Sunday, January 19, 2020

Unlabeled futures

I was born, fortunately, in a non-diagnosing time in terms of assessment of children. Specifically, during my school years, my teachers, parents and administrators told us (or made it understood) what we good at and what we were not good at. These skill areas were academic, such as reading or math, motoric, such as skill in certain sports, and social, such as the ability to sit attentively in class or interact with our peers. I don’t believe that there were any pupils in my elementary school that thought they believed they were great, poor or average in everything.  We were like characters from a role-play game: strength in one aspect was at the price of weakness in another.

Yet, with all these assessments, I cannot recall that we ever told that we had any specific syndrome. This is probably due to the lack of awareness of such matters as well as lack of available professionals available to make such formal diagnoses. In some ways, we were as imperfect as the adults around us, which was perfectly normal. The positive aspect of this medical ignorance was that we were never told what could not do in the future. It was understood that children develop at different paces in different areas. In other words, on a skill percentile basis, the results of 6th grade could be very different than those of 2nd grade. Unless parents made some special effort, the improvement was completely organic and often painful, without outside assistance.

To give an example, from my early report cards, comments from parents and my memories, during elementary school, I was a serious, painfully shy student with a quick grasp of material and a cooperative attitude, a nerd if you wish. My weaknesses included poor handwriting, difficulty in learning how to read (remedied by around 3rd grade), poor hand-eye and motoric coordination and over sensitiveness. For the purposes of the record, some 50+ years later, I am an experienced teacher with a strong presence in the classroom, a translator and editor. I play tennis and folk dance and married (twice actually), as well as raised a child to adulthood. So, one way or another, I have overcome all those weaknesses and created a complete life.

The fact that I never knew that I had (and have) two diagnosable conditions meant that I constructed no psychological barriers to my success. The cognitive barriers still exist; certain tasks are more difficult for me than for others, meaning I have to take more time or find different ways to accomplish them. That statement is true for all people of all ages and thus has no proscriptive importance. My refusal to state those conditions is precisely due to the fact that I do not want to have my capabilities labeled on the basis of a term. Instead, I want to be judged on what I actually do.

The implication for parents, educators, leaders and, most importantly, individuals of all ages, whether in schools or businesses, is that formal diagnoses, even when correct, are not predictors of current or future ability. Persons with dyslexia have become outstanding CEOs, albeit with a different style. A person with OCD can be a highly effective manager in all aspects. Perfectionists can evolve into ideal problem solvers. In the bottom line, individual choice, skill sets and circumstances determine the basis for personal success at any time, not medical labels. Ignorance can be bliss.

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