Definitions and labels

For pretty much the past eight years, I have raised a child with a different set of needs and abilities than those around him.

Javier was diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive and impulsive type) when he was five years old. At three years old, he was accepted into the local infant/toddler program for a 10-month delay in fine motor skills and a 22-month delay in language and communication skills. Beginning around 18 months, he began demonstrating facial ticks that he couldn't control.

My guy is slightly different from his peers. He is funny and sweet and stubborn and in the clouds and witty and sarcastic and silly. He loves to dance and to draw. He beams under positive encouragment. He is easily upset and filled with anxiety. He takes things personally. He holds grudges and remembers everything.

He is not ADHD.

I see and hear parents, teachers, and others referring to children as ADHD, as if that term tells you what you need to know. As if that limiting label could ever sum up a person. They say, "Well, you know Sam is ADHD" or "My daughter is ADHD" or "He's so ADHD." And it breaks my heart.
ADHD is a disorder. It's a chemical imbalance. It affects a huge portion of the population. It is sometimes overmedicated and other times grossly misdiagnosed. But no child is ADHD. People hem and haw over never saying a child is bad or a child is good, choosing instead to pinpoint specific behavior -- hitting is bad; sharing is good. But when it comes to ADHD, not enough people make the distinction.

I am very careful to never slap the ADHD label on Javi. When I talk about his needs, I say, Javi has ADHD. He was diagnosed with this particular disorder.

I can only hope that children who hear or are told that they are ADHD don't receive the message. I hope they don't internalize it, believe it, set their life goals by it. I hope they continue being the complicated little life-forces that they are.

I know that's what I'm in store for with Javi -- and I'm grateful.


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