The word “disability” for me is a bit of a funny term. It implies something that is not necessarily so. Being as anal retentive as I can be about grammar and proper usage of the English language, this bothers me.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I were informed that our son had a profound disability, and that he would never be a “normal” kid, might never have normal relationships with others, might not be 100% successful in his life “but he just might get a job someday”, said the psychologist (who, at the time, I thought was kind of a bully). I was sitting in a room with about four other parents and their spouses and I burst into tears. For ten weeks, I had taken unpaid time off work each week to participate in a program run by Kaiser Permanente called TOTS, which, according to their website is “designed to help families with difficult to manage 2-5 year olds”. My son had been difficult to manage since starting Kindergarten and in fact had been asked to leave preschool a couple of months early for similarly wacky behavior.
The psychologist singled me out several times during the program, that day in particular, saying “I know, it’s hard to accept, and he’s a dangerous child, but it will be OK”. Unsurprisingly, none of the other parents set up a playdate with me, as per her suggestion.
The disability? ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which I understand affects anywhere from 2 to 25% of children and adults. More boys than girls are diagnosed with it, possibly because boys typically show more obvious signs of hyperactivity, whereas girls typically tend to be more “inattentive” and in my estimation, more likely to be labeled “lazy”.
When I think back to the traumatic experience in the TOTS program now, I almost have to laugh about it. After having learned as much as I have about ADHD over these past couple of years, and especially after having met some adults who are fairly certain they have the disorder, I see ADHD as no more a disability than having red hair.
Pete Quily, a member of CHADD, lists over 150 positive attributes of ADHD:
- Always willing to help others
- Good in a crisis
- Empathetic, sensitive
- Good sense of humor
- Problem solver
And so on. Not a bad list, eh?
A quick Google search reveals similar list of benefits for Aspergers and Autism as well (I didn’t dig too much into other disorders). This begs the question: exactly how is a disorder which at its best results in a person who is funny, smart and empathetic, how can it be regarded as a disability? Where is the lack of ability here?
My interest in this particular condition comes not only from a place of concern as a mom but also from a more personal place. I know that ADHD has a strong genetic component, and I do have many, many memories of being asked as a kid to pay more attention, comments in my report card that I was “daydreaming” in class despite (usually) getting decent grades, and a lifetime spent trying to overcome disorganization, forgetfulness and distraction. I get it; I really, really do. Similarly, my husband remembers not being easily distracted so much as feeling he couldn’t stay still (the “being driven by a motor” feeling hyperactive kids and their parents often report). And he had had some behavioral issues in grade school.
To illustrate just how distractable I can be sometimes: a friend and I watched a film last night that had been directed by a friend of hers. The movie was filmed locally, at a place I’ve visited a couple of times. Right after the first scene, my friend casually mentioned that the lead actress had been in a terrible car accident after filming and lost her hand.
I was like “She what?!?” By the time the pizza arrived, I had found the woman’s MySpace page, several blogs mentioning her, some photos, press releases and videos on my iPhone. While watching the movie.
Speaking of Chauntal Lewis, she is a shining example of “disability, schmisability”, having stuck to her craft and stayed busy since shortly after her accident. Disabled? Not hardly. Able? Totally.
So, how’s my son doing? He’s fine! More than fine, actually; he’s thriving in a school environment in which he’s surrounded by kids who are similar to him. He’s still probably quirkier than most of the kids in his class but he is much mellower than he was and the behavioral reports have been coming back perfect for a while now. Disabled? Not really. I just don’t see how.