This blog is not FDA approved
(Many thanks and apologies to His Lordship, Le Clown, and his fictional alter ego L’Eric for allowing me to disgrace his blog with my weird ramblings. Of course, if you like such nonsense – come visit me on kenthinksaloud. Anyway, here goes…)
I don’t know how we caught the disease but we did.
We were a normal family but then, four years ago, we moved to Bangladesh to do voluntary work . Maybe it was there we caught it? From a dirty tap, perhaps? From unwashed hands? From eating too many chillies? All I know is, one minute we had nothing wrong with us and the next we had…ADHD.
For those of you who may not know the term, the letters stand for: Attention Deficit Look! Squirrel! (Boring old text books tell you the last part is Hyperactivity Disorder but they’re wrong…). It is a terrible disease and we are cursed.
We must be because that’s what people tell us. With so many writing books on how to ‘fix’ it and so many disapproving looks from people when ADHD is mentioned in connection to my family, they just can’t all be wrong, can they? After all, no one likes to unjustly criticise or judge others harshly. Surely?
What’s more, back when we weren’t lepers and were a decent, respectable British family, I already knew that ADHD was a dirty, nasty disease that only bad people got. I knew it because I am a teacher and teachers are never wrong. Really. Not ever.
The Teacher’s Curse
I knew that at my school back in the UK that there were certain children in my classes who were diseased. I’d read the reports. I’d seen how this thing operated. In fact, I think the current vogue of Zombie movies, Rage virus scenarios and so on are based on these infected children. A child could, at any time, fly into a rage, destroy a classroom or put another child in danger (or much worse, touch a teacher, for crying out loud).
The expert advice was this: Dose them up until they are barely conscious with Ritalin or something similar. For teachers – it worked!
I had one kid in my music class. He was polite, quiet, not especially musically talented but got on with stuff without any issues. Once a week he would have a lesson near lunch and, at a set time, he would quietly ask permission/remind me that he had to go get his medicine from the Special Needs unit. This went on, as far as I recall, for two years; week in, week out.
It was during the second year that I was told by other staff that this kid was a crazed murderous monster if he didn’t have his Ritalin. There was no doubt about it. Despite never seeing any evidence myself of any ADHD kid causing trouble of any sort, I knew that the only way to control these infected animals was to dose them on the stuff that would make them…controllable.
ADHD doesn’t Exist
Then I started to read in the newspapers that the damned thing doesn’t exist at all! There was no evidence for it, experts said, not one experiment proving any abnormality at all. You can find several websites still claiming this. To be fair, most of them are knocking the big pharmaceuticals companies for putting thousands of kids on Ritalin who really don’t need to be on it. (Once such website is http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/john_breeding.html I find it difficult that, despite the obvious paranoia and conspiracy theory theme to this site, I sympathise with many of the complaints listed here.) There is something to be said for this but years ago I was shocked by quotes like this (found on http://www.adhdfraud.net/commentary/4-27-02-1.htm) :
“The pharmaceutical industry, psychiatry and all organized medicine (lead by medical academia) and agents and agencies of the US Government have conspired to make unending millions believe they have “diseases” mental “diseases” to make “patients” out of them.” Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD
Not only did these diseased pests need doping on drugs but they were actually faking it!
It was all lies. There was no ADHD, no excuse for the difficulties experienced in classes, no reason for the misbehaviour, the anger, the frustration, the messy or half-finished work. Kids with ADHD are just lazy, naughty and spoiled brats. A damned good spanking and parents who could be bothered to actually discipline their children for once instead of letting them get away with murder was simply all that was needed.
I still lived in fear of the blighters in the classroom, of course, never knowing when it would turn out one hadn’t taken his medicine that day and BOOM!…the kid would explode in fury. At the same time, though I try to treat all students with great respect and care, inside I sneered a little at the fakers pretending to need ‘special treatment’ when they just needed a good shake. I hadn’t figured out that I was holding two contradictory theories in my head.
After all, I had no personal experience of ADHD in my life to go on; I knew no one who had it during my childhood and my daughter, Thing I, by 2008 was growing up to be very bright and well-behaved in class while my son, Thing II, was only five and just starting in school. He seemed fine and had all ten fingers and toes. Nothing else mattered
There was nothing wrong here at all…
Catching the Disease
Once in Bangladesh, all started fine and the Thing I certainly adjusted well to the challenges that learning in a new culture, language and group of friends presents. My son, however, wasn’t managing so well during that first year and it was my Wifey who first started to worry and suggest he might have ADHD.
Absolutely no way! I said.
