Awesome Conferences

Feeling vindicated

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.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

6 Comments | Leave a comment

Interesting idea, but I wonder if society (particularly people who are generally considered "good parents") is taking the "orchid" idea too far.

Between the time I've spent managing technology in educational settings and the indirect experience I get observing my wife who teaches at a Waldorf school, it has been my experience that the majority of parents with challenging children are "doing it wrong". There are the categories you mention, the outright neglectful and disinterested and the overly eager to medicate. Those made up the majority of parents I had contact with (though likely a minority of the whole) in a public education setting. In the Waldorf setting, which could be argued is a self-selected "good parent" cohort, a large number of parents seem to think their child is an "orchid" and go to great lengths to accommodate them when they should just be saying "no". This too does a disservice to the child because it creates the expectation that they will be accommodated, and frankly, that is unrealistic.

Further, children need to be challenged to become whole, healthy people. Catering to their natural tendencies does not do this; children very rarely know what is actually good for them. It allows them to retreat into themselves, fostering a sense of entitlement rather than the well-rounded complete human being they could be. They need to get frustrated, and learn to deal with being upset. They need to get dirty, and learn to deal with a little blood and bruising. But then they also need help figuring things out and cleaning themselves up.

It is our responsibility as stewards of the next generation to do everything in our power to help them become complete, strong, capable, thoughtful members of society who will go on to become good stewards of the generations to follow them. Disinterest and over-application of medication falls short of this responsibility, but so does over-application of accommodation. What happens to a dandelion when you keep it in a greenhouse? Telling the little girl who can't sit still she just needs to be a dancer may be a valid response in extreme cases, but more often than not, she probably just needs an adult in her life with strong enough will to make her sit and do her work so that she can be challenged to grow in the way she needs to grow to become whole.

Tom, I think you know Benjy Feen, who blogged the same thing about taking compliments.

I think the biggest problem is calling attention deficit a "disorder". I'm sure people are crippled by this aspect of their personality, and it has been a component in my own failings at interpersonal relationships. I tried the Adderall and learned more about myself, and concluded that the self-awareness of the idea of ADD is more useful than medication.

I'm not sure what the best approach for attention deficit kids would be, but the first step would be to explain "look, you're different from average, which means some of these things might be true" and since we all, ADD or not, tend to have wonderfully elastic youthful brains, help them round out those skills (how to avoid distractions, how to read emotions in faces, etc.) while also helping them go for the creative gusto.

"Yeah its great if you can read a bunch of books, that should be encouraged, but then let us give you a little extra guidance in writing reports based on your reading." (I was a fricking bookworm but I couldn't write a "report" to save my life . . . turns out grade school "reports" are mostly just copying-from-the-Encyclopedia, a pointlessly dull exercise which ADD kids suck at, whereas sitting down with a bunch of books and synthesizing a coherent paper from assimilated knowledge is an even greater challenge for an ADD brain.)

Homosexuality may be a useful comparison. Until recently it was a "sexual disorder" but now we recognize that while it is unusual, it isn't in itself harmful, and with a little self acceptance and peer guidance, people can not only thrive individually, but make valuable and often unique contributions to society.

blog software bug:

fill out comment
hit preview
get blank form
go back
submit comment
now the captcha is wrong

So you have to copy comment out of TEXTAREA, reload the URL, and fill it all out new.

Tom -- apologies, the second comment did not duplicate the behavior I experienced with the first comment. (Might be a timing issue, though.) Please feel free to delete these comments, of course. I'm sorry to gum up your blog.

The site may have been overloaded or there was a network hickup. I'll be on the lookout for future problems.


P.S. That was an excellent bug report, BTW. I'd be glad to have you as a user!


What? Oh yea. Attention. Maybe some time I'll get more into it, right now 'tain't gonna happen. Too much to do, too little time to do it..... oh.... wait a second.... I think I'm stuck in a loop....

