I have been physically disabled since I was born. Those friends that are reading this and have known me my whole life might say, “whaaa?”. I sure didn’t act disabled when I was a child. I skied every weekend in the Winter that I wasn’t swimming. And when I wasn’t swimming I was playing softball. When I wasn’t playing softball, I was dancing. And so on and so forth. While I was active in sports, there was always a lingering acheyness, tiredness, general malaise that I, as a child, couldn’t put my finger on. It wasn’t until both shoulders popped out of joint at the same time while finishing my final race of my swimming career that my family and I realized, hey there’s something wrong.
You may wonder why I am sharing this on a website dedicated to loving, caring for and serving children with ADHD. It’s because I was recently asked the question from a friend, “Is my child disabled enough?”. This friend has a child with many different disabilities. There are many labels we could put on this child. But should we? What are the benefits of being disabled? What are the benefits of the labels?
I was describing my friend’s daughter to my husband the other day and said she is “very ADHD”. The terms mild, moderate, severe, or in my case, very, are terms that we use to describe the state of the child who is either managing well, or not managing well, the disorder that they were born with. While at lunch with my friend’s daughter she flitted from one conversation to another, standing, sitting, jumping, laughing, pouting and snorting (it was a fun lunch) all within a period of just a few minutes. You know this type of child. She makes lunch interesting and fun. But her label doesn’t define her. Her spirit defines her. Her character defines her. And my son, who describes her as his “best friend in the world”, defines her.
When is a label a good thing? I remember when my husband first recommended, along with my doctor, that I receive a handicapped parking space. WHAT? I was 30 year old, at the time, and waaayyy too young to be parking next to the blue hairs. With both knee caps struggling to stay attached to my actual joints, I saw the possibility of having a shorter distance to walk as being…. hopeful. So, I signed up and received my handicapped parking pass. It wasn’t until we parked, for free, up front, at a concert in Raleigh that I thought… this isn’t so bad. Then the benefits kept coming- free parking at the beach! Free parking downtown! Even available parking at our beloved Costco! Then I was approached by an unkind person doubting me, wondering why I had stolen my parent’s handicapped sticker. I didn’t appear to be “disabled enough” in her opinion. I appeared to be average. My label wasn’t big enough on my person for her to see clearly.
Can you see where this aligns with the precious children we know and love? Is your child labeled ADD or ADHD and medicated? Is she acting like her neuro-typical peers? Is she behaving in a socially acceptable manner on a periodic basis which would make you doubt the severity of his “label”? Or, is there a school in town that takes children with similar disorders and you wonder, is she disabled enough? How about a camp for kid’s with special needs? It might say, accepting children with the following disorders, but still you wonder, “is he enough?”
Let me assure you, as I pull into my parking spot right up front at the movie theater, YES! The key to accepting this label and understanding this disorder, and all disorders, is that it is okay to be managed. It is okay to have good days and bad days when managing a disorder. It is normal to look at someone else and say “wow, they are worse off than me”, because there is someone probably looking at me, or you, or your child and saying, “wow, they are worse off than me!”. Disorders and management of them are all relative to those that are studying them. Autism is known for being on a spectrum. One person may be more afflicted than another, but they can still have the same label.
I have had to train myself to see that my disability is a gift. A huge whopper of a gift. There are many positive groups and services available to me whether my disorder is managed or flared. Do not hesitate to be your child’s advocate and search, seek and find all the wonderful services, camps, activities and such that are available for children with the same diagnosis or label. CP,AU, ADD, Tourette’s, Deaf, HoH, OT, PT, ADHD, PDD-NOS- bring it on! And with it, all the guidance, support and assistance one can manage.