We’re seeing more and more kids diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and/or ADHD.
There’s certainly more awareness of these disorders in the community, so kids are more likely to be seen by a doctor or psychologist.
Some people also say that these disorders are more prevalent, which they attribute to everything from pollutants to pesticides.
Some suggest that these disorders have been artificially created, and are just a ploy by Big Pharma to get kids on doped up on medication.
So are these disorders real? Do they exist?
In my clinical work, I’ve seen hundreds of children with these disorders. I’ve even diagnosed some of them.
What’s interesting is the conversations I have with the parents. Many of them don’t actually think there’s anything wrong. Their kids don’t have a “disorder” – they’re just sensitive, or spirited, or unique.
Some people think that clinical diagnosis is like deciding if someone’s wearing a hat. Either they are, or they aren’t.
Actually, diagnosis is an art. It begins with the diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). But, deciding whether a child meets these criteria is the art. It’s a matter of clinical opinion.
Some kids do meet the diagnostic criteria, but for various reasons it’s not appropriate to be diagnosed. And some kids don’t quite meet the criteria – but still warrant a diagnosis.
The key issue is whether the individual has a functional problem.
Indeed, that’s the key issue for any of the mental disorders.
For kids, functional problems could relate to socialisation, academic progress, motor development, or day to day skills (like being able to put on a coat, or knowing that it’s dangerous to stick a knife in the toaster).
Now, for the record, I do acknowledge that some kids with ADHD and/or autism are severely affected and experience tremendous hardship. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of them, and I think that these kids and their families are amazing.
I’m certainly not discounting the legitimacy of their struggles or of any diagnoses that have been given. However, this article isn’t about those families.
This article is about those kids and families who genuinely aren’t experiencing major problems.
Sure, there might be some concentration issues, or the kids might be “behind” in maths or reading, or they might have some trouble interacting with their peers. But no one around them thinks of it as a problem. It’s just a quirk that’s part of the child’s personality. It’s just part of the rich tapestry of who they are.
Some people are good at reading. Some are good with numbers. Some are good at fixing cars. Some are good at playing the violin.
Some people are shy, some are talkative, some are energetic, and some are quiet.
We all have our quirks. Our strengths, and our weaknesses.
So when do our quirks become a problem?
My answer is: it’s only a problem if it’s a problem.
Think about some of the big names of our generation. People like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Jim Carrey, and even President Obama. It’s speculated that each of these individuals experienced autism spectrum disorder or ADHD.
As kids, their quirks meant that they struggled. But as adults, their quirks have become their greatest assets.
Of course, international fame is not the only measure of success. Some of the most creative, artistic, talented, and innovative people in the world could have been given a “diagnosis” as kids.
In some cases, we only see problems in certain environments.
Kids might find it challenging to learn in classrooms (especially with the trend towards open-plan learning). Or they might struggle to socialise with their peers. Or they might “fall behind” the other kids. At school, they may have natural talents in art, or sport, or science, which can go under-utilised or even ignored.
In these settings, kids do experience “problems”.
But when we change the environment, these problems improve, or resolve completely.
For this reason, many parents choose alternative school settings, or have opted for home-schooling or un-schooling.
And in these non-traditional environments, their kids thrive.
It wasn’t always like this.
Not long ago – there weren’t too many options for schooling.
Some people said that traditional school was crucial. Even if kids hated school. Even if they were bored, or distracted, or didn’t get along with everyone – they had to learn how to cope. Because that’s what jobs are like. That’s what the real world is like.
But the real world has changed.
To earn a living, we no longer need to set at a desk, in a cubicle, in an office, in a building somewhere. We no longer need to work the traditional 9-5.
Entrepreneurship is a part of the new generation. We can do everything online – even run a business.
We don’t ever have to interact face-to-face with others. We don’t ever have to leave our homes. We can work any hours we please, and take as many breaks as we want. We can eat at our desks. We can take our desks outside and sit in the sun. We can work while exercising (I’ve been known to take business calls while walking with my son).
For some people, this sounds horrible. For the person with autism or ADHD – it could be paradise.
So if traditional schooling is no longer necessary, and kids can get still get a great education while thriving, and they can learn to harnesses their natural talents to earn a living – do kids with autism and ADHD experience the typical functional “problems” we normally associate with these disorders?
And more importantly – was there a problem to begin with?
Maybe these disorders were problems of the “old style” of education and employment. But we don’t live in that world anymore.
Now I’d love to hear your opinion!