Thursday, January 21, 2010

Random Mother Reframes ADD

Attention Deficit Disorder becomes Additional Asset Determination

Posting this longer essay written in 2009, was inspired by my youngest son coming home one afternoon last week saying, "Mom, I'm kind of "screwed" in school. I just can't pay attention during certain things. In fact I'll probably stare off into space and climb into a raindrop and pretend I'm driving it". (So I write that on a postit note, of course).

Viewed in a certain light, pharmaceutical companies have successfully defined new and costly self esteem problems and brought them to the attention of America, drastically increasing the use of medications for learning issues among school children and making themselves billions of dollars. We have taken their pamphlets home from the Doctor's office. Evidently the medicines do "work". A certain kind of work.

I believe the ADD style brain to be optimal for engaging in twenty-first century life. More than ever (to rebuild and revive this country in a shrunken budget era) our children are going to benefit from having their creativity embraced and drawn forth, not only during art lessons. We will all need to be more resourceful with and aware of the resources that we already have (For example, our children)! Improvisation and invention in the realm of clean green survival.

The collective attention span of our culture is an organic web bulging and bursting with shorter and more frequent fragments of information. Digits and digits pushing buttons on multitudes of handheld devices. The downloaded copied pasted diffused dispersed hardwared softwared broadband ethernet bits bytes networks twittering texty ipod ithis ithat swirling amongst us can easily amount to over-exposure fallout in both our individual and communal orbits. This mediated environment is affecting the way people think, how our human brains are “wired” and evolving. Even scholars at the top of the academic food chain report having an affection for googling, and a tendency to shift from link to link in processing information rather than following one long article to completion. These new realities affect what will be expected and demanded of our children in the future “marketplace” and lifetime of experience. Isn't it part of school’s job, to prepare them for a future

By the age of twelve, the average American child has already watched 70,000 advertisements. Our kids are spawned in the language of images, and remember? pictures are worth a thousand words. Pictures can compress and activate multi-layers of information and offer insights into another person's point of view. We educators and parents must work through all this entertainment-bloated static and make use of the interactive prowess (and potential attentiveness) of our youth. The “ADD” brain may easily develop an expertise in the non-linear communication fostered by images. Images that can connect, solve, discover, exalt, intertwine. We need to enrich that matrix of knowledge in the quick thinking language of images, and help kids shape their own narratives in positive ways.

The “ADD” brain has already gone to great lengths to make sense of the world, to get through the day. In spite of school rules, procedures, huge stacks of information lined up in books, chapters and tests that is supposed to get stuffed in them, the ADD brain has already, in its own best guessing way, had to sift, sort, synthesize, wonder and wrestle over vast arrays of unlike information (including our own distracted and dispersed thoughts) in order to arrive at say, a coherent paragraph. Since the “ADD” brain has so often had to forge a new structure or make their own trail, there can arise a certain tenacity and ability to leap over barriers, an appreciation for struggle. This asset should be sought out and valued in our children so we as a human species can continue with the healthy cross-pollination and experimentation (often a failure collection) needed for us to progress as a species.

During the education process, what slips off and what sticks? It is still guesswork, but we know a lot about what might help. An elaborate patchwork of environment meeting up with individuated raw brain matter makes up a person. It is the structure of the learning, and a yearning (even in math) to care about the steps and their order, all the way through to a solution. All the way up the stairs and back down to get the right tool. Or the practice of prioritizing and merging three thoughts into one. It is the making of connections and synaptic bridges that grow of doing it by yourself that will be lasting for the child, not the stacks of information.

Education with no love is like toast with no butter. Won’t go in - will get spit out and thrown away, not put to any use. Education with no discipline is spilled milk. And education without expertise is an unhealthy snack.

Although "ADD/HD?” can be a vexing muddle of being, it means bumping up against what you are not in order to find out what you are. A form of identity formation that is less about choosing a path, more about what you came with and how to recognize and gather your strengths. (Likely sooner and with more intensity than for regulars). Winnowing and shaping your own brain coping methods because no one else can.

The ADD style mind often fuses more completely with technology, fitting like chain to sprocket or reciprocal puzzle piece
sometimes allowing our youth to be doused in media gluttony. Liberated from the drudgery of physical piles/files, the ADD brain in tandem with technology (such as a Smartphone or Itouch), can switch between tasks with lightening speed, later to multi-manage with confidence and acumen. AAD brains are more like beehives collecting nectar from a variety of flowers for proper nutritional balance. An array of energy, a World Wide Web of hyperlinks. By keeping kids engaged during their schooling, and encouraging them to create, not only consume media, we have a chance to capture this talent and use it wisely. Our society will benefit from developing rather than misfitting these potentially optimal and fulfilled humans.

Drawing is one of the most under-utilized tools that the educator could “draw” from to increase comprehension and retention of various subjects. Drawing is a tool for thinking: bringing a subject toward the self so it can be ingested. The tactile, kinesthetic and image-based reasoning involved in drawing can give memory a handhewn handle that may be able to reach many of the lost customers in the education system. Literally, a way to re-member, to stick information on to something. Even drawing as doodling which can promote attentiveness. Or diagrams. Or recording story images or processing flare-ups of emotion. All of this can be put to use, to scoop up and organize the distracted energies of growing minds.
For example: did you know that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was generated from, and fertilized by an image in his mind, an image of what it would be like to ride along with a ray of light. Before getting even close to the mathematical reasoning, Einstein drew a picture of what he saw inside his mind.

So bless all those ADD brains all over the world right now - off subject and yet maybe actually thinking, tuning in the static and perhaps listening to all that and more while they sort it all out (while also doodling, chewing gum, and listening to music, of course). Wouldn't it be great to be able to say that Additional Asset Determination rocks!

The job of educators and parents is to keep these brains alive and nourished whatever format they are in. Fresh organs in flight, on their way out of the kitchen – always on their way to becoming. In careful handling, we will be doing our utmost to ensure that this Additional Asset Determination is in fact allowed to develop into a strength rather than a deficit or disorder.

By the way, Random Mother wrote this essay in the waiting area of a rollerskating rink replete with flashing lights, music, random shrieks, laughter, thuds etc. that miraculously kept her focused.


  1. Amen RandoMother!

  2. I love this essay, Melissa, and I plan to share it with others. What I love about it is the acceptance of the way a brain works, and an understanding that ADD thinking has a strength.

    The conference I went to on the impact of digital media on the brain, did emphasize that too much digital multi-tasking can prevent deep contemplative thought -- and thus the grand ideas. However, as you pointed out with the Einstein example, a grand idea often begins with a flash, and is likely created by lots of static.

    I agree that drawing or touching while creating (like ceramics) is a great way to focus the ADD mind. I believe this is because kids can multitask while they do it - listen to music and create for example - because they are using two different parts of the brain.

    In sum - as a photographer, a digital arts teacher, and a quasi neuro-scientist, I find this piece thrilling and hope you have a chance to keep it live.


  3. Thanks for taking it in, passing the words on. Interestingly, the two of us, friends in kindergarten who haven't actually seen each other in over thirty years!, would not even be having this dialog if it weren't for a series of multi-tasking computer enabled moments.