Thursday, June 02, 2005

Worldviews, meaning, language and colluding with the medical establishment

You scored as Postmodernist. Postmodernism is the belief in complete open interpretation. You see the universe as a collection of information with varying ways of putting it together. There is no absolute truth for you; even the most hardened facts are open to interpretation. Meaning relies on context and even the language you use to describe things should be subject to analysis.



Cultural Creative














What is Your World View? (updated)
created with

Yup, that sounds about right. I remember my first ever clinical interview with a psychologist. I was 19, in the second year of my psychology degree and trying to get some work experience. As I sat in his office - really rather niave about psychological concepts, postmodern philosophy and probably not having a great deal of self-awareness I found myself talking from what I think rather than from a psychology text book. He said something that rather freaked me out at the time. 'I can see that you're extremely postmodern in your approach'. Not being quite sure what that meant, I said, 'Er, yeah, absolutely, that's me'. Ho-hum.

Of course, I had been indoctrinated by church to believed that postmodernism with its moral relativism and the lack of absolute truth was causing the decline of Christianity and the moral decay of our society. To be told, by a psychologist no less, that I was quintessentially postmodern was something of a revelation, and as he gave me a job I decided he was a thoroughly decent psychologist and therefore probably had a point ;)!

Later, as I read more, studied more and talked to various people, I discovered that I really am heavily influenced (sometimes quite unconsciously) by the postmodern cultural revolution I have found myself in. In the final year of my degree I spent months analysing about 5 sentences spoken in a therapy session between mother and child - and I still had problems sticking to my 25 000 word limit. Language is very rich and works on so many levels - I find that whole system very very fascinating.

I then analysed an interview that I conducted with a man who has a learning disability. I should say, that on meeting this person, I found that he not only had a learning disability but a severe speech impairment so I spent 3 rather painful interviews trying to work out what he was saying. At the end of the series of interviews I went to my tutor and said, 'Look, there's nothing here, he barely said anything.' My tutor rather astutely pointed out that I had said quite a lot and suggested I analyse myself instead.

What followed was probably the most pivotal and intellectually stimulating time in my entire academic career (yes far more stimulating than anything I have done in my PhD). Maybe I'm just a narcissist and the idea of spending hours, days and weeks analysing myself was just too good an opportunity to waste. But actually, in grappling with my own use of language I gained so much awareness into my own assumptions about learning disabilities, about my role as a researcher and a psychologist....and in case you're wondering, I got a first-class mark for the project...;).

As I reflect back on my PhD I'm starting to see that I'm not working in those paradigms at the moment. I have accepted from the very beginning that medicating children is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Now don't get me wrong, I think it is a perfectly acceptable thing to do and indeed, will gladly explain to people why I think that to be the case. One of the biggest problem kids and parents face when they take medication is the stigma and prejudice associated with taking psychoactive medication, especially in childhood. No problem there, don't put my name down on the anti-meds campaigns just yet.

However, I've noticed that so much of what I do is focussed on reducing ADHD. I've been re-reading a lot of the research lately and noticing that so much of our intervention for ADHD is focussed on reducing hyperactivity and inattention. The fundamental assumption behind it all seems to scream, 'ADHD is not ok'. What's so bad about being hyperactive? I've yet to meet a kid with ADHD that I don't get on with - I click almost instantly with ADHD kids and generally our time together is something of a riot. Sometimes I find the older ones are a bit darker - perhaps its because they're constantly told they're 'not alright' - I'd be pretty fed up with life if I was always told there was something wrong with me too.

But I wonder how many teachers would say the same thing? Indeed, I've noticed that when I tell my teacher friends I work with ADHD kids they usually sigh and say, 'Oh no, those kids are so difficult....' Of course, when I'm with the kids they usually have me all to themselves and I don't have 29 other kids to contend with. I also don't mind running around the garden, putting the music on really loud and generally being very very lively.

