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The Problem with Labeling Children with a Psychiatric Disorder

The way we label children who do poorly in school has taken a dramatic turn — in many ways for the better, in some ways for the worse.

In yesteryear, kids who didn’t perform well in school would have been labeled as no-good, lazy, defiant, incorrigible, or just plain stupid. They would be disciplined by being shamed, blamed, hit, scolded, punished, ridiculed or simply written off as hopeless cases.

Progress has been made. For the most part, we have eliminated such verbal and physical abuse. But we still must question the progress that’s been made when we replace the old labels with psychiatric diagnoses that refer to kids as ‘disordered’ or ‘disabled.’

6 Comments to
The Problem with Labeling Children with a Psychiatric Disorder

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  1. I agree with what you say about not being in a hurry to label children. But if the ‘label’ fits, it can lead to the child receiving the help he needs. So I don’t feel a need to give attention to semantics.

    I would also point out that a learning disability is not a psychiatric disorder. And it is a lot more than just having trouble reading. A lot of children have multiple LDs. And their difficulties spill into all subjects. So the LD label becomes very important. It’s the only way to force schools to respect the law.

  2. Thank you for this article, it is a refreshing perspective. My son was an “active” child in early grade school. In third grade his teacher suggested he be tested for ADHD. We spent half a day getting him evaluated for him to be diagnosed as “borderline” ADHD based on the responses given from the teacher on a questionnaire. At that point we decided against medication. The next year in school when we questioned his new teachers about his “problem” to have them act completely confused. We were told that he was doing fine and the new teachers did not see any issues with him.
    So, did his ADHD magically disappear?

  3. To not properly label is a disservice to. The key is reducing the stigma & properly educating people. My son has a medical diagnosis of Severe Bipolar 1/ADHD. Getting appropriate help is difficult and what people don’t grasp is the child and thebfamilies suffer in s in silence! Sayingbhe would benefit from anger management sets up people to ignore his underlying disability. Yes he would benefit, but this is more than that. Meds dont solve all but are the necessary keys for the anger managemnt, or anything else to work. His thought process is not the same off meds. It is wrong and harmful to both over labelbour children – psychiatric meds are NOT a joke – and also to be scared to properly label. Parents need to educate themselves. Find a good doctor. Look into other possibilities – so many times have i heard “my child gets mad easy so maybe they are bipolar too…” but have you held your child while he thretened to urinate on you or watch as he tried to kill himself over…. lower your voice? My son is severe so not always the same things youvwill see . Ut was fluke he was properly diagnosed… they thought he was just depressed… antidepressant with no mood stabilizer…. took two weeks and he swung big time. Had he not had that… to this day he would probably been labeled nothing more than a trouble child…even with his diagnosis… I STILL have to fight that label with those who dont understand including the justice system. Dont hesitate to label a child if he has been properly diagnosed…

  4. I must say that while agree children that present with these issues need alternate parenting skills, I disagree with your assertion that medication is not necessary or is lazy parenting. From some one who has ADHD and whose school years were a nightmare, I can honestly tell you that medication made all the difference. My mother worked hard and tried everything known to man to ‘fix’me. The decision to take medication was mine and it made all the difference. It wont fix everything,it is not a miracle cure but it gives the child a chance to be with in the realms of normal. Medication is not for everyone but to belittle those who choose to give their child a chance is unfair. You have no idea what it is like to be ‘that’child and the damage it does to yourself esteem and self worth. Or how frustrating it is to not be able to do the things you want to, while parenting is important to set and maintain boundaries and to teach what is acceptable behaviour and alternative ways to deal with emotion, these are useless if the child physically cannot function within expected guidelines. For some medication, is what gives the child the ability to to achieve a more normative behavioural and emotional balance. The last thing parents need it to be judged continually by people who have never had to parent a child with any of these conditions, their job is already hard enough. Moreover it is the last thing an already struggling and often ostracised child needs is to be denied access to something that could potentially change their lives for the better, based on the misconceptions surrounding medication and its functions.

  5. Dr. Sapadin, I have held back on my comments on my two children from my 1st marriage since losing each time to Cook County Judges in my state.
    I have a 38 year old daughter who at 18 years was labeled “mentally retarded” by a court judge so that my ex-wife so that I could not emancipate her and was forced by the court to continue to pay due to this judgment. I fought the judge and had my daughter evaluated by a highly known doctor of mental health. The doctors findings found my daughter quote” Neither mentally or physically retarded”. I took this back to court to not avail, the judge sided with my ex-wife and her lawyer. To date I still pay money to my ex-wife, not my daughter, I was ordered by the court to “never” mention the outcome and to this day still pay money to my “ex”. Everyone I talk too tell me I should do something about it, I tried back in 2003 after a 12 year visitation absence. I got my daughter along with the help of my current wife to wash clothes, cook and drive my wife’s car. When my ex-wife found out she stopped the visits and took me back to court costing me a fortune. Doctor what would your advice be to me to do something, I am now 66 years old and will be leaving work soon.

  6. I agree with the author! All medications have side effects which end up damaging the organs, so why should we be harming our children with these substances? Miracle cures do not exist!



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