The Case for Distraction . . . or Ritalin?

CJ Westerberg, February 19, 2012 7:09 PM

distracted. ADD.ADHD.jpg

"It is the attempted standardization of a human being
and of a notion of achievement
that is limiting, prescriptive and bullying."
- Hanif Kureishi

A most compelling personal narrative involving ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dypraxia, by Hanif Kureishi, titled "The Case for Distraction."  The #1 most-emailed today in the NYT - also check out the highly-charged comments. 

An introductory excerpt:

My 13-year-old son wandered into the street and said he'd like to have a go with the rope. I handed it over, and he began to fling himself in all directions at once, crisscrossing his arms, hopping and tripping from foot to foot while doing a Cossack impression; then he did the whole thing backward, singing a Beatles song. It was moving and educational to be so instructed by one's son. I hoped an opportunity for retribution would soon present itself.

My son, who can skip and sing, found it difficult, for a long time, to read and write at the level of others his age. At primary school he was castigated, even insulted and punished, for his inability. After experts were called in, he was investigated and berated some more, and finally labeled dyslexic and dyspraxic.

There is, at least, some relief in diagnosis. One is not alone but belongs to a community of others who seem to have a similar condition.  But can the inability to do a particular thing be described as a "condition" at all?  Would the fact that I can't do the tango, read music or speak Russian be considered a "condition"? Is it a failure of my development? Am I ill?

I was not much impressed by the imagination and curiosity of the experts: they used an awkward, objectifying language that sounded borrowed rather than earned, and none made the elementary connection between my competence at reading and writing and the boy's inability, or refusal. And it usually isn't long, with experts, before they begin to talk, fashionably, about brains and chemicals. Biological determinism is one of psychology's ugliest evasions, removing the poetic human from any issue.

An appeal to the pseudo-certainties of science might seem finally to settle any question. But this is a moral issue rather than a scientific one; values are at stake here - not facts. It is in the irritating human realm where the interesting difficulties are, and where one might have to really think about and deal with an individual's history, circumstances and reactions. It is the attempted standardization of a human being and of a notion of achievement that is limiting, prescriptive and bullying.

What do you think?

Related The Daily Riff:

ADHD:  An American Dream or Reality?

HBO's Journey Into Dyslexia

Sir Ken Robinson: Changing the Education Paradigm - An ADHD MAP

Let's Raise Our Kids to Be Entrepreneurs - by an ADHD Dad

Recess or Ritalin:  Are Schools Promoting the Use of Drugs?

The "D" Word:  Understanding Dyslexia

ADHD - Or to young for school?

Marijuana for A.D.D. instead of Adderall

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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