Not Everything is Abnormal

January 5, 2014, Parenting Success Network

Why is he so distracted?

Why is she so intense about everything?

Why does she do that?

These are some of the questions parents (myself included) find ourselves asking about our children’s everyday behaviors. Oftentimes, when these questions persist they lead us to believe that we must seek answers from professionals. We forget to check in first with our parenting cohorts to find out what other parents are experiencing. Chances are that other parents are experiencing the same or similar behavioral characteristics in their children. Many of these behaviors are normal developmental childhood behaviors and others are temperament traits that will mature and become more socially appropriate as our children grow, develop, and experience life. The article below, brought to you by, is a great resource for further understanding of the current trends in understanding and working with our developing child’s unique behaviors.

If you’re a parent whose confidence in her child is being undermined by caregivers or teachers who hint of psychiatric problems, you’ll appreciate “Back to Normal,” by clinical psychologist Enrico Gnaulati, whose new book is subtitled, “Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior Is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Spectrum, and Autism Spectrum Disorder” (Beacon Press).

In American society today, Gnaulati writes, there is a “pervasive tendancy” to “medicalize children’s behavior” and to “categorize an increasing array of normal childhood reactions to stressful life situations as proof positive of a psychiatric diagnosis.” He uses the introduction to the book to agree that, indeed, it is difficult to determine whether a developmental lag, a strong personality or trouble at school are normal or evidence of something serious. But given the incidence of kids labelled with issues such as ADHD, he’s convinced of over-diagnosis: “ADHD is thought to be as prevalent as the common cold, with 1 in 10 children meriting the diagnosis–about as many children who use cold remedies at any given time.”

Shocked? So are we. The psychologist goes on to explain what he believes is driving the high number of diagnoses:

* It’s easy to confuse many of the symptoms of psychiatric disorders with everyday behavior such as forgetfulness and fidgeting, poor eye contact and rigid food preferences, moodiness and taking risks.

* It can be “cool” to be diagnosed. “We pin diagnoses on ourselves as if they are faddish labels or give us outlaw celebrity status,” he points out.

* Pharmaceutical companies oversell the public on mental illness.

* Doctors and therapists are trained to think in terms of disease and disorder. They are, he says, often blinded “to humanistic, developmental, and commonsense explanations for children’s troubling and troublesome behavior.”

* Boys are judged by “standards of behavior applicable to the average girl, not the average boy,” making what Gnaulati calls normal “squirrelly,” messy, roughhousing behavior seem abnormal.

Given all this, what should parents do if they’re concerned about a child’s behavior? In general, this expert says, consider “family lifestyle changes, parenting interventions, play and talk therapy”–and patience. He has specifics to recommend, too, and we’ll look at those later. In the meantime, we recommend you check his blog or ask your library or bookseller for a copy of this book.