The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine has an article called The Science of Success which can be summarized:
Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind's phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail--but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society's most creative, successful, and happy people.
I've always felt that it was wrong that ADHD, ADD and hyperactivity are often treated as diseases, disabilities, or defects.
I feel that these are misdisagnosed special skills. What's wrong with a person that is so skilled at multitasking that they can't not do it? What's wrong with a person that is so full of energy that they "just can't sit still". Maybe a child (like myself) is easily distracted in school because school is so damn boring.
In this TED.COM talk, Ken Robinson mentions a girl who couldn't sit still. The doctor didn't put her on pills, he said, "You need to become a dancer". She became one of the most successful dancer/choreographers of all time. We need more doctors like that.
When I was little home computers only ran one program at a time. As a hyperactive child years of using two Commodore 64 computers side-by-side didn't seem so unusual to me. I felt like someone had finally made a computer for me when the Commodore Amiga arrived. It had a mouse, windows, multitasked like no computer before it. I would be on a BBS in one window, writing code in another window, and formatting floppy disks in another. It was awesome.
Last September Dana Blankenhorn wrote in his blog post titled, "Now we know why Ritalin works":
...I believe therapy is still highly recommended. The real answer lies in self-awareness, using ADHD's gifts to concentrate and create, while being aware of its downsides and treating yourself more gently as a result.
We treat children with AHDH wrong. Teachers shouldn't take a "wait and see" attitude when the early warning signs appear. Instead, they should be trained to spot the early warning signs even earlier and then, instead of putting the child on a typical "lowered success criteria" Individualized Education Program, start assigning work that captures their attention. Assign more reading, not less. More homework, not less. Develop habits that take advantage of their special skills. Enhance their life by emphasizing their special abilities. Build their confidence by teaching them dangerous things. My first pocket knife was a seminal event in my life. I gained confidence because I had been trusted with something dangerous. I learned to be careful. I learned responsibility, not TV-simulated "after school special" tripe.
The concept of "lowered success criteria", while well-intentioned, is wrong. A child with ADHD will grow up to be someone that has to work twice as hard to be as successful as other people. Get them used to working twice as hard now. (This will also end any stereotypes of kids trying to get on IEPs because they are lazy. Right?)
I was hyperactive as a child. I couldn't sit still, and other kids picked on me. So I built worlds of my own, first with LEGO, then with computers. As an adult I do that with computers and networks and books. I was lucky to find such an outlet. We should help kids find such outlets.
Now science is showing that there is an evolutionary advantage and a genetic reason to having a certain percentage of society being a little bit different. The problem, it seems, is that society doesn't take advantage of their special skills.
In Time Management for System Administrators I wrote about multitasking and took a big risk by saying that some people are better at it, possibly people with ADHD are just differently skilled.
Now I feel vindicated.
P.S. Another surprising tidbit in "Now we know why Ritalin works" was the author pointing out that he doesn't, "react well to praise. Tell me you like this article and I may just shrug it off. Tell me you hate it and we can have a good argument -- well an argument at any rate. Praise doesn't give me the hit it gives you -- I need a lot of it to feel it.
Do I have a similar problem? Hmm... let me think. During my first performance review in my first job out of college my boss's #1 feedback was: "Learn to take a compliment better. When you get a simple compliment you spend more time refusing it and deferring it than anyone I know." (paraphrased).
Confused, I asked, "So what should I do instead?"
He replied, "How about just saying 'Thank you.'"
I remember being completely shocked by this. It took me years to develop this into a habit. To this day it is an conscious effort to remember to do this.