I wonder how we can actually change or expand how we work with people so as to harness the positive aspects of their neurological/psychological make-up and support them in becoming themselves. Its not that I think medication prevents people from becoming themselves, lest I be misconstrued here. Kids with ADHD who take medication do considerably better than those who don't - they do better in work, in relationships and have less longer term problems - so like I said, I'm by no means anti-medication. However, I do wonder if this needs to be counter-balanced with recognising and encouraging kids with ADHD to be themselves, to be loud sometimes, to be energetic and to be the people they are. Just some thoughts - I know there are some people with ADHD who read my blog - if they have anything to say, I'd love to hear it.


Lorcan said...

Oh dear Friend CA:

As Friends who read my blog or know me, can testify to the veracity of this statement... I am going through the most difficult moment of my life, and part is, I am sure do to ADHD, my own adventures and the adventures of two others ( at least ) with the same...

The fact is, I have been finding out how many of the most deep thinkers and extraordinary talents have ADHD and frankly it would be a loss to the world if we can so "normalize" their behavior and lives that we loose the value of their struggles.

Don't get me wrong, the struggles... the depth of pain I am feeling, and know others have felt, the fact that many don't know how to relate to someone with ADHD... an example comes to mind of a singer I have known for over ten years. She has great, huge talent. Because of her ADHD she learned her songs and her approach to music in a completely unique way - that is to the world around her, but very very familiar to me. She has the setting of one ballad completely reversed, and it becomes a remarkable song. But, the music establishment wont work with her, and she finds it impossible to work with me, as she feels that she should and could reach higher... but, at the end of the day, she has 1,001 great ideas for success, 1,000 ideas too many to get moving...

I know I have trouble with musicians who don't understand the way I learn, the way I plan, the way I paly, the way I listen, the way ... well so much, but I also know I could not write the music I write if it were not for being the person who life and ADHD made...

Would I trade the pain for who I am...? Oh don't ask me for awhile, I hope so... but, I know, the music I have written and has been archived and written about, even if I sometimes feel alone, isolated and even hated sometimes, I feel that I have said something important, and sure I would love, desperately love to not be in pain, but if I am really happy again, I think part of it will be the road I took to get there. There are things which will haunt me and hurt me deeply forever, but life never promises ... well anything at all.

I agree, that there needs to be a balance, and understanding, and spreading understanding to folks who don't have ADHD but have to deal with us... is part of that. Finding a way that folks with ADHD can work together without reaching critical mass is part of it as well... I spent almost 30 years believing I was an idiot, then, I realized I could learn, differently than others, got into college, one of the top law schools in the US, and well... I am still a work in progress.


Rach said...

For the past couple of weeks I have been helping out in my church's "Kidzone". Usually all the faces pretty much blend into one but one boy stood out. He wouldn't join in with the other children and was always running about. To start with I just thought this constant tugging on my shirt was annoying, why couldn't he sit down for goodness sake? And I tried to get one with helping the 30-something other kids.

When clearing up after the kids left on the first week another helper was saying how much hassle he was - what could we do to help him settle? The leader-leader said "oh, he has ADHD". When they heard that the first person decided he was too much hassle and couldn't be expected to do any of the work!!

Two more weeks have passed and the boy was still being largely ignored. Last week he did join in with the story and I'm hoping to be able to convince him to do some craft this Sunday (mainly cause I know it looks funky and he'll like it!). But I thought it was amazing just how easy the leaders just left him to his own devices - branding him with the "ADHD" mark meant that there was "nothing they could do" and he was just going to be difficult. Yes, with so many kids it's hard to single out one of us to work with him but I enjoyed it! He was a lovely boy and a great talker!!


Contemplative Activist said...


This is a really serious problem for kids with ADHD. They do tend to get excluded from normal activities. Youth workers etc. tend to feel quite intimated by the idea that they 'have something wrong with them' and so assume its not suitable for them to be there.

This is a far more serious problem for some kids than any of the ADHD 'symptoms' imho.

Its a shame, because like I said, I've yet to meet a kid with ADHD who I don't get on with like a house on fire. They can be extremely fun sometimes!

Rach said...

Oh, he's lovely!
Would you recommend psychology as an AS level?

Contemplative Activist said...

I didn't do psychology A-level, but everyone I know who has done it enjoyed it. (That said, most people I know who did A-level psychology are those who went on to do psychology I may have a biased perspective).

