“Hyperactive children and those with attention-deficit disorders can now queue-jump at theme parks because they cannot cope with the stress of waiting,” reports the United Kingdom’s Times Online. I’m not sure who came up with that strategy, but teachers and counselors roundly criticize the system, pointing out that it undermines their efforts to encourage patience. I agree emphatically with these professionals: all children, regardless of “a diagnosis,” must learn to wait their turn!
Delaying gratification is one of the life skills that each of us must master on our journey to adulthood; and if we happen to have ADHD, all the more reason to practice those proficiencies. Those “special wristbands” that enable a child to opt out of society by being excused from following the rules are boomerangs. Contrary to the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act which asserts that this policy avoids temper tantrums, I advocate for standing in line to develop tolerance.
I also suggest to parents of children who have a diagnosis on the spectrum that they find more, not fewer, opportunities to practice waiting. Camp is one of those rare environments, where all children thrive because there is a moral and democratic order to community living; there is a sense of wellbeing around predictability, rituals, and traditions; and there is an intentionality about coaching social skills.
In fact, the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois has shown that direct exposure to nature relieves the symptoms of attention deficit disorders. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” also indicates that increased contact with nature can improve problem-solving, creativity, self-esteem, and self-discipline (i.e., waiting on line!).
Meanwhile, there is an ever-increasing number of children being diagnosed “because of growing awareness, ongoing strides in research, and improved diagnosis techniques,” according to Robbie Woliver, author of “Alphabet Kids.” In Britain, the Department of Health cites that one in 10 has at least one clinical disorder. Especially with this surge in identification, we must be careful not to let the diagnosis become an excuse for behavior that otherwise could be managed.
Parents tell me all the time that certain negative behaviors in their children are present at home and absent at camp. That’s because there is a high bar of accountability at camp: the ADHD or Asperger’s child learns to conform to expectations of positive behavior by observing those around him. This is hardly a criticism of caring parents who are willing to do anything to normalize their child’s growing up experiences, but rather a call to action to hold those same children to a standard to which they can aspire. In other words, they can – and should – wait in line at an amusement park!
One parent laments that others sometimes “think I’ve been out shopping for Daniel’s diagnosis because I’m either needy or neurotic.” These so-called “alphabet kids” (OCD, ODD, ASD, SD…) want – and deserve – responsibility to their own social education. To do otherwise is to send them the unspoken message that they cannot do it (whatever “it” is), that they are incapable in our eyes.
Alas, I am back to the subject of camp, where counselors are trained that children are people first and not labels. In fact, camp is a place where all children come to change the labels they have brought with them. At camp, their own actions show them that they can shed a “lazy” label for one of “perseverance.” Colin Troy, a special education teacher, opines that a label of a particular diagnosis becomes a “medical excuse for children’s behavior.” Woliver adds that sometimes the many “alphabet disorders can be so blurringly amorphous that they can blend into a kind of diagnostic soup.”
Here’s the silver lining with the increased identification of developmental disorders: they can be helpful signposts to specific interventions, says Troy. We need to make sure we use the information to help our children become upstanding citizens who are happy and successful adults – not to cut the lines at Disney World.