Darling Or Diagnosis?

Happy young girlMark Feigan wonders what would happen if his boisterous young daughter were a boy.

My daughter Brianna has no off switch. She is a big, bright, beautiful four year old and is constantly on the go.

She doesn't talk, she yells. "Dad, get me dressed!" Mostly it is a demand for attention.

As the smallest member of our large family of six, she wants to be noticed. "Dad, put on my shoes for me!" Adorable and hard work. I am a doting father, but not indulgent. We reach a compromise on the shoes.

Clever and communicative, she makes detailed observations. "Dad, the snails are outside eating the plants because it has been raining and they are hungry!" she yells from the front garden. Then the shouted demand: "Dad, you have to squash them because I can't".

She can't contain her restless energy at the dinner table. She gets up and runs, doing quick circuits. She keeps going, despite our exasperated pleas to sit down and eat her dinner. "I am just going around because I am not hungry. Can you get purple dolly for me so she can watch me run?"

Eventually she sits and some calm returns for family chat. Brianna tells us how she has been playing all day at childcare, helping everyone. In a flash she has transformed back into a whirling bundle of energy. She charges off to the front door and back again. Backward and forward she runs, again and again, whooping with excitement. A little puffed, she returns to the table.

My nine-year-old son, Ethan, tries to tell us about his day at school, where he became frustrated by another boy's rudeness at play. He tries to explain. Brianna yells over him. "Mum, they have finished the new building at my school where I will go next year! Can we go there tomorrow?" I tell her we will ride past on the way to childcare.

Soon it will be Brianna's bedtime. My 18-year-old daughter starts to make noises about leaving the table. "Emily, will you read me three stories?" Brianna anticipates the bedtime routine. Her sister takes her to the bathroom and our dinner concludes. "Mum, I want you to read stories to me. Dad, will you read three stories to me?" "Goodnight Brianna," I say, exhausted from just watching her.

Sleep takes her slowly. She yells from her bed. She leaves her bed. She returns to her bed. Sleep finally comes.

The frustration she feels from her intense impulsive urges sometimes leads her to bite, kick and hit us. It is hard to feel great about this; to weather her fury. At the supermarket it has the added spice of acute embarrassment.

I am grateful for her waking moments and wonder at the world. I am also grateful for her sleeping moments, when we can all rest. As for every working family, we lead a busy life. Each of us orbits around a black hole of daily routines, chores, work, care, school, bodily needs and creature comforts. Brianna wants to be the sun, at the centre of our orbits, rather than a moon.

I am grateful she is not my son, that she is not a boy. I fear what might be if she were a boy. I worry that by now she would have been diagnosed, and medication suggested. Likely, she would now be wearing a label – perhaps ADHD, ADD or oppositional defiance disorder. As a person with a long-term involvement in disability advocacy, I am concerned by these developments. Behaviour in the normal range is now readily seen as pathology. I am grateful that Brianna is more insulated, with her behaviour viewed as boisterous cuteness. She is not often characterised as out of control, as a boy might be.

I don't have to think about talking to a doctor about her behaviour. It would trouble me if they suggested ADHD medication as a treatment since I don't think she needs drugs. I am far happier to see how she develops and grows. She needs to work out how to be herself, which I hope she can do without causing too much mayhem.



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