In an age where children are put under the microscope and continually assessed against every yard stick imaginable, it’s a wonder that they don’t all morph into bundles of neuroses dressed in matching school uniforms lugging around overstuffed school bags on their backs.
I get it. The idea is to get them all to conform to a set of behaviors and be measured against well defined assessments and then, if any child happens to score low (or high as the case may be) in a given area, that becomes an area of interest that teachers and obviously parents then need to focus on. Early detection. Early treatment. Better outcomes. I get it.
But there’s a problem. When these weights and measures were first being applied to our children, they seemed to only highlight one or two children in a given year, now you can’t swing a book bag without hitting at least ten children in a class that are on some sort of ‘requires therapy’ spectrum. As a parent, you have to ask yourself; can this be right? Are we not now searching for problems a little too enthusiastically and with such a fine toothed comb that ultimately we find exactly what we were looking for?
While I do support the idea of screening for potential problems and then treating them early to avoid bigger problems down the line, I do think that we’re missing something pretty obvious in more instances than the system would like to admit and that is this; we are talking about children. They do not all mature at the same rate. They are not all the same age in the same grade. They do not all put their hands in the air before they speak. They do not all possess the ability to sit in a chair for an hour or more at a time without having to stand up to stretch their legs.
By way of example, some adults verbally process thoughts and ideas, yes I think there’s a term for that, it’s called ‘thinking out loud’. Why then do we expect every child to think internally? Why do we have to label any child that doesn’t conform in every area with an acronym? The favorite by a country mile at the moment being ‘ADHD‘.
Once that term gets bandied about, you find yourself having to take your child to some kind of therapy to address the ‘problem’. The therapy advocated, more often than not, is ‘occupational therapy‘, which I’m not a huge fan of (and that’s putting it as delicately as is humanly possible). The ‘problem’ is, more often than not, that your child is simply not like the other children. That’s it. That’s literally the ‘problem’ that you’re being asked to resolve.
Think about that for a moment.
I submit to you that for most parents, myself included, that particular ‘problem’ comes as no surprise at all. I have two children who are from the same genetic swimming pool. They are pretty close in age. They have been raised in the same way and have, incidentally, worn the same clothes and played with the very same toys (hand-me-downs being a superfine thing because they’re both boys) and I can tell you unequivocally, that they are as different from each other as candy floss and butternut.
Could we not perhaps be looking just that little bit too hard for problems? Should we not step back a little and say perhaps there is some other reason for a particular behavior presenting in a child. Perhaps we could consider weighting the age of a child a little more as a factor when doing assessments.
Here’s a simple example to illustrate the point. A child born in January and a child born in December of the same year are expected (in South Africa) to start school in the same year. You might be inclined to think that on the surface – that sounds quite reasonable. But let me put that another way for you, a child born in December is not actually even conceived at the time that a child born in January is, in fact, out of the womb and experiencing the world.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Can we then fairly compare the ability of both of those children to suckle on the day that the January baby is born? No, of course not. The December baby is still just a twinkle in the eyes of the parents or an ‘X’ on a calendar for date night on Valentine’s Day. Six months later can we compare the ability of the December baby to roll over onto their tummies on a play mat with that of the six month old January baby? Again, no, of course not. December babies are still in the womb, tugging on the umbilical cord for oranges and peanut butter. By the time a December baby is actually born, the January baby is crawling, in some cases even walking.
The list goes on.
I will concede that by the age of six or seven, the gap between our two hypothetical children narrows significantly, but there is still a gulf between them and I believe our school systems should make more allowances for that. At the moment they seem to lean towards ‘therapy’ to bridge the gap which then in some cases leads to medication. The whole diagnosis of these conditions is the subject of umpteen articles like this one.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support and salute teachers, they are the architects of our future. They shape the minds of the children that will one day choose nursing homes for all of us. I just wish they would step back every now and again and wait for a birthday to roll around.
For now, let’s celebrate the non-conformity of our children lest we end up in a world out of George Orwell’s nightmares.