When it comes to the mind we seem to have a long way to go to understand what makes it work differently.
The current model used is simply a ‘checklist’ of traits or behaviours, which get lumped together, so that we can diagnose anything not seen as neurotypical into a mental health disorder.
The latest manual for this, which is used as a tool for reference by every clinician, is called the DSM which stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders.
It’s interesting to know that we are on the fifth edition of this book – the last one came out in 2013 and caused some controversy and even job resignations disputing certain disorders.
It really is the bible for many types of professionals to use in order to diagnose, understand and treat conditions.
It begs the question how far have we really come with understanding the brain if this book, which we use as a definitive guide, has been published KNOWINGLY with errors in it?
A book that determines the help we might give to a child or an adult and in fact may lead to a child being removed from their families and placed into the care system.
A ‘cluster of symptoms’ I have particular criticism for is Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD for short. This is a label often misdiagnosed instead of using PDA which doesn’t recognise autism at the root of the diagnosis.
If you do a quick search on the internet you will find a definition like this which has a concerning tone:
“Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a childhood disorder that is defined by a pattern of hostile, disobedient, and defiant behaviors directed at adults or other authority figures. ODD is also characterized by children displaying angry and irritable moods, as well as argumentative and vindictive behaviors.”
The idea that a child is born with a disorder that makes them defiant and we use a range of strategies to teach them to be more compliant, seems to be missing one important flaw.
When a child refuses, or avoids, or is hostile and aggressive there is almost always a driving emotion underlying that behaviour.
Again, we go back to that idea that all behaviour is a form of communication.
To not listen with empathy to the behaviour being communicated will only serve to make the individual more upset, angry or irritated.
I know I don’t have the academic research to validate my point, but talking as a mum, I don’t ever believe that a child is purely born defiant.
Experience has taught me so far that nobody chooses to to be disobedient or vindictive, like described in the term ODD.
In my own opinion I feel that this diagnosis will become dropped in years to come, it won’t be fit for purpose, as we develop our understanding of the mind.
We need to have a more balanced ideology on the impact neurological conditions have on behaviour rather than always focusing on the environmental conditioning.
It got me thinking back to a phrase I learnt at university; ‘tabula rasa‘ which comes from the Latin meaning a blank slate.
The term has been used to influence our ideas that the child, or the mind rather, is a blank canvas, to which social conditioning, life experiences and teaching creates the picture that is formed.
However, if we follow this idea then we believe all parenting is about nurture and less about nature.
Sadly, this model of tabula rasa rules out the part that children are born with neurological conditions which predetermine how they think, how they behave and how they experience the world.
The more we look at children as blank slates the more we keep assuming the parenting must be to blame and become ignorant to who the child really is.
So many parents of SEN children can’t access support as a result.
Instead, they will continue to be judged and told to go on another parenting course, and even have their children forcibly removed by a social worker, because our thinking in society is that parenting is the primary cause.
Yes, some canvases may appear blank but if you look much closer, some have tiny engravings already etched upon them.
Not all children are tabula rasas – we just need to focus our minds on all of the strokes that could be making up that painting.