Growing up, I saw firsthand what labeling a child can do. In elementary school, my brother was having trouble staying focused both at home and at school, took 3 times as long to do his homework than his classmates, and struggled to keep anything organized. Not surprisingly, he was diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication.
Even before the meds started, there was a noticeable difference in him as soon as he was informed that “he was ADHD.” He wasn’t the little brother I knew anymore. He became much more negative when talking about himself and he stopped fighting against some of the behaviors associated with ADHD. It seemed like he had given up. He lost hope. All of a sudden he would say that he “couldn’t” do things because he was ADHD. It defined him. I noticed that not only did my brother expect the “typical” ADHD behaviors and characteristics from himself, but my parents began expecting them from him too. If he had a better day, the credit was given to the medication. But bad days were the expectation, and accepted as if it was the new “normal.”
As a Masters student in Individual, Couple and Family Therapy, I am learning about a lot of theories and ideas, but one that has changed my entire way of thinking comes from Narrative Therapy.