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You are HERE >>  Learning Disabilities : ADD/ADHD : 
Target Audience : Parents and Educators with ADD/ADHD children 

ADD Child or Simply a "Spirited" Child?
by Katherine West
October  27, 2000 

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Raising Your Spirited Child : A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
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Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles : Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

The "spirited" child- have you heard this term and wondered what exactly it meant? Well a very popular book called "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka has coined this term to describe a myriad of symptoms. Ms. Kurcinka describes a "spirited" child as one who is more of everything. A child that is more energetic, more sensitive, more insightful, more prone to discipline problems, and many times even more intelligent. In her book, she strives to dispel negative stereotypes, and foster more positive ones for behavioral, personality, and learning abnormalities. 

Most of the symptoms of these "Spirited" kids are either primary or secondary symptoms of ADD or ADHD in many cases. While I applaud her positive perspective on learning and behavioral problems, I feel a need to clarify that many of these are indeed problems. Whether or not we give these kids an appealing new name that depicts a fresh-faced child bounding up the stairs with an outgoing smile upon his or her face, or not, we are still talking about the same thing. 

It seems that this recent phrase is very popular with parents lately. Many parents would rather refer to their child as "spirited" rather than ADD or ADHD, which is fine. The only problem that I have with this is the fact that many children are not being diagnosed with their psychological or medical problems. Why is this? Well, they pick up a book on Amazon or at Borders and they think they know it all. The book says that my child is just energetic and spirited. You can almost hear these parents sigh in relief, put the book down to gather dust, and move on to other matters. This worries me. 

Yes, I know there has been a big controversy over whether or not ADD or ADHD are "real" conditions or not. Well, until you have lived with someone that is impulsive, uncontrollably hyperactive, forgetful, indecisive, overly sensitive to stimuli, and prone to behavioral and personality abnormalities, you may think that- not afterward. Take it from the wife of an adult with ADD and the mother of a child with ADHD, it is as real as it gets!

Well this book has really begun to start something- a sort of parenting revolution or more like a cry for attention really. The strangest thing about this controversy is that it centers around a name. More than a name really- a cutsie name tag like teachers give you in kindergarten or one of those cheesy stickers that you get at a class reunion or a Corporate banquet. I have been witness to some of these parents' views, and they are an interesting bunch. Many are well educated, which makes me angrier still. Many of these parents are intelligent and well meaning, yet they fail to see the rain for the severity of the storm. 

I am the first person to tell anyone who will listen that labeling our children with acronyms, pseudonyms, or any other "nyms" is wrong. Wasn't it Shakespeare who told us that a rose is but a rose and a flower by any other name would smell just as sweet? Parents who formerly would have called their child a "problem child", "difficult child", or the ever popular "hyperactive child" are now calling these kids "spirited". 

Usually these terms are used to refer to an energetic, manipulative child that is prone to behavioral or temperamental outbursts, impulsivity, and a host of other formerly recognized symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. The last time that I checked, these symptoms that Ms. Kurcinka referred to in her book were called ADD. Don't misunderstand me, referring to your child as "spirited" is fine, as long as you aren't ignoring medical and psychological cues that need to be treated in some way. That is NOT fine. 

Some vain parents are in denial and refuse to believe that anything could be wrong with their child. Not only are they lying to themselves, but they are also harming their children. Now I am not saying that this is always the case, and I am not condemning people who agree with the author of this book. I am just saying to investigate all avenues before dismissing your child's behaviors as "normal". Let's face it; we lie to ourselves more than to anyone else. 

What has this name change done to the face of ADD? Well, it seems that it has grown a new head really or at least it has disguised it a bit. As a mother, I can see why it is easier and more comforting for a parent to refer to their child's problems as personality flaws or quirks. Where the danger comes in is here: an undiagnosed child that is unable to cope with strategies to overcome their learning disability and/or psychological problems. 

Too many of these parents that I have personally encountered are more worried about hurting their child's self-esteem, acceptance by peers, and ego. The tragic cost is harming their ability to succeed in life irrevocably. By ignoring this disorder, teachers and parents cannot will it away in a puff of chalk dust.

That is not the full gambit of what a shame it is to refrain from a diagnosis. No, failing to treat these children makes their school life and social life much harder for them to deal with and also the work more insurmountable than ever before. These individuals that have obvious ADD or ADHD symptoms must learn to cope with them. Parents need to know if their child has a medical problem, a psychological disorder, or possibly a neurological disorder. Sometimes there are several different problems, not just one. 

Why build them up only to have them fall flat on their face later? Parents don't do this knowingly or even consciously, but sadly, they do it. The "spirited child" in question could have an auditory disorder, a central nervous system disorder, the child's mental state could be altered, and a host of countless other problems that need help. These are the ever-popular gray areas that affect many special needs kids. Denial of a problem by a parent can directly affect the child's education, relationships, and self-esteem.

Wouldn't it be better to teach a struggling child- one that didn't have a good sense of balance- how to ride a bike, rather than just delude the child into a false sense of security? "Sure, Johnny, go take it for a spin!" Then the parent would have to watch as he falls and hurts himself. An inexperienced bike-rider shouldn't be set out on the road to fend for himself, and neither should a child with special needs be told that he is just fine and dandy when he isn't. 

Don't you think that they notice a difference? Don't you think that they have to try 100% harder than other kids do in school and at almost everything? I do! I think that these kids should be taught how to deal with their differences, and that these kids need to be commended for their hard work. 

