Diagnosis and Achievement

student with a diagnosis near the classroom

Grade 8 Student: “I’m going to have a really off day today. I won’t be able to concentrate so I won’t get any work done. I will probably be super crazy, too! I have a diagnosis of ADHD and didn’t take my meds this morning.”

Me: “Hmmm, so do I have to send you to the principal’s office right now then… before you even do anything just in case?”

Grade 8 Student: (laughs) “No.”

Me: “What kinds of crazy things are you going to do on this off day?”

Grade 8 Student: “Well, I don’t know.”

Me: “How do you know you will be super crazy?”

Grade 8 Student: “My mom says that teachers have told her that I get super crazy when I don’t take my pill and that the school usually calls her.”

I found this to be a very interesting conversation. First thing upon arrival, this student was writing off his entire day because of one forgotten thing and what he believed to be guaranteed to follow when this was forgotten. Today was a write-off, so I might as well just give up on him before even giving him a chance to succeed. I should at the very least just drop any expectations I usually had for him because he certainly wasn’t going to meet them.

You see, nowhere in the conversation did this student mention feeling any differently than any other day without the medication (which may have also been the case). His excuse for the terrible day that was to come was because of what had been told to him by the adults around him. He had a diagnosis, didn’t take the medication to curb the symptoms and therefore was going nowhere. He believed the words from the adults in his life to be absolute truth… so much so it was like he was giving himself permission to fail in every possible way that day.

student with diagnosis taking a break in the hallway

The Quest for a Diagnosis

Sometimes I think we live in a society where we are encouraged to look for what’s “wrong” with our children. Society seems to paint a picture of who the ideal child is and what he/she looks like. Then, when our children don’t match that picture (and they rarely, if ever do… at least not in my own children’s case!), we are encouraged to look into why this is, so our children can more easily conform to the expectations of the adults around them.

So we look for a diagnosis. By the way, I in no way am blaming parents here or suggesting they are doing anything wrong. Every parent wants their child to succeed so when told their child isn’t succeeding in some way… in ANY way, then the parent simply starts to search for an explanation of why. 

Often a diagnosis of some kind is given because the child does meet criteria for that diagnosis, whether it be Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or ADHD) or something else. A diagnosis usually follows by at least a suggestion for a medication trial and will sometimes come with additional funding support intended to help our children. We are always looking at fixing what is “wrong.”

We then stay focused on what is “wrong” when in conversation with our children. Our children then also see what is “wrong” with them. The focus stays on what is “wrong” instead of learning to value what is “right” with them and, trust me, there is ALWAYS WAY MORE RIGHT TO FOCUS ON THAN WRONG!!! This is much easier to see when we are looking for it since people tend to find what they look for!

It is also the things that are RIGHT with our children that are likely to help them most in their future careers. Imagine how much easier success will come to them if they learned to embrace these strengths earlier in life instead of learned to focus on what they can’t do or what they consistently do wrong?

What if every diagnosis consisted of a list of all of the things that are “right” with our children? What if the focus was on what is “right” instead? What if a diagnosis meant that people would become comfortable with how their child will achieve differently as opposed to instead then hearing and/or believing what their child likely won’t succeed in? 

Keeping the Focus on What One CAN Do

My absolute favorite video to share with students is the Nick Vujicic video that you can watch below. Nick was born with no arms and no legs. When younger, he constantly questioned why he was born that way. I’ve shown the video to numerous students and there has always been high engagement with it. The video is motivating and inspiring. It contains many valuable messages for us and our children. Nick has also written a few books. Among them are Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life and Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying (and Other Stuff that Keeps You Down).

EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS STRENGTHS AND THINGS THAT ARE RIGHT WITH THEM regardless of what the diagnosis may be. Some circumstances may mean that our children will achieve differently, but no diagnosis can keep our children from achieving altogether unless they are taught to give the diagnosis that power and learn to believe it can stop them from achieving.

What an amazing world it would be if everyone could be taught to grasp those strengths of theirs instead of focusing on their limitations. There is always a whole lot of greatness that can come from those strengths!

As for the student who forgot to take his medication that one morning years ago? No call was necessary that day and some accomplishments were even made!

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. Helicopter parents are NOT the problem. Parents not holding their children accountable for their actions IS. I worked in a school district for many years and I can list 100s of times when the parents of some child or another excused their behavior, outright denied it even in the face of indisputable proof or blamed the teacher (or ANYONE else) when that kid did something. Kid failed a test? Teachers fault. You need to teach him/her better they say Kid bullied another kid? Didn”t happen. Not my child. He/She NEVER behaves that way at home They say Kid caught on video destroying a toy isle at Wal-Mart? Kid has (insert medical diagnosis here) “It”s not his/her fault, He/She has (Insert medical diagnosis here) and can”t control themselves. they say.

    1. Thank you for sharing your opinion! I agree that the diagnosis is often blamed for the poor behavior, almost giving it an excuse, extending blame to the external factor of the diagnosis and believing there is therefore no hope of overcoming it. I also believe this could be different if the focus wasn’t always on what was wrong, but rather on what is right and work together at overcoming the undesired behavior from that angle… I believe the child would have higher self-esteem for one if he/she wasn’t always hearing what is wrong with him/her.