Wednesday, September 21, 2011

“Children Don’t Have Disorders; They Live in a Disordered World”

The title of this post comes from psychiatrist and attention-deficit/hyperactivity-disorder (ADHD) critic Peter Breggin. It’s a variation of Maria Montessori’s line to “control the environment, not the child.” For Montessori, children develop healthy psychologies—become “normalized,” to use her term—by being left free to pursue their own interests and choose their own educational work, provided the surroundings of the classroom are made safe and stimulating. Drugs are a cruel and totally unwarranted control of the child.

Most children who exhibit the well-known ADHD symptoms are simply failing to handle the boredom, confusion*, or authoritarianism, or all three, of school, home, and other environments in which they live and play. They are not diseased kids, possessing neurological or biochemical imbalances, who require addicting, cocaine-like stimulants to cow them into submission. They are youngsters trying to learn, and have fun in the process, but their world is complex and often the opposite of fun, especially school. What they desperately need is to be left free as much as possible to pursue their own interests and, when they request it, one or several adults to be their friends, to pay attention to them, to listen to their pleasures and worries, and to be their coach and confidant. What they most decidedly do not need are William Glasser’s seven deadly habits (p. 13): criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing. All of these habits, of course, are staples of their world—and ours, but many children do not know how to cope with them. What they also most definitely do not need is to be made to feel stoned or spaced out.

Labeling children with ADHD stigmatizes them as inadequate and, as a result, induces unearned guilt, because the adults who recommend the drugs are actually blaming them for their behavior even though the theory behind the whole psychotropic drug mantra is materialism and determinism. A child who acts up in class, or who does not pay attention, according to the adults, must be controlled. Something, so the adults say, is wrong with the child, not with the adults’ methods of relating to the child. The message is clear. Donna Bryant Goertz says that medication today is the new spanking.

The evidence for a physiological basis of ADHD behavior does not exist. The experimental studies do not uphold the belief. This is especially confirmed when the ADHD researchers themselves admit that the children improve during summer vacation and when taught in smaller, more attention-focused classes. Indeed, when looking at the psychiatric professions’ nine symptoms of inattention and the nine symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity, I can say that I have often exhibited everyone of them—today, when I was a child, and in all the years in between. I also know too many highly successful people, and have heard of many others, who, if the medicines had been available when they were children, would have been drugged to the hilt and probably had their futures destroyed.

The criteria to look at concerning ADHD are Glasser’s (p. 256)**: if your child can watch and understand television, play video games, and use a computer, do better for some teachers than for others, do better in one subject than another that requires the same level of reading and understanding, and has good friends he or she enjoys being with, then it is highly unlikely that there is anything wrong with your child. Glasser (click educational, last clip on the page) piercingly and humorously puts the issue in perspective when he says that the worst attention deficit disorders in the world are husbands and wives, because many of them so often do not listen to each other!

As I have said in these pages before, the solution to helping so-called problem children is to let them go fish. “Many are just plain bored of sitting at a desk in a classroom and are sick of having adults lord their size and power over them.” Going fishing, though literally possible at the Sudbury Valley School, is metaphor for getting adults off their backs and more generally for removing confusion and authoritarianism from their lives.

*I say “confusion” because some parents today who have rejected the authoritarianism of their parents and grandparents have nevertheless failed to provide structure and consistency for their children. Similar behavior can result. Some schools can also provide this confusion.

**I’ve simplified these criteria. See pp. 255-59 in Choice Theory for a fuller understanding of Glasser’s analysis of the so-called learning disabilities. Glasser calls psychotropic medicines “brain drugs,” refusing to grant them the honorific “medicines,” and refers to their side effects as effects. There’s nothing secondary or “side,” he says, about the effects of brain drugs.


justeamiething said...

Hi Sir I like all your blogs...keep on posting and God bless you always.

Albert Okagbue said...

Jerry Kirkpatrick. Your writing is incredible.

That's all I have to say. I will have to note this blog somewhere as excellent reading. WOW.

THANK YOU. THANK YOU. I will read your books sometime before I have children!!!!!