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Branding A Child Mentally Disabled

According to a recent study, 1 in 50 children have been diagnosed with Autism.  That seems like a lot! It is said that a contributing factor to this increase is that more doctors are identifying kids as Autistic than in previous years -so it is unclear whether the actual number is increasing.  Maybe there are more Autistic children because of something specific yet to be identified, or maybe there was always this ratio of Autistic children but they are only being labeled as such now?

Bipolar disorder statistics have also skyrocketed 40-fold in children being diagnosed.  And the solution is to put them on anti-psychotic drugs.  A doctor can look at the symptoms, and analyze behavior, but does one person’s opinion of another mean they should be considered disabled and immediately medicated?

The thing about mental “illness” that has always concerned me is that it is a completely subjective science.  There is no blood test or concrete objective experiment that can prove someone has a mental condition.  Brain scans can offer insight, but does not provide substantial evidence that can make a diagnosis concrete.

When I was 10 a psychiatrist told me I had ADHD. Maybe.  But perhaps if she had asked me about my diet, and realized that it included candy for dinner, she would have possibly examined my nutritional intake before suggesting meds.  I ate more sugar as a child then Willy Wonka, and am pretty sure that was a contributing factor to my manic energy.

When my brother was a young child his doctor diagnosed him with Autism because he hadn’t started talking.  My mom was very worried, and I am sure felt terrified, but she also didn’t believe there was anything wrong with him.  Rather than immediately sending him to professionals, she decided to be patient and continue seeing him as a healthy little boy.  When I was born, just before his 3rd birthday, my mother brought me home from the hospital and my brother spoke his first words.

“Baby Toni. Baby, baby Toni.”

And you know what? My brother hasn’t shut up ever since, and he is a Harvard graduate with two masters’ degrees.

Maybe my brother and I are running around as high-functioning autistic, ADHD adults, or maybe we were just children developing into humans in our own way.  I wouldn’t say either of us is “normal,” because we are both totally weird, but I don’t feel like I have a mental disorder that I should have been medicated for.  Who is to say what is a “normal” mental state?  I don’t feel intellectually held back, even if I eat chocolate for breakfast.

Having a doctor diagnose your child as “abnormal” and “disabled” can be crippling to both the child and parents.  Families can internalize news as  sentence set in stone rather a perspective that should be examined.  There is hope like in this study that suggests children can even out grow autism.  Of course there are kids who suffer from their mental state, and need immense help and support -but there is also a wide spectrum.  Medication should be the last option after everything else is exhausted.  Especially because the adults are making decisions for the child, and it is one that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

(Here I am as Boy George and my brother as David Bowie…. pretty cool kids if you ask me!)


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9 Responses to Branding A Child Mentally Disabled

  1. holly says:

    Face it, Toni. You and your brother are weird because your parents are freaks. But you were not given candy for dinner. You only ate pasta and you lived on yuppie tortellini and pesto. But you have always been physically ridiculously energetic. It is a good thing you dance. You did it all the time as a child. I took all the educators analysis of the two of you with a grain of salt. The tests were useful but I strongly believed that quirks and learning difficulties could be overcome with age and technique. The real issue with schools now is the assumption that any child that does not fit a mold, even though be they super bright and gifted, should be medicated. I think that is pure mental and spiritual laziness There was not a chance that any of my children were going to be drugged.

  2. Natalie says:

    First and foremost – this is maybe one of the best pictures I have ever seen!
    OK- As for the topic…You know of course that Lucas was diagnosed with ADHD and I remember his old doc saying “I knew it from the time he was a toddler.” How can that f’n be true?? The thing is, as much as I hate the label, if he doesn’t have the label teachers think he is being disrespectful and that is simply not the case. Your mom is so right about people, especially educators expectting or wanting to have stepford children. In reality how boring is that?! I admittedly tried meds for Lukey the beginnin of freshman year…not because of his teachers but I was really scared he was going to get his ass kicked because of his mouth. He is a lot like me – he talks to people as if he is a giant. However, after one month I knew meds were not the answer because they made him the niggest ASS and the personality that I have always loved was missing. Stopped them immediately and never looked back. I hear so many people talk about self-medicating but I am not worried about that with my kid and I will tell you why. He likes who he is because enough people have told him he is an awesome kid. I will continue to advocate for my son while at the same time keeping him accountable for his own choices. I am his biggest fan…his first groupie. I am so glad you wrote this. Love you.

  3. lizzie says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. I think medications can be lifesavers in certain situations, or simply very helpful and there’s no reason not to take them if one finds them helpful. But I think this is a decision to be made (except in extreme cases) when the person in question can make it for themselves.
    also, why have i never seen this picture??

  4. Laszlo says:

    Toni, This is a really good piece. I totally agree with it. It really bothers me to think of all these children out there who just get forced into either medication or God knows whatever else because of something that can look like nonsense ten or so years later. For example, when I tutor kids, I try to figure out how they think, not how I’d want them to think. When they fail, I treat it as my failure to understand how they think. So I think that should probably be the default position. I could go on and on, but since it is true that I had received this diagnosis, I can only thank my mother for not putting me into whatever situation would have been recommended. It would have been quite awful. I hope I can pay back the favor by protecting any child who could have their life ruined by some diagnosis that turns out not to be true. Like you said, perhaps we are “autistic.” But what then does the word mean, and what utility then does it have as a concept as well as a diagnosis? So what you wrote naturally hits a nerve, because it frightens me to think that such dangers were swirling around my then very young person.

  5. holly says:

    Actually, no one stayed that Laszlo was autistic but Dr. Brazelton said he was retarded as in retarded development. He was being a dick because he hated working mothers and actually implied that I should abort you by saying having you would be very bad for Laszlo. It was Dr. Herzog, a shrink, who said that Laszlo was eccentric or had an eccentric way of communicating. Our lovely, very old fashioned pediatrician, thought all of this was nonsense and Laszlo will be brilliant by the time he goes to college. She was right.

  6. Laszlo says:

    This is all very flattering but you mom are shattering my faith in oral history. I distinctly remember “autistic” as the buzz word pertaining to me. But I think all this goes to show that Republicans are right when they talk about family being what should trump many things. Frankly, if I had had Aristotle as my tutor like Alexander the Great did, we just simply wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I know in my heart that one was doing the very best with what was available in the 1980’s. My object though as the Uncle of the Munch is to insure that her bad assery does not get medicated. I think that is the real bottom line, non? Hey love to you both, my bad ass woman kinfolk 🙂

  7. tonibologna says:

    Hey Mom!! I did eat candy for dinner!!!! All the time!! And the story was Laz was autistic… I didn’t make that up!! I agree with Laz! Mom is an oral history revisionist!

  8. Laszlo says:

    But Mom we love you and you fought demons for us that would have sent us into the pits of medicated hell were it not for your iron will. We salute you till our deaths.

  9. Why i am i not able to share this article? I keeps saying it cannot find link??? Btw I’m from page @adhd not alone. Facebook.com – Elishah Kornacki:)

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