I do a bit of Uber driving as I get to enjoy conversations with a wide cross-section of society. About a week ago I had an interesting conversation with a man in my car about his son who had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
To weigh in on the issue of ADHD may at first be somewhat presumptuous of me as I am not a clinician. However, as a schoolteacher, I have had experience with children that have ADHD. For me, the questions of how much ADHD is genetic and how much is environmental or whether or not it really is a legitimate disorder is also not my main focus in this article. What I am interested in is how we should react to people with ADHD symptoms no matter what the source or reason for these is.
What was fascinating about my conversation was the way my passenger talked about his son and also saw the school system. He firstly portrayed his son in a quite negative fashion, explaining that he is loud, noisy, defiant, wakes up early and shouts and screams a lot. He then also compared him to his other son who was only a year older but was compliant, got good grades and behaved well.
We also talked about school and how the man saw that his son was not getting much out of school. In fact, he did think it was a bit of a waste of time and that he thought the sooner he gets involved in a trade or manual labour job, the better. However, in the meantime, he was happy enough to make sure that his son was on plenty of Ritalin medication to keep him controllable for the teachers at school.
Towards the end of the ride, my passenger asked me whether I wanted to take his son. He explained that he was not sure he wanted to deal with his son screaming in a few hours when he would wake up. While my passenger obviously was not stating this seriously, my heart still broke for this boy. I dropped off my passenger and as I drove away I thought about the fact that maybe the boy with ADHD was not the real worry. At least he still had some sort of fight left in him as he struggled against a system that was set to impose its will on his life. Maybe I should also be having sympathy for the “good boy” who compliantly went along with everything, the boy who is applauded and lauded for his ability to jump through the hoops that the adult world has set for him?
Yes, I am sure that those with ADHD do get frustrated at themselves that because of the way they think and act they struggle to achieve some of the things that they see others do around them. But when we see people with an excess of energy or show defiant behaviour, are we really ready to unequivocally call this unwanted behaviour? I know that I have often been positively impacted by those around me who do have seemingly excess energy and do not just want to sit still. In fact, I would say that these people are very enriching to our lives. And as for defiance. Well, we could all learn to add a bit more defiance to our lives, to not just go along with the status quo, to not just blindly obey authority.
To try and silence the personality of people with ADHD is a shame to society. I would make the case that perhaps we should not be trying so hard to conform them to our systems of schooling but instead allow for, and explore, other ways of education. Ways that allow people to explore their personalities and then use who they are as strengths as they seek to add value to this world.
In my personal experience with ADHD children, I have often gotten very frustrated with them in the classroom and even I was thankful when I knew that the child was on Ritalin or some other sort of medication. But I also found these children to be very different outside of the classroom environment. Whenever I would talk to these children after school or during a school break about things that interested them, they were often the most inquisitive and interesting children I have ever met. The conversations were always articulate and interesting. It seemed there was a clash between who I perceived the person to be when I was trying to force them into my classroom system, and that same person when I engaged with them in a more equal and free setting.
I do not have a problem with a person using Ritalin to calm themselves in order to complete a certain task. However, it is quite another thing to force someone to take Ritalin to make them more controllable. Why are we seeking to control people in the first place? And this is the tragedy of the story of these two boys. One boy is controlled with drugs that calm his defiance of the system of schooling and the other boy is controlled through applause and rewards to keep the status quo of the system of schooling.
I see much value in both of the personality types of these boys to our lives personally as well as to society in general but as for the system of schooling that seeks to control them…. well… that might be the thing that has to go.