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Evil and Odd
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Around or about 1665, Sir Isaac Newton, so the story goes, was resting outside under an apple tree, when a big red one landed on his big red noggin. Suddenly the Universal Law of Gravitation occurred to him, and a new scientific field was born. For good measure he also decided to invent modern calculus, something for which many first year university students have yet to forgive him.

I’m glad Newton lived three hundred and fifty years ago and not today, because were he born today, I’m not sure what would have happened to him. There’s some interesting research positing that Newton had a form of autism, or perhaps Asperger’s Syndrome. He was known as being somewhat “odd”, and when he had an idea, he fixated on it until he could figure it out, regardless of what was going on around him (although he did tend to notice falling fruit).

The world has always been full of odd people, but until relatively recently others may have talked about them and wondered about them, but in general they still found a place for them. In fact, most of Silicon Valley in the 1970s was populated by males with Asperger’s who loved thinking about computers. The Syndrome may have hindered their ability to get a date to the prom, but it didn’t stop their creativity.

Today we are so quick to label children that we may make people think they are less capable than they actually are. Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome can certainly cause immense difficulties for families, but let’s not forget that many with these conditions have been highly successful—when we just thought of them as odd, rather than as somehow “affected”. By labelling children early, do we cause them to feel that they will never succeed, never fit in, always be looked down upon?

Yet labelling those along the autism spectrum is not nearly as damaging, I don’t think, as labelling those along the anger spectrum, or the narcissism spectrum, or the just plain jerk spectrum. The DSM, which lists all mental disorders, is now being revised after sixteen years, and it’s widely assumed that it will include even more disorders than it currently does. Some of the current ones are already pretty strange. There’s oppositional defiant disorder, which is defined as someone who often loses his or her temper, often annoys people deliberately, and is often touchy. Resemble anyone in your family? Then there’s narcissistic personality disorder, which is someone who is boastful, pretentious, and needs admiration. Physicians are always being given new spectrum disorders to look for, though most doctors know exactly what violent kids with anger problems and a propensity to reach down girls’ pants have wrong with them: idiot parent disorder. That one, unfortunately, isn’t in the book.

At one point we would have called these children—and their parents--some unprintable word, and ostracized them. And the ostracism is rather effective, because it conveys to people that they’re doing something society finds unacceptable. Today, we say instead that “you’re suffering from a disorder”. You’re no longer to blame; you simply have a condition that you need to learn to deal with. Character has been taken out of the equation.

The world would function much better if we made more room for those who are a little odd. But it would also function better if we made less room for those who are mean, arrogant, and anti-social. We shouldn’t ostracize those who have different personalities, but ostracizing those with flawed morals is a mighty fine idea. Thinking up new calculus ideas: good. Terrorizing others: bad. Why is that so hard to understand?

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At 9:54 AM , Anonymous Karen said…

Great post - and so true!!! I had some good friends growing up who were "odd" like that, and have gone on to really successful careers. (Let's just say, their ability to focus on and learn the intricacies of computer programming, trigonometry, etc stand in stark contrast to my much more flighty style of thinking. LOL)

And I share your opinion of ODD... seems to me, it used to be spelled B-R-A-T.


At 11:33 AM , Anonymous Robert said…

As someone with two teens who have Aspergers, the diagnostic process was less about labelling and more about finding out why they were challenged in certain areas.

Once they were diagnosed, we were able to find the resources we, as a family, needed to help them cope with their challenges. We were also able to access a school program which has been a significant factor in my son' educational success.

All along, my wife and I were adamant that we didn't want a label for our children. We wanted answers to questions and strategies to help them cope.


At 11:48 AM , OpenID candytroutman said…

I am appalled at the lack of character in today's society. And I agree that is stems from a lack of intentional parenting. The Nanny tv shows showcase today's parents who don't have a clue how to actually raise children.

The new syndromes are a good thing, as Robert pointed out, as long as they are used to find ways to cope and function and not used to excuse bad behavior.


At 11:54 AM , Blogger Shana said…

I am so there with you on this. Yes some children have problems and differences and that is ok. BUT, there should definitely be idiot parent syndrome listed. If children don't have parenting then they are all going to have oppositional defiance disorder because they have NO rules. Bull hockey is what I say. Give rules, Spank your children when they need it, time outs for less severe infractions and consistency and bring GOD back into the equation. Problem solved.


At 3:46 PM , Blogger Renee said…

What I see as the problem is that the definition of a disorder tends to gradually broaden to cover too much of the population.


At 4:39 PM , Anonymous Jenniferh said…

I recently read a claim that 10% of the American population has ADHD. Seriously? 1 out of every 10 people? And it's considered a problem? Because it seems to me that if that many people have it, it's moved out of the category of disorder into the category of normal human variation.

Now, I say this as a member of a family where most of us have ADHD. To me, it's normal. I don't see it as a problem - it's just something that gives us different strengths from a lot of other people.

There is a need to help people who have problems that keep them from having a functional life. I am strongly of the opinion, though, that we are using too strict a definition of "normal and healthy" and unreasonably constricting human variation thereby.


At 2:12 PM , Blogger Laura said…

Idiot parent disorder... I like it. :)


At 9:05 AM , Blogger Christie said…

While a public school teacher, we had our own letters for some of those kids who came packing an alphabet after their names: PC--Parentally Challenged.

These poor kids had no routines at home, no bedtimes, no limits, TVs and computers as babysitters, and parents who would rather have a labeled child on medication than a spine. Only a mere handful of all the dozens and dozens of children I taught with a diagnosis actually seemed to have a biological component to their behavior problems.


At 10:51 AM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

Idiot parenting - YES.

HOWEVER... There is a true biochemical component of disorder in an increasing number of children today. This is for the same reason that we see so much more disease (esp. cancer) today - more environmental pollutants and dietary toxins.

As a wife of someone with a depressive anxiety DISORDER (not just a personality trait or spiritual issue) and a foster parent of a multi-labeled kid, I know first-hand that common-sense solutions simply don't work with true disorders. Yes, things such as routines, nutrition, exercise, and spiritual discipline certainly are all helpful in managing a psychiatric disorder, but even hitting the mark in all these areas cannot eliminate problems for someone with a chemical imbalance.

As our environment and food supplies become more contaminated and our bodies get more out of whack, there is a greater need to understand and be able to treat the underlying causes of these disorders.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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