I pride myself on being an independent woman and a professional, to a fault at times. Western society places a high value on self-reliance. It has been ingrained in me since I was a child. If my first year of motherhood has solidified anything, it is that at times you are going to need support and that is not a sign of weakness. Reflecting back on my son’s first year, we would not have made it through as well as we did without the support of friends and family across the globe. If it were not for his grandparents, uncle, and our friends, I would not be able to continue the career that I love – supporting your children at school.
Sometimes we think that outside support reflects a weakness in ourselves. Something that goes against this Western ideal of self-reliance. With just a little more independent effort and manoeuvring, we should be able to do it all ourselves. The truth is that we all have strengths and things we need help with. Sometimes it takes others to help us understand ourselves, our needs, and what strengths we have to help us work through challenges…
My brother was diagnosed with ADHD in university. Growing up I remember the arguments that would take place about his schoolwork as people felt he was not putting in the effort. It damaged his relationships with our parents and his teachers as they just thought he was being lazy and stubborn. The truth we later found out after the support of his doctor and an educational psychologist was that he has a neurodevelopmental difference. That awareness helped those around him understand that his choices were not out of defiance or lack of comprehension. It helped him feel more comfortable with who he was and find more effective strategies to help him work through his challenges. It also helped him identify some of his strengths – hyper-focus, resilience, creativity, and spontaneity. I just wish, for his sake, that he had had that information sooner to save him the years of himself and others around him not really understanding his needs. There were some pretty negative assumptions and comments about why he was behaving in certain ways, especially around school.
Working as a school counsellor, I often find myself speaking with families about outside support, whether it be therapeutic counselling or an evaluation by an educational psychologist. While counselling support is more understood globally, an evaluation by an educational psychologist may not be. It is a relatively new concept in many parts of our world. This conversation can be scary for families, especially if one does not fully understand how these services are a support to help rather than a judgement. The report from an educational psychologist helps develop a profile of a person as a learner based on observations and assessment tools. They often highlight areas of strength, areas needing support, and recommendations to help people achieve their true potential. The individual, their family, and school then take this information and develop plans to better support their learning and development.
These kinds of services are suggested not because the person is weak, but to promote understanding of challenges and implementation of the most effective support strategies. They are not to put a label on someone or imply something is broken. My brother is not defined by his ADHD. It is a challenge and a strength. The information helps him understand himself better and find strategies more easily when he is faced with a challenge. It offers him a better understanding of who he is. Elon Musk, Forbes’ 2022 richest person in the world, has obviously found success and has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. He credits a portion of his success to his hyper-focus on areas of interest (technology and physics), a behavioural characteristic of Autism. He understands that Autism is a contributing factor to his success rather than a weakness.
In writing this article, I asked my brother for permission to share his story and what he would want shared based on his experience. I will leave you with his thoughts: “The diagnosis does not change who you are. If it can help you get what you need and have yourself and others understand you better, great. If it does not, or if what a proper assessment is for you changes, then you can always reassess yourself and have others help you reassess to find what is right.”