I was a Chapter 766 (Mass. IEP) kid. Flunked out of Jr High. Got into HS by scoring off the charts on a vocational test. No one had ever heard of ADD. It was just bad parenting back then. In Jr High, I got scolded for reading something different from everyone else in English class. "You have to read the same story we are, go to page xxx and start reading it, I'll be back in a moment." So, with full intention of getting this annoyance out of my way, I flipped to the story she wanted, read it (at almost 1200wpm w/98% recall), and then back to the original story I was reading. She came back, saw that again, I wasn't doing what she asked, and began to lecture me on ... oh god knows, paying attention I think ... it was like the "Far Side" cartoon "What a dog hears." "bla bla bla bla bla..." after my eyes and brain glazed over and I was off in yet another mental world, she stopped talking. I said "Well, when you told me to read it I did then I came back to this story." "You read it?" "Yes." "In the time it too me to walk across the room and back?" "Yes." "Ok, tell me this...." the micro-quiz went on for three or four questions with me being able to answer each one on the money. "So what is it that you're reading that has your attention?" "Hamlet by Shakespeare" I said. "You're reading Hamlet?" "Yea, right here, I'm about half way through this section." "Ok, you keep reading that then." From then on, she never questioned what I wanted to read. I'd inhale SciFi books at, to her, an startling rate. I'd hear her talk to the next teacher over about my reading skills and that I was flunking everything else. No one knew what to do.

I had all the classic signs too. Every report card would say "Smart enough, just doesn't try." and "Needs to learn to pay attention." and of course, the classic "Needs to learn to sit still in class and not bother others." I also showed what has become one of the most common traits of ADD kids, addition to LEGOs.

Then, one day, after I'd graduated college. (How? Simple, I wasn't smart enough to quit when it got hard!) I was working for someone who was an expert in the field of ADD and his secretary diagnosed me on a whim. After testing, for the first time in my life I knew that it wasn't something I was able to prevent no matter how hard I had tried. Bawled like a baby for the next two days. What a load it was off my back.

Now I know a secret that others don't. In the time it takes a "normal" (*COUGH*) person to see and partially parse a problem, I am able to see it, parse it (more than one way), analyze it from three or four different sides, and arrive at two or three ways of working with it. Either solve it, side step it, or incorporate it into what I need to get the problem done. People stare at me at times and say "How the hell did you come up with that answer." Only once did I bother to say "How the hell did you *NOT* come up with it?" (I was pissy and mad that day, not a good thing to do with a short fuse.)

Years ago, Wang computer (remember them?) and some researchers did a survey of their engineering types. They found that while the average population has an approximately 10% rate of ADD, the engineering types averaged greater than 70%. So, in short, we've gone from plastic LEGOs to electronic LEGOs (of a form).

One of the things that happens is, drum roll please, if the kids have it, the parents gave it to them. This happens a lot and folks don't think of it as a gift but a curse. Too bad, it is what it is. Calling it a disorder isn't labeling it bad, it's labeling what it is. The problem is, we, society, associate "disorder" with something bad. Nope, it's just a variation on the "norm". How often have we heard news reports of the police searching for "Someone of interest." why? Because we, the public associate being a suspect with something bad. Hell so is the police calling you "Someone of interest!" It means you're *SUSPECTED* of having done something. Y'know what that makes you? A "Suspect". What's the problem?

You want disorders? I got a slew of them. Do I let them get in my way? Not if I can help it. Do they? Sometimes. If they didn't, they wouldn't be disorders! Is it bad that I have them? No. Would I prefer to not have them? Yea, sometimes. Will I sign a contract in blood to eliminate them? Nope. My ADD isn't any more a problem than the natural shortening of my arms that age is doing to me when I try to read something.

The cases of "Med-u-cation" that we've all heard about are, more often than not, smaller cases than we are lead to believe. Does it happen? Oh yes. Why? IMNSHO, because people hear "disorder" and want a quick fix. "My child can't have that, s/he is perfect!" so, they want a pill to fix it.

To reinforce what you and the other commenters have said, the need for cultural/environmental controls around ADD kids is the greatest influence in their success. How do I know? It was pointed out to me that the occurances of the "mechanical" causes of ADD are present in both genders but that females are treated differently than the males and therefor, the behaviorial symptoms are better masked producing a significant difference in the "treatment" of ADD males verses females. It doesn't occurr differently, it just manifests itself differently.

I just noticed how long this is
sorry. I .. um.. oh yea. I just noticed how long this is and think I should cut it shorter and get back to work. They're paying me to keep their systems running.

BTW, I believe that you'll also find another item of commonality between ADD males..... A/V Kids! Yea! :)

Leave a comment