, to see a mother worry that her sassy little girl has Oppositional Defiant Disorder, to see the deep worry on a father’s face as he reads about autism and worries that this is what’s “wrong” with his late-talking toddler. Most kids are just fine, and many parents worry themselves sick over normal variations in development.

But my own very personal experience keeps me from giving an unqualified “f*%cking-A!” to this provoking video.

I have a kid with a label. And I know with everything in me that having that label has dramatically changed this child’s life for the better.

I think when we discuss these issues we need to be careful not to polarize along ideological lines. Are many completely normal kids given inappropriate labels? Maybe. Are some kids labeled and medicated for the convenience of adults? I believe it happens. Do some kids have legitimate mental health concerns or behavioral challenges that can benefit from intervention? My experience says yes.

It can be tricky to tease out problematic behavior from normal, healthy development. When do normal childhood fears and concerns become an anxiety disorder? When does a tendency for daydreaming or propensity for fidgeting become ADHD?

These are not easy questions to answer. We do not help children by pretending that every ADHD diagnosis is made up. Labeling a child with general anxiety disorder as an activist (as they do in the video) does not help the child live with what may be a very real and very debilitating anxiety that keeps him from enjoying his life. But we must make sure that in “helping” a child, we are truly seeking to help him live his life as the best and truest version of himself. Our goal should be to help all children develop their strengths while learning to manage their weaknesses.

My child’s therapist (you can have no idea how much it pains me to use those words) speaks of therapy as providing an “owner’s manual” for the type of brain my kid has. The goal of therapy is not to change who my child is, not to make this child fit into an ideal mold for our convenience. But before therapy, this child could not do things normal kids do – things this child wanted to do. Play on the playground? Interact with friends? Go to school? See a movie with a grandparent? Sit on the couch in our own house and play a video game? These were things the child wanted desperately to do, but the disorder prevented it. With therapy, the child can now enjoy these activities. Yes, my child needed therapy in order to sit on the couch in our home.

Seeking therapy was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I was always the one shouting against labeling and medicating kids, about putting young children in therapy and making them feel something was wrong with them, about squashing rather than embracing who a child actually is.

But my kid was hurting. I had to put aside my own fears and anxieties and ideologies and help my kid the best way I knew how. And that meant making an appointment with a psychologist. And that was hands down the hardest thing I have ever done.

And perhaps the most rewarding. Today that child is thriving. We have all learned skills to manage the disorder in a positive and supportive way rather than being completely befuddled by and sometimes angry at this poor kid who really was hurting.

If I had let my fear or my stubborn belief that no child should be labeled stop me from seeking help, my kid would still be struggling, still be hurting, still be suffering. How does that serve any child?

So yes, we should absolutely be careful of pathologizing childhood. We should be incredibly conservative in labeling children and even more conservative in medicating children. But messages like the one in the video above simply serve to further confuse parents who are already confused and hurting as they try to help their children. We need to be careful of polarizing messages that prevent children from getting the help they need and shame parents who seek help for their kids.

 

7 Things To Do While Waiting for Labor

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I just read a super annoying blog post about 7 things to do while waiting for labor. I won’t link to it because I don’t want to disparage anyone, but there was reference to a “patience hat.” Seriously?

I’m snuggled in bed with my 5 day old. My sister and a friend of mine are due any minute. I can tell you, you can only tell a woman waiting for labor to “put on her patience hat” from the safety of your computer screen over the internet. Say that to her face and you better guard yours.

Those days before going into labor are excruciating. I don’t care if it’s your 1st or your 4th. I imagine it’s the same even if it’s your 10th, but I can only speak from personal experience for the first 4.

A friend of mine described it as the worst anticipation of her life, and I would agree. That first contraction could start at any moment. It could be with the next breath – or, God help you, it could be another week or more. How in the world does anyone survive it?

So here’s my list of 7 Things to do While Waiting for Labor. I promise not to tell you to just be patient. I promise.

Find a Project
I was super on top of things this time around. My freezer was stocked, my house was ready, the baby clothes were washed, my hospital bag was packed, the laundry was caught up for crying out loud.

Stupid.

I told my husband, “I finished nesting too early. I need a project.” I wasn’t feeling any particular surge of energy, I didn’t want to do anything super physical. I looked around and decided I would finally finish the tiny details on the bathroom makeover I started almost a year ago. It involved decoupaging some pictures (I have an unnatural love of Mod Podge, at least according to my husband) and hemming a shower curtain.

I did it in small steps over a couple of days. It was perfect. I finished 6 hours before the baby was born.

Keep Making Plans
Whatever your normal routine is, just keep doing it. Whatever you do, don’t stop your life and just sit home waiting to go into labor. My sister is due in one week. I just heard from my mom that mom is babysitting so my sister could go to the DMV to get tags on her car. We had a lot of work done on our cars in the weeks before this baby was born. The day before the baby was born, I made plans to get together for a playdate the day after the baby was born. Obviously, those plans got cancelled, but having them gave me something to look forward to had I not gone into labor when I did.
Of course, if you would really rather just stay home and take a nap, for heaven’s sake do that! If you feel tired and snuggly, then rest. But if you feel antsy and restless, keep making plans.

