Stupidity of stigmas

Stigmas.  Let’s talk about them.

You see, I have one basic thought about them: they are stupid.  Mostly, I think they are rooted in ignorance.  But, they launch all sorts of badness, from minor irritation to downright evil.  {And, as it’s lent, lets not forget the correlating word: stigmata.  Think there’s  a whole bunch to say about that? Oh, yeah.  But that’s  whole ‘nother post.}

I’ll try hard to keep this mostly short;  you’re welcome.  I have multiple kids with multiple issues and/or needs.  And if you want to get on your high horse,  yes, we all have special needs.  Ya da, ya da.  I’m not getting quite that philosophical here, however.  I’m gonna keep this post focused to the stigma of labels.  We all know the damage of labels on kids and people, in general.  Well, yes.  Of course.  But, what I also want to note is that those labels can be a tremendous help and marker of real issues.  Real issues that warrant some attention and caring…not only knee jerk reactions or attitudes.

Let me be more specific, as this is SUCH a big topic.  Let’s look at ADHD.  Oh yeah.  That one.  The label diagnosis that makes some folks scoff, look down their nose, and say, “Well, its nothing that a good spanking won’t fix, if  you ask me.”  Happily, I didn’t.  Ask you, that is.  It’s also a label that some will say enables them to let their kids run wild, be bad and don’t you dare call them out for it, because, you know, “Poor Johnny has ADHD, he can’t help it.”  Well, sometimes, he can’t.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to learn to live with the consequences of  his behavior and work mightily to learn how to live in this world with the standard boundaries and rules that are in place.

But so too, those “labels,” by which I mean, the actual terms themselves…they are informative. They inform ME why my kid might respond a certain way; different from another of my kids.  They inform me to some of the behavioral challenges: what we need to work on, work with, work around.  Instead of resenting my kid for acting out or having a  hard time staying still when needed, or whatever (because yes, sometimes I do/have, I am that petty) I can remember that there is real cause underneath some of the behaviors.  Not to totally excuse them a la “Johnny” above, but rather to understand what we are working with.  I get to see them with a more informed eye.  That’s what labels and terms can do; if only we stop putting a stigma on basic information.

We must say the term(s) without a whisper.

If our kid has ADHD, then we need to be able to say it without  having to whisper it.  It’s the elephant in the room.  Why not treat it as a matter of course?  I live in the south.  Shockingly enough to me, sometimes I’ll still hear a whispered, “He’s black….”  SIGGGHHHHH.  Yuh.  And? So?  I hear it with ADHD too.  “She has ADHD….” Why do we have to whisper facts?  It’s stupid.  It’s unfair. It’s a stigma.

He has ADHD.  He is black.  He is white.  She has brown hair.  She has ADHD.  He was adopted.  She is Korean, African, Hispanic.

Stop the whispering.

Now, don’t flame me.  I’m not saying we have to preface every encounter with slinging our kids business, or anyone’s, out before us.  Discretion is a lovely thing.  But as soon you have to whisper it….it’s now a stigma.

If you can say it out loud, without pause and whisper, you send a powerful message to the listener but also to your kid.  Yeah, she has ADHD.  And, she has brown hair, too.  We all DO have needs, and quirks and I could make a case that many if not most of us have some form of dis-ability.  Not that I’m saying we have to shout our foibles or lay ourselves bare to scrutiny at all times…or do so for our kids.  But I’m saying that we all have ‘stuff.’ And we do ourselves, our kids, and our society a huge disservice if we grab that ‘stuff’ and use it as an excuse to be or do less than we are able. We also do our kids, our culture, a huge disservice if we keep whispering about facts.  If we  continue to stigmatize basic diagnoses, or facts, like ADHD, then we kind of cripple our kids.  We make them less-than.

These kids (and adults) are so not “less-than.”  In fact, in some ways they are ‘more-than.”  Their brains fire faster and make connections that most can’t even begin to reach.  They just do so in leaps, fast and sometimes furious, and then they move on to the next distraction/interest while the rest of us are still catching up.  I’m not saying it’s an easy thing.  ADHD is a complex layered issue; requiring complex layered multiple approaches to deal with it.

