Maia Szalavitz has an interesting piece in yesterday's Washington Post about the national mania for diagnosing kids:
"Increasing numbers of children are given increasingly specific labels, ranging from psychiatric and neurological diagnoses such as Asperger's and attention-deficit disorder to educational descriptors including "gifted" and "learning disabled."
-- The main problem being that these labels tend to overwhelm parent, child and teacher with a fixed and false set of expectations. She cites Stanford's Carol Dweck, author Alissa Quart and psychiatrist Bruce Perry all insisting that abilities are not fixed.
"Recent research in neuroscience bolsters the idea that people can and do change. Says Perry: 'The brain is like a muscle: The areas that are used grow and improve while those which aren't, don't.'"
Kids diagnosed with a disability need to understand that there are no fixed limits on what they can achieve. "It's incumbent on parents," says Dweck, "to explain that 'Well, you may be wired a little differently; this might make it more difficult for you; you might have to work harder and use different strategies,' as opposed to 'This means you can't learn.' "
And at the other end of the spectrum, kids labeled as "gifted" need to understand that success will only come with effort and a willingness to take risks. "Children who believe in permanent traits like fixed intelligence," Dweck explains, "are actually vulnerable because when something goes wrong they think they don't deserve the label anymore."