Serve Someone Else
Stay with me a moment here. It’s not a lecture, I promise. It’s just a way to take your mind off of yourself for a bit. One of my favorite mysteries of the Rosary is “The Visitation.” It’s where we reflect on the fact that just after Mary was told she was going to be the Mother of God, she heads off to help her cousin Elizabeth through the final trimester of her pregnancy.

I remember the first time I really thought about this. I remember thinking, “Wow. This woman just found out she’s going to be the freakin’ Mother of God. And she’s pregnant – with the King of the Universe – and she’s humbly trotting off to serve her cousin.”

Because my natural instinct is to be all “I’ve got some big stuff going on here myself, so, um, yeah, I’d like to help, but I’m over here in my first trimester with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, so maybe you could ask somebody else?”

So when I’m making an effort, I try to do something nice for someone else, even when I’ve got my own stuff going on. Nothing big. But the day before I had this baby, I did make an effort to deliver one of the meals I’d frozen to a friend who’d just had a baby. It made me feel good and it took my mind off of the imminence of labor for about 15 minutes. Oh, and it gave me a chance to bitch a little to someone else about how much the end of pregnancy sucks.

Make a Date with a Friend
This is not one of those “you won’t be able to do this after the baby comes” recommendations. This is simply acknowledging that hanging with a good girl friend is a nice way to pass the time. If you have other kids and you can ditch them, great. But even if it’s a playdate in the park where you can let your kids run off while you enjoy an unseasonably warm afternoon sitting at a picnic table gabbing with a friend (thanks, Andrea!), spend some time with people who love you and whom you love. It will distract you and remind you that you have friends. This will be important for you to remember once you do finally have that baby.

Do Something you Want to Do
Again, not because all your fun is about to come to an end, but because it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. Get a massage. Go to a movie. Go to a yoga class. Go to one of those “Sip and Paint” classes. Whatever. Spend a little time doing something fun and frivolous. Because there’s nothing worse than just waiting.

Remember You Truly Won’t be Pregnant Forever
I don’t say that flippantly. This time around there was a good part of my brain that truly believed that this was all a cruel joke. That I wasn’t actually pregnant but rather had just contracted some strange medical condition with no known cure. The miracle of life is really hard to wrap your mind around, and I think it’s possible for even sane and rational people like myself (ahem.) to start to believe that it is possible to be pregnant forever. Just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen now. There’s a first time for everything.

If any part of that previous paragraph sounds rational to you, don’t worry. It means you’re really, really close.

Go Ahead and Bitch a Little
One of the 7 things to do in the above referenced blog post was to stop complaining. (I told you it was an annoying post!) Bollocks. The end of pregnancy is HARD. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s still this huge thing that’s happening and some of it sucks. Yes, it’s beautiful and spiritual and miraculous. But it’s not really . . . fun. So go ahead and share some of those thoughts and feelings with that friend you’re hanging out with. Especially if she’s been there before. Don’t dwell on it, but really, it’s okay to say, “you know what? This really sucks.” And if she tells you to put on your patience hat, punch her in the nose.

 

 

How do you keep calm and homeschool on?

This was the question posed on one of my homeschool forums. Someone was asking for help in taming her temper. She wanted to hear from people who have real tempers (that’s me) and who have conquered them (that’s not me). Even though I am not a picture of perfect, peaceful motherhood (oh how I long to be that mother), under an amazing spiritual director I have made some steps in that direction. Here is what I shared with the other group.

I most definitely have a temper. Here are some things that have helped. Although please know, it is not conquered. And honestly, I think if that’s your goal, you will always be beating up on yourself. Try to make your goal “improvement” and  thank God for each small improvement.

 Spiritual direction helped tremendously. One of the things that came out for me is the motivation for order. I want a calm organized house, but the purpose should be toward family harmony. And if I am throwing a temper tantrum because things aren’t calm and organized, I’m not working toward family harmony, I’m contributing to the chaos around me.

These great little books: The 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher Series | Ave Maria Press They’re bite sized and perfect for a quick 5 minutes in the morning, but also provide enough to sit and chew on for a good 30 minutes in the morning if I have the time.

Early to bed and early to rise. Getting up at least an hour before my kids helps my sanity so, so, much. I start with a little prayer, and then get my day organized before anyone else gets up. It was hard at first, but now it’s my favorite part of my day.
Really looking at my kids. So often I’m just trying to get through my day, but when I really stop and look at my children, I realize how little they are and how much I love them. Just taking a moment to really see my children has done more to develop my joy in parenting than any other parenting practice. With practice, I have gotten to the point where I can sometimes even do this when I’m about to lose it with them. It helps me to stop, remember my goal is family harmony, and to respond with love and a touch more patience than my natural instinct.
Also from my spiritual director, I am constantly trying to practice responding rather than reacting. I find if I can just take a deep breath, even better if I can remember to say a quick prayer, and attempt to respond with some bit of self control rather than to just let it fly (which feels so good in the moment, but so, so awful later), I can usually come up with a better response than my initial impulse.

 And finally I have had to learn to accept my humanness. I am not perfect, I fall constantly. Daily. A confessor once told me, “When you fall, get up quickly.” So that is what I try to do. Jesus loves me and he doesn’t want me to wallow in self-hatred. He wants me to pick myself up and try again. And again. Tiny steps toward improvement. A trust that Jesus will make it all okay. And a willingness to keep on keeping on.