The last time I looked through the supermarket, I bought some baked beans. How did I know the can I took off the shelf was full of baked beans and not freshly harvested sheep’s innards? Because the label on the can said so.
Labels aren’t perfect of course. Every now and then, a can of something has the wrong label applied in the factory. Usually it’s nothing too sinister – no accidental swaps of some goat entrails instead of your tinned salmon. Instead, it’s usually something similar – tuna gets labelled as salmon and vice versa, and the worst that happens is that the tuna mornay you’ve just made had an unexpected flavour. Even these sorts of mild mix ups are rare. Overall, we trust that the labels are guides and the information they provide us helps us make an informed decision about what do to with that particular can and its contents.
It would be pretty silly for some random person to preach out the front of the supermarket, ranting about how all labels for a particular thing are all wrong.
“Uh, just because the occasional can of tuna was accidentally filled with cat food doesn’t mean to say that all labels are wrong. And just because one person had a bad experience with the wrong label, the supermarket shouldn’t stop using them … otherwise how else is anyone supposed to manage their cans effectively without labels? Honestly, stop looking like a fool by preaching about labels and let the rest of us finish our shopping.”
Dr Caroline Leaf, communication pathologist, self-titled cognitive neuroscientist, and a self-elected champion of irrelevant mental health advocacy, has come out all guns ablazin’ over ADHD labels again. She needs to give it a rest – she’s just like the crazy person standing in front of the supermarket.
“Labels for ADHD are bad”, she says. “Look at Avery Jackson, who was labeled ADHD but did not accept the label. He went on to earn multiple degrees and become one of the top neurosurgeons in the U.S!” The underlying message – labelling a child with ADHD will lock then into a life of pathetic excuses and they won’t ever reach their full potential until they renounce the curse of their ADHD label.
For every scary anecdote about the evils of ADHD and the mental prison that everyone with such a label is supposed to find themselves in, there are ten more where the ADHD label helped them. There are so many more people where the ADHD label helped them to finally understand their condition and receive the correct treatment, enabling them to reach their potential and improve their life in leaps and bounds.
Take, for example, one of my patients called Little Jimmy (not his real name). When Little Jimmy was in the early primary school grades, he was a bit of a fidgeter and couldn’t concentrate well enough at school or at home to complete his homework tasks. His mother took him to a naturopath who told him he had a disorder of “pyrolles disease”. Thankfully, mum brought him to see me, and after a careful history and a long chat, Little Jimmy went to see a specialist who diagnosed him with ADHD and commenced him on stimulant medications. Before his label, Little Jimmy’s reading levels were languishing at the bottom off his class after two years of stagnation. He was more than a year behind in reading levels and going nowhere fast. Two weeks after getting his label and the right medication, he went to the top three reading levels in the class. His mother told me of the massive gains he made, and the flow-on effect this had to his self-esteem and confidence in other areas of his school work and school life. She cried as she recounted his story, and then I cried too.
So perhaps Avery Jackson became an orthopaedic surgeon because he chose to ignore his label of ADHD and worked hard anyway. Good for him. Little Jimmy got a label of ADHD and because of it, he learnt to read. Now he’s got the chance to follow in Avery Jackson’s footsteps, BECAUSE of his label.
Labels are important. Without them, we wouldn’t know how to know who needs which treatment. Labels can help people overcome some of the strongest barriers and connect with others for support.
And let’s face it, if someone really wanted to, they don’t need a label of ADHD to find excuses in life.
So labels are not a hinderance, but rather, they are a guide to help you know what’s going on so informed choices can be made. In Dr Leaf’s mind, those kids with ADHD are just naughty children, with bad parents, who are using the label of ADHD to cover their poor parenting and their bad behaviour. Clearly all they need to do is to stop their toxic thinking and they wouldn’t need their medications, but they would be cured.
Dr Leaf is wrong … she can stand and scream blue murder about labels and ADHD all she wants. But just like the crazy random person screaming about labels in front of the supermarket, it means very little. It’s not helping her cause, and if anything, it’s sewing distrust in an system that, despite it’s flaws, works very well, and has helped thousands of children and adults alike to achieve their potential.
That’s the power of labels, and Dr Leaf would do herself and all her followers a favour if she stopped mislabelling them.