ADD Child or Simply a “Spirited” Child?
by Katherine West
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.