Over the past 40 years or so, child advocates have given a good amount of lip service to the view that adults, especially educators, should respect children’s “individual differences.” In theory, this recognizes the fact that every trait is distributed in the general population in a manner represented by the bell-shaped curve. Whether the issue is general intelligence, sociability, optimism, musical aptitude, artistic ability, or mechanical skill (to mention but a few), relatively few people are “gifted” and relatively few people are disadvantaged. Whatever the characteristic, most folks are statistically “normal.” That is, they possess an adequate amount, enough to get by.
People gifted in more than a couple of areas are rare, and people gifted in one area but lacking in another are not unusual. A person with outstanding musical aptitude, for example, may be noticeably lacking in social skills, and a person with outstanding verbal skills may be mechanically inept.
The mere fact that a person is lacking in some characteristic or ability does not necessarily mean something is “wrong.” That a certain 10-year-old child is shy, lacks conversational skills and prefers solitary activity to group play does not mean something is amiss inside the child’s brain. Nor does the mere fact that a child struggles with learning to read or do math mean his brain isn’t working properly. Furthermore, it is well known that the child who is “painfully” shy at 10 may be outgoing at age 46, and a child who struggles to learn to read may grow up to be a best-selling author. Very little about a human being is set in stone.
All of this is to say that for all the prior lip service, today’s educators seem to have absolutely no respect for individual differences, no respect for the fact that “lack” is not synonymous with wrong. In today’s schools, the range of acceptability concerning an ever-increasing number of aptitudes has been getting narrower and narrower over the past couple of decades.
This narrow-mindedness on the part of educators has coincided with the proliferation of various supposed childhood “disorders.”
So the aforementioned shy 10-year-old is not just shy; he has Asperger’s syndrome. And the aforementioned slow reader is not just a bit behind the curve when it comes to decoding abstract symbols; he’s dyslexic. And the clumsy child has sensory integration disorder. And the child who has difficulty executing more than one command from his teacher at a time has an auditory processing disorder. In each case, the child supposedly has something wrong with his brain. Mind you, the something has never been discovered, much less measured. No matter. We live in the Age of Mass Credulity. Maybe credulity is a brain disorder. Who knows?
The American Psychiatric Association is even proposing that children who are sorta-kinda lacking in some characteristic (or have too much of it even) sometimes in certain situations may be “at risk” for some diagnosis (i.e., mental “illness”) and may therefore merit treatment. The fundamental problem is that America’s schools are buying into this hook, line and sinker.
The sinkers, unfortunately, are being attached to ever-enlarging numbers of children who simply don’t fit into the ever-shrinking range of what’s considered “normal.” By the way, isn’t it interesting that every time a child is found to qualify for a diagnosis, the child’s school qualifies for more money from the state and federal governments? As my grandmother used to say, “Well, don’t that beat all!”
I fully recognize the legitimacy of a conscientious diagnostic process. I also recognize that some kids need professional help. I’m simply saying that when all is said and done, the number of children being identified as needing “special services” in schools is approaching the absurd. The trend, carried forward, predicts that it won’t be long before all of America’s kids will have a diagnosis by age 10.
Let’s face it, they all have individual differences.
John Rosemond, a family psychologist, can be reached via his website: www.rosemond.com.