But sure - its an interesting subject and you'll probably enjoy it.

Liz Opp said...

My partner has ADD and was diagnosed as an adult. The pain Lorcan writes about reminds me of how J has talked about the pain she has experienced as a result of her ADD. Having a name or label that links all the weird stuff of her life certainly helps remove lots of stigma attached to behaviors that are judged by society as less acceptable.

What concerns me most about the AD(H)D question is all the attention that goes into focusing on The Child. It is from a place of privilege, I think, to assume that we can help the child develop coping skills in order for that child to fit into the situation; help the adult fit into society.


Can't we also look at how to help the group change in order to accommodate the natural energies and behaviors of the child?

If we are ever going to heal the planet, don't we need to consider how to change the classroom, how to change society, how to change our own attitudes so that everyone within it can thrive with an intact ego and with high self-esteem? Who gets to decide what's "normal" anyway--normal behavior, normal IQ, normal sexuality...?

Granted, norms are often set by the majority group, I suppose. Maybe that's why I am so fond of Quakers: there is a place for the minority point of view; there can be weight given to it if others in the group sense a piece of Truth or Light breaking through.

Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that I am not a teacher or a youth leader or even a parent coping with a child who has AD(H)D. I am someone who hates to see children and adults singled out because they come across as being "different" or, worse, "deviant."

I cringe when I think about natural talents and gifts that might be short-circuited for the sake of calming a child who has AD(H)D. I don't think there are any good answers; I just wish folks were slower on reaching for medication for certain conditions.

...It's not that anyone's words here have offended me, CA. It's more that right now, that particular hot button of mine is very sensitive and can get tripped pretty easily...

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Lorcan said...

It is not a black and white answer. I have a friend with four special needs kids, most with ADHD. The oldest - still preteen, once said, during a panic attack, " I just wish I could be happy again... " It is so hard to see your children in pain, and she uses a combination of meds and attention, for example letting him run around the house if the weather is nice, to run out the energy, or run around the living room if it is late or the weather is bad...

"Normal" is such a loaded word. Oh the pain we cause when we wield that term, any term. We Friends are slow to "type" people and behavior in our traditions, but when we do... oh the harm we cause.

postliberal said...

It does sound almost as if you're questioning some of the very basis for the research that you're involved in, which is a fairly brave thing to do (though maybe less so as you near the end of it than if you were trying to establish a basis to start from!)

I read a very interesting article (check out both extracts here - they're well worth reading) about a lady who has autism, describing how she's developed a vocation which uses the notable aspects and effects of her condition to the beneit of others. What some might see simply as a detrimental state, she sees as part of her identity and vocation - and enables work that 'normal' people might not be able to acheive. I'm sure there's something comparible with ADHD - and it does give me wonder about whether I should be paying attention to my little brother Nathan in this regard...

Lorcan said...

Had quite a talk with a friend who has three children with ADHD... really serious ADHD, I might add... she does an incredible job, but we don't agree on terminology. She refers to ADHD as a mental illness, I do not.

She says that there is now a genetic marker that can be observed, and that as one needs meds ( some do... I don't seem to... though sometimes I am tempted... ) well, if one needs meds, that it is an illness. I countered with if one needs eye glasses does that mean nearsitedness is an illness?

What we call something, a genetic adaptation or an illness does not make the thing one thing or another, but it certainly may create a difference in the way folks are treated... illness is beyond the "normal" adaptations are just another norm.


Contemplative Activist said...

ADHD is classed as a mental illness - whether or not it is one is a matter for discussion, most certainly.

Genetic wise - there is evidence for a genetic component, but its not a simple story as you have this gene so you get ADHD.

Generally I have leanings towards seeing it as a 'difference'. Sometimes I wonder if ADHD is a noun or an adjective. Is it a thing, or a way we describe someone's behaviour/disposition. I suspect the latter because all this stuff is socially constructed anyway.

Probably there is a middle way. I'm not against medication (just as well, I'm funded by a drugs company) - but I do think that much much more of an effort needs to be made to enable and empower people with ADHD to perform to the best of their ability and to utilise their skills and talents and heck, even their hyperactivity in a positive way.