How can a grieving child grow if it’s already assumed (by labels) that their growth is stunted? Many times, professionals are wrong in assessing a child and then use medication as a first choice to “fix” the child. That is insane! Yes, I said it. I know firsthand. I was a child who grew up in the foster care system and carried many negative labels and misdiagnosis from the county psychiatrists and neurologists. Looking back, I can tell you that they did not see any potential in me as a little abandoned 5 year old boy. The fact was that I was a grieving child acting out and communicating through my behavior because of the insane environment I had been through. I was paying the price for my parents mistakes. I didn’t ask for any of this or to be thrown into the foster care system. I was just a kid. Here’s my advice for children, youth and adults that were labeled in their childhood…Don’t let anyone use a label to turn you into something that you are not.
In my travels as a motivational speaker and foster care speaker, I have met with many vulnerable youth who have told me “Why do I have to be on medication? I’m not bi-polar or depressed. The courts are forcing me”. It makes me very sad that these innocent children are being forced to take medication. We need to stop the professionals from unnecessary labels and the drugging of children. Some of these children are on 5 psychotropic medications with adult doses and many of them are in the foster care system grieving. I have heard some very disturbing statistics regarding the overuse of psychotropic medication. A couple years ago, ABC News did a segment where they stated that in some part of the country, as many as half of foster kids area on one or more psychiatric medications. This, compared to just 4 percent of kids in the general population. That is insane! Now, I realize that there are times when children may need medication so my article does not apply to all children, because there are certainly those who truly need the medicine to function.
We have become a society so dependent on the “quick fix” that we never get to the root of the problem and rarely gain the strength that comes from courageously facing our problems. Our deepest and truest joy comes from choosing the hard road, developing our own spiritual tools and personal strength to take back our life. With hardship comes the realization that you have what it takes to overcome overwhelming circumstances.
Let me be real with you, if you were to walk in my shoes (as a 5 year old) and go back to the moments of when I was brutally abused as a child and then abandoned at a psychiatric facility…and then… thrown into the foster care system for the next 13 years, you might have a mood or anxiety problem too. For those of us that have went through severe childhood trauma, yes we are angry and sad and can flick it on and off like a switch. We are not happy with life and cannot trust anyone. Then the professionals come, briefly diagnose us and tell us what is wrong with us and now, that label is stuck with us in the foster care system. In my opinion, I believe that many children are misdiagnosed and then put on a variety of medications so that others can deal with their quickly diagnosed depression, anger or anxiety. Doctors are numbing them and not getting to the root of the issue which most of the time, the children are grieving. It’s perfectly natural to go through the grieving process which includes denial, anger, helplessness, depression and acceptance. While they are going through this rough time, hopefully someone has reached out with the intent of building a relationship of trust with them and helping them feel important, respected, accepted and secure. They need time, not poison. No one knows the long terms effects and how it could steal your life.
I’m very concerned about the dramatic increase of children on antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants and anxiety medication. In a lot of cases, professionals are doing more damage than good by labeling and medicating. Labels can follow a child for years to come and eventually define them. Do you want your child to believe that they are not good enough? Each child is unique and full of so much potential. Children should not be predetermined to fail. Words have great power that can reinforce positive or negative value. The labels that I received while in foster care did not stop me from achieving greatness in this life. I proved all the professionals wrong! It is the drug companies who profit from this deception, not the parents or children who will have to deal with all the many side effects. Shame on the doctors who irresponsibly prescribe it, altering the minds and bodies of children. When properly prescribed, medications may help, but abuse is rampant.
As I was reading my psychiatric, neurological and speech and language reports (from when I was 6 years old), I could see a lot of effort was put into describing my personality and mental capacity. They basically prepackaged me for failure. If an adequate foster home was not found for me, I would be sent to the institution. They even labeled me “not adoptable”. I am here to tell you that every child is worthy of love and a family. One of the most disturbing words the doctors used in describing me was “retarded.” I realize that word is not politically correct and that I may offend some of you for even saying it, but I have a right to use it as I was diagnosed with that label in two of my reports. I believe that this word, along with loser, stupid, and dumb, are some of the most damaging words in the English language. These words are extremely harmful to kids. What we think we can become, we usually can become.