When you tell children that they are perfectly normal, (Is anyone?) you are also telling them that sitting still and staying on task, as well as a host of other things that are very hard for these kids shouldn't challenge them in the least. No, my daughter has learned skills to cope with her differences, and she is always told how proud I am of her hard work. You see when my daughter sits still at a movie, I thank her for showing self-control. When I see her working on her homework diligently, I commend her for being attentive and trying hard. 

If we only allow our children to think that being "normal" is the way to be, then how will they ever accept themselves for who they are? Remember this: no one is normal and no one is perfect. The sooner we realize this in our lives, the better we know ourselves and learn to love ourselves. Why build them up only to have them fall flat on their face later. It seems cruel to me. Yes, have a positive viewpoint, but don't wear blinders.

It seems that this recently coined phrase is very popular with parents. They would rather refer to their child as "spirited" rather than ADD or ADHD, which is fine. The only problem that I have with this is the fact that many children are NOT being diagnosed with their psychological or medical problems. This worries me. 

Yes, I know there has been a big controversy over whether or not ADD or ADHD are "real" conditions or not. Well, until you have lived with someone that is impulsive, uncontrollably hyperactive, forgetful, indecisive, overly sensitive to stimuli, and prone to behavioral and personality abnormalities, you may think that. Take it from the wife of an adult with ADD and the mother of a child with ADHD, it is as real as it gets! "Spirited" even isn't the tip of the iceberg.

Submitted by:  Copyright© Katherine T. West  is an editor and columnist at Readers Niche. She is in charge of the Writers Niche section. Katherine believes that there is nothing more satisfying than feedback from people moved by what she writes. Helping people to look at the world in a fresher way is one of her goals. She believes that a writer can change the world one letter at a time. Read more of her articles at The Education Haven
Jot a note to Katherine West
What a boring  world it would be without spirited children.  Not every kid with some energy and spark has a "disorder".  However it is very convenient for parents and educators to label, medicate and pressure them to conform to systems.  That way adults don't need to change or take a look at what they could be doing better.  What's with this epidemic they call ADD/ADHD?  I haven't met many parents of "normal" kids (especially boys) who don't question whether or not their child has it.  I agree that some children definitely need to learn coping strategies for staying focused and organized, and rarely may need medication for a while to regain some self esteem, but our society needs to relax in most cases and value the little person for who they are. 
Send us YOUR comments.
As a special educator I thank you for this review. Personally I have a friend who has a child desperately in need of a diagnosis (one more severe, I believe than ADD) and she believes that he is a "spirited child" and that she can simply follow the ideas in this book. Although many of the strategies in the book are good ones, you are correct when you say it is just the tip of the iceberg.
AS, July, 2004
Send us YOUR comments.
The one thing about this review that concerns me is that in attacking an alternate view on some characteristics that may be classified as ADD, it ignores the issue of social control that lies just under the surface of this. No one denies that there are children that need psychiatric help, but attacking alternate views opens up the potential abuse of medication that we are seeing now. That fact that such abuse is occuring is no longer even debatable. I know several parents who were told to medicate their children or else... They left said schools, did not medicate, and their kids are fine.  Are there kids with ADD, (whether it is ADD or a constellationof psychiatric disorders is up for debate)? Yes, there are children who exhibit these symptoms, and need medicational help. But rather than posing a "danger", competing views exhort us to be careful about making a medical diagnosis, for when we do, we affect a childs life in ways that may be helpful and even life-saving, or downright destructive.
JM, December, 2003

Send us YOUR comments.
Thanks for saying what needed to be said. I have had many students labeled learning disabled and put into special ed, who in actuality have ADD. Their parents actually prefer calling them LD than ADD. Many of these students likely would greatly benefit from medication for the ADD and would then be able to stay in the regular ed classroom instead of needing one-on-one instruction. I saw firsthand the difference medication made for my "spirited" brother, and it brought the family to tears that we didn't try it sooner. Thanks again for having courage and for daring to be different! We moms of ADD children support you and your cause!
Lisa, November, 2003
Send us YOUR comments.
Your review of the book Raising Your Spirited Child is a poor one.  It's widely popular because it offers answers and strategies to parents whose children fit Kurcinka's descriptions.  It's usefulness is progressive; it's not a book meant to be read and then put on a shelf to gather dust.  It supports a very active, involved parenting that must be refined and revisited often as the child grows.

I'll not address the ADD issue direct except to say that in your passion to be of support to ADD effected children and family members, you have lost the ability to be objective.  You do not acknowledge the fact that some challenging children are in fact not ADD.

I find it unsettling that you dismiss and disparage the work and research that has proven to help thousands of families.

Kurcinka's book is an awesome resource; it's not a panacea and it's not presented as one.  She encourages seeking outside medical evaluation and she gives some guidelines as to when that might be needed.
(August, 2003)

Send us YOUR comments.
I am a parent of 2 ADD children.  We have gone through the Auchenbach (sp?) testing and Student Study Team with my oldest and are now beginning this process with my youngest who is in 3rd grade.  With my oldest daughter they found what I knew they would, which is that she is very bright & creative and does very well with testing.  She has a wonderful memory and takes in everything that she hears, however she has a very difficult time completing her work.  Other than getting this information, nothing was really done to help or support her.  Reading your articles was like reading about my children!  Thank you for saying such positive things about children like mine. I can't tell you just how much we needed to hear those things!  I have wonderfully bright, creative and sweet daughters who just don't fit into the school system!  JD May, 2002
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