Chad and I have very strong feelings about ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). We’ve developed these over time, and I have been guided by Chad’s experiences as a student of clinical psychology/counseling, his work as a pre-school (aka daycare) teacher, and readings on the subject. With some guidance from the editorial stylings of Mark Morford (in “Let’s all get ADD”), I have come to a more formal thesis on the disorder recently: ADD is both a rare bio-psychological condition and a common social condition. Let me explain.
First, in diagnosing ADD via the DSM (huge encyclopedia of psychological disorders put out by the American Psychiatric Association – aka doctors not psychologists), the criteria are so broad (everything from lack of ability to concentrate to disliking work tasks) and the determining degree so vague (one has to display only “some” of the characteristics “some” of the time), that every single kindergartener in this country could be aptly diagnosed with ADD. Add to this the fact that many medical doctors with no psychological training are diagnosing the disorder and prescribing Ritalin and you have, in my opinion, a recipe for self-made epidemic.
My conclusion has caused me conflict, to be sure. For example, Chad and I have dear friends who assert that both father and son have ADD and the son is now on Ritalin and they are seeing a marked improvement in his ability to concentrate and succeed in school. I do not doubt their results nor their frustration with their son’s past behavior and difficulties. Who am I to second-guess what they need to do for their family?
Yet, I do have concerns. Chad has cited studies that show that therapy works for this type of disorder/situation. We both have more faith in therapists/counselors than medical doctors. And now I’ve found a way of seeing ADD that reduces my conflicts and eases my mind. As Morford puts it, we are an ADD culture.
With the demands for and pleasures of constant multitasking (like right now I’m on yahoo messenger chatting with a friend, talking now and then to my son about a videogame he’s playing with his dad, writing this blog entry, and finishing breakfast), ADD is a treasured commodity. An ability to concentrate on one thing too long would be excessive, a waste of valuable time that might always be stuffed far more full if we just try a little harder. I remember an NPR editorial a few years back that talked about our being a culture more invested in seeming busy than in actually doing work (or doing pleasure). His ultimate example was people on cell phones in public bathrooms, wanting others to hear them as they make important business decisions while they piss. From the critical vantage point of this moment, the commentator’s description is positively naïve. Everybody not only has a cell phone and uses it constantly, but increasingly few people aren’t willing to talk while on the pot.
If we are, indeed, an ADD-inspiring culture, then when numerous adults and their numerous children tell me they have ADD, I have a new lens through which to see it that keeps me from being at odds with their definitions and even their cures. After all, as Joshua Foer in “The Adderall Me: my romance with ADD meds” makes plain, ADD drugs can help everyone to better deal with a culture that increasingly insists on ADD personalities to meet the needs of our ADD culture.
Nothing like a political/sociological perspective to shed light on the medical/psychological, eh?