I’ve got more to say in other posts. I’ve not talked about it for years. Maybe not ever. It’s time.  I’ve got books to list and thoughts to process.  Because I have two kids with ADHD.  It’s real.  It’s hard and it’s also got it’s own goods.  But it’s not just that they “need a good whoopin” or that “we aren’t good enough parents” or that “they are just problem kids.”  They are not stupid, far from it.  The stigma.  It’s stupid. It’s asinine.

No more whispering.  They have ADHD.  They are great kids. They have ADHD.  I love them.

*Fail on the short post thing.  As ever.  Surely you’re not surprised.*

11 thoughts on “Stupidity of stigmas

  1. Hi Michele,
    Bully and hooray for you! This post speaks so deeply to my heart. My oldest son, who was 13 at the time, last year went through a six- to eight-week period of anxiety and depression. He wouldn’t go to school, grades fell drastically and behavior was off.
    After much praying, novenas, rosaries, and wonderful counseling and great support from the school he turned around. He’s now on the Honor Roll, earning straight As, named Student of the Month and is recommended for two Honors; courses next year in high school. Yet, I worry about the stigma and one teacher at school constantly brings up last year.
    Leave the past in the past. People have the capacity to grow, mature and change, especially kids. Let’s celebrate the good in our youth, and remember they’re much-loved members of families.
    I hope you continue to have a meaningful Lenten trip.
    With love and prayers,

  2. I have a wonderful, smart, funny, creative grown son with ADHD. He still struggles with some things… and we just love him dearly. Love, love, love this post. It really hits the nail on the head.

  3. Oh Michele…! My Dominic is so classically ADHD, , and I don’t whisper it, but it has less to do with him than it does with me. For me, it is hurt pride that speaks (“Um, yeah, I know I have trouble keeping my kid still and quiet, but it’s not my fault!). My sister has a very difficult son with multiple issues (Aspergers, OCD, etc) and tends to do the same thing because his behavior can be so bizarre. Her son has learned to use it as a crutch at times (“Well, I can’t help that–I have Asperger’s”). As Dominic gets older, I want him to know that it is ADHD is an obstacle, not a roadblock. It will just mean he has to work harder than others to achieve certain things. As you say, we all have disabilities

    Anyone dealing with children who are diagnosed with mental or behavioral problems ought to look very carefully into the dangers of all the drugs that are being used on kids and adults. I have a book I am reading called Mad in America, and my sister, having done huge amounts of research, has loads of resources on this. The drugs can make things so much worse. I mention this because of the boy with depression mentioned in the above comment. My sister says that fallen humanity is prone to all sorts of mental snafus, and from what she has read, even schizophrenic behavior can be gotten through without drugs if the person has the kind of support and loving family that this boy had. Drugs cam make it a permanent problem. And the drug companies are not humanitarian organizations–they are selling drugs.

    Anyway, one day I hope to get a chance to talk to you more about ADHD. I keep hoping that Dominic won’t always be bouncing off the walls and furniture and that it becomes more of a difficulty in focus and restlessness as he gets older.

    Any noticeable .help from dietary changes?

    Ooh–sorry to go on so long! I have to get ready for Mass…may see you at SJV this morning!

    • Nadja, we could and should sit down and have a good talk someday! I have been to beyond and back with this issue and I have lots of thoughts. I think on Monday I’m putting up a post (if I can carve out the time to type it out) that will have a short list of my favorite books/resources on this. There is so much out there that it’s impossible to read and weed through everyone’s opinions, but I’ve spent 8+ years on a steep learning curve and have my own small library on it. And I’ve finally come to some really key resources that jive up with some of the other foundations that we have been putting in place, and it’s all making more sense.
      Sorry I missed you at Mass, had hungry kids to run out!

      • I will Nadia. Hope to today but first have morning Monday chores (meaning putting house back after busy weekend) &doc appt etc. Will see how I progress. But hoping for today. Or tomorrow. Thx!

    • Jean, I was only talking about the stigma of the label. Of course you’re right, the diagnosis shouldn’t be limiting either…but I could also point out that it’s the stigma w/ those very words or diagnosis that creates a huge part of those limits. People immediately make assumptions on the character and/or ability of the kid with those words attached. Which is what gets me heated up and tired. The diagnosis can be a way of empowering after being frustrated, because then you have some better idea of what is going on and how to work w/ it. I’m not talking about limits..I’m talking about exactly the opposite. That’s why I don’t want to whisper it anymore.


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