What is the difference when you are speaking about a child?
Since, I like to be clear what I am talking about, let’s go to the dictionary site merriam-webster.com to see what they say about the word symptom.
Definition of symptom1 a : subjective evidence of disease or physical disturbance; broadly : something that indicates the presence of bodily disorderb : an evident reaction by a plant to a pathogen2 a : something that indicates the existence of something else
- symptoms of an inner turmoilb : a slight indication : trace
Then we look to meriam-webster.com to see what they also have to say about the word behavior.
Definition of behavior2 a : the manner of conducting (see 2conduct 4) oneself
- criminal behavior
- normal adolescent behaviorb : anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulationc : the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment
- They are studying the behavior of elephants in the wild.3 : the way in which something functions or operates
- They tested the behavior of various metals under heat and pressure.
Interesting definitions. One implies a level of control. Can you guess which one? One implies a reaction based on environment or other factors.
Let’s couple this with a mental health issue. I’ll use David as an example. He has severe ADHD. He can stay awake for two and three days at a time. He also has obsessive compulsive disorder, and autism, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
A small part of each of the last three conditions, is a strong fight or flight instinct. Strong is the best adjective. Basically what it means is,if you put your hands on him, you better be prepared for one of two things to happen, he will either hurt you, or run very far – very fast. In the past, he’d get a “look in his eye” as the school so eloquently put it, and they would move to restrain him. At the age of 8, he was throwing furniture around the classroom in self-defense, lashing out at those who would try to restrain him for no reason that he could comprehend. (Note: I am not making excuses for my son. we hold him accountable for things, but we do it differently for symptoms. Either way, he knows that his response, be it a symptom or a behavior, may not be appropriate) It’s basic cause and effect, if you cause him turmoil, he will have an immediate effect on your world. It’s based on symptomology.
If you look up any condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) you will see a list of symptoms.
I guess what I am trying to say is this: Before we rule that a child’s reaction to stimuli is a behavior, maybe we need to take into account, ANY and ALL diagnoses that the child may have. Perhaps, if an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) isn’t already in place, steps should be taken to develop one. After all, don’t we want what is best for the child exhibiting the symptoms? Shouldn’t we want the best for the child regardless of whether it’s a symptom or a behavior? I challenge every parent, educator and advocate to familiarize themselves with the following terms: IDEA, LRE, IEP, 504, Due Process.
And one last thought. If a child takes medication for one or more conditions, he/she is being treated for symptoms, not behaviors. Just because they aren’t taking a medication for a condition, doesn’t mean they don’t have symptoms.