The American Psychiatric Association reports to physicians “Don’t routinely prescribe antipsychotic medications as a first-line intervention for children and adolescents for any diagnosis other than psychotic disorders. Recent research indicates that use of antipsychotic medication in children has nearly tripled in the past 10 to 15 years, and this increase appears to be disproportionate among children with low family income, minority children and children with externalizing behavior disorders (i.e., rather than schizophrenia, other psychotic disorders and severe tic disorders). Evidence for the efficacy and tolerability of antipsychotic medications in children and adolescnets is inadequate and there are notable concerns about weight gain, metabolic side effects and a potentially greater tendency for cardiovascular changes in children and adolescents…Metabolic, neuromuscular and cardiovascular side effects are common in patients receiving antipsychotic medications.”
I believe labeling a child can become a self fulfilling prophecy. If a child is constantly getting cut down and labeled, I believe he will lose the will to try and become something better than expected. Yes, I had slowness in development and yes, I had a lot of emotional problems. But if everyone hastily slaps a label on a child, he or she will eventually live up to that characterization. This applies not only to children of all ages, but adults as well. We all need positive reinforcement. Don’t let anyone’s thoughts identify us and tell us what our limits are. Don’t let anyone design you and fill your head with doubt, you stand up proud and determined to become the architect of your mind and soul. You are the master of your own mind.
These hurtful words and labels do not uplift children. They are meant to demoralize them and make them feel like lesser beings. Even when kids bully or joke about being a “retard” or saying “I am dumb,” or, “You are stupid,” it gradually instills that negativity in their minds. The result is that oftentimes kids will have severe self esteem issues and may grow to fit that label. Their mental hard drive is being programmed, and these labels and words may never be erased. If you assimilate these limiting, destructive words, you may start believing what they imply.
And if everyone else believes in their accuracy, it can lead to various forms of self-destruction. You can see it in kids suffering from low self-esteem and lack of confidence. They just might be living up to a label somebody else has applied to them. What labels have you allowed to characterize yourself or your children? This labeling could have damaging effects throughout their life.
Watch motivational speaker and former foster child Derek Clark share some of the labels that he was diagnosed while he was in foster care.
My foster parents gave me an amazing gift by never telling me my labels. If I had known my foster care labels, I know I would have turned out very differently and I probably would be an addict or in prison right now or possibly even dead. The labels may have given me an excuse to act out more violently. Once again, don’t let anyone use a label to turn you into something you are not.
While searching through my foster care records, my psychiatric and neurological evaluations shocked me when it stated that ‘Derek has the IQ of a 2 year old and is mentally retarded”. I dislike the word “retarded”. I believe mentally-challenged children are angels sent from Heaven to teach us the virtues of love, appreciation, sacrifice and selflessness. I have more respect for mentally-challenged people who overcome great obstacles than “normal, high-achieving” individuals. These special, mentally-challenged individuals are a gift. They are great teachers. We can all learn from them. Anyone with a disability is here to enrich our lives. Respect them, watch and listen to them. Even though some are unable to speak, we can still learn a lot from their silence. We are all connected as human beings. If your soul is open, it will allow you to see the little miracles working throughout our daily lives in mysterious ways.
Written by Motivational Speaker Derek Clark, a former foster kid for 13 years.
About Derek Clark
Derek Clark’s life is one of resilience and redemption. As a child he suffered unthinkable child abuse, abandonment and emotional distress before being turned over to the psychiatric hospital at age five. His 13 years in the San Francisco bay area foster care system reflected an early life of humiliation, aggression, emotional distress, overwhelming anxiety and being wrongfully labeled. Eventually, with the help of foster parents and mentors he defied the artificial limitations imposed upon him. Derek knows first hand how to cope with adversity and overcoming hardship. His past has never held him back from accomplishing what he set his heart and mind to.
Derek is an inspiring speaker/trainer, the Ambassador for the Foster Care Alumni of America, a featured expert on CNN Headline News and The Ricki Lake Show. Google has ranked Derek #1 “inspiring motivational speaker” out of 16 million listings and is also ranked #1 for “stories about never giving up” out of 320 million results. He is the author of six books including “Never Limit Your Life” and the “I Will Never Give Up” book series.
As a speaker, author and singer/songwriter, Derek has spoken and performed his music from Australia to Canada including a President of the United States. His true-life trials and personal triumphs have inspired organizations with his message of hope and unwavering perseverance.
His maxim is to make no excuses. He has turned his situation from a victim to a victor, equipping him with the Wisdom and the Will to never give up.
To reserve motivational speaker Derek Clark for your next conference, training or special event, please visit www.IWillNeverGiveUp.com