It was clear to me that he was growing up just like I did. His lack of concentration in class and with homework – I remember that well. His messy handwriting and inability to draw – oh my goodness that was me! One junior school teacher referred to my handwriting as being “like a spider dipped in ink and allowed to scurry across the page”. It is still awful now and I never mastered the art of ‘joined up writing’. Thing II was simply growing up just like me.
In other words: completely normally.
But the situation got worse and the teachers became increasingly unable to cope with him. They began to hint that he was being lazy and you could tell that they thought we were letting him get away with murder. In fact, despite doing their best to help with a situation they just didn’t understand, the teachers were making us feel same way I had thought of those parents of ADHD ‘fakers’ back in the UK.
Lights were beginning to come on in my head.
I finally consented to let a visiting Psychiatrist and friend of ours assess Thing II and see what he thought. He can put our minds at rest, I thought, and confirm there’s nothing wrong with him and no need for any label such as ADHD.
I was horrified when our psychiatrist friend confirmed that there was little doubt about it – our son had ADHD. What’s more, he suggested that it might well be hereditary and asked my wifey if anyone else in the family had it.
My own wife turned on me.
Oh yes, she told him with something of an evil glee, his father is just the same.
It took me until a year later, after getting used to the idea that, perhaps Thing II might have ADHD, before I consented to our psychiatrist friend, again visiting, to assess me as an adult.
We talked for several hours and he asked many probing questions about my past and who I am now. In the end, he was quite certain I had ADHD too. Incredibly, I found it liberating as I had come to understand just what ADHD is, what it isn’t. (Read more about this here)
ADHD does exist and isn’t a disease
With help from our Psychiatrist friend and after researching several books, I found that ADHD is only a curse when the environment around it will not budge and accommodate it. In other words, the disease doesn’t lie with the ADHD: it lies with society.
The argument is this: Centuries ago, men worked the fields, did heavy lifting building work and so on. Boys would have begun doing similar not that long after they could walk, growing into the roles. Boys today are genetically disposed, then, to have a lot of physical energy and to be in an environment where changes of task and awareness of danger meant the ability to move fast and change focus quickly were essential.
It is only the last 150 years or so that society has demanded that boys now sit behind desks and focus for long periods of time on a single task (I’m focusing on boys here as most kids with ADHD are boys – but the theory modified holds with girls too). We teachers are actually asking boys to do something totally alien to what society prepared their genes for.
Boys with ADHD who manage to survive this clash of interests, survive the school experience and harness the incredible skills that it gifts them with, usually become exceptional in adulthood. In fact, I believe that the term for such winners in psychiatric circles is ‘Twice exceptional’ or ‘2e’.
This was me and I never knew it. I used my ADHD to my advantage. For example, I discovered back when I was teenager that if I moved from subject to subject swiftly, I could cover more subjects, new learning and revision yet never get bored – something that was all too common in my slow-moving lessons! It took me from a ‘lazy’ boy who was ‘failing to reach his potential’ to passing all my exams when I was 16. This is still working for me nearly 30 years on. I’m stimulated all the time and I love it!
ADHD as a gift
Unknown to me, I’ve been trying to convert my students to ADHD for 20 years (read more about how here)! It’s led to many students going on to do music degrees that have been very strong in many areas. One, still at university, was recently short-listed for Britain’s Composer of the Year award along with many famous names. I’m immensely proud of her.
ADHD, well handled and managed, can be a gift for every child who can survive the rigid school system and beat the criticisms of those who still see it as a ‘disease’ and something needing ‘fixing’.
We’re still working out just what that means, practically, for our son. We’re supporting him as much as we can to make school as positive as possible as he still gets harsh, negative comments at times. We’ve seen his incredible brilliance in maths and how he fails to show it in a maths test because he just can’t concentrate that long.
We’ve sometimes wondered whether we should give him medicine – like Ritalin – to help him concentrate more. But at the moment, we’re not. For some, it is the right answer, there’s no doubt. But for now, we think the pzazz, the creativity, the wildness and the pure, unadulterated joy he has for the world is too special for the sake of doing a little better at school. He’s doing ok and he is progressing well. We may change our minds eventually but that’s okay too. Right now it’s clear that almost all his problems are actually not his but belong to those around him.
I don’t blame them, of course. It’s hard not to be frustrated. I’ve nearly throttled him several times a la Homer Simpson-style when giving him a piano lesson and there have been ‘squirrels’ everywhere – distractions, most of them busying around in his head. Then, next lesson, he’ll play me a complex Baroque piece perfectly because he managed to concentrate during his daily practice! He’s incredible! – but he’s also deeply infuriating.
Funnily enough, my wifey says just the same thing about me.
Thankfully, she loves us both.