Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., who wrote the wonderful The Myth of the A.D.D. Child, just wrote a piece on neurodiversity and how we pathologize brain differences. If a psychologist were a rose, Armstrong writes, and a calalily came into his office, surely he would diagnose “petal deficit disorder” and write a prescription for a medication that would compensate for this “deficiency”! What if we are meant to have neurodiversity in the human population just as nature has biodiversity? What if there is a rich gift in each type of brain?
I also love how he talks about how different skills are valued in different cultures, and how our culture can cause us to see certain temperaments and types of behavior as “a problem” or “a disorder” instead of seeing them in a positive way. There was actually a 19th century doctor who proposed that we recognize a “runaway” disorder in slaves, as if escaping to freedom were a pathology.
Maybe we should stop trying so hard to make everyone conform to some narrow ideal of how we are supposed to think, perceive, and behave and open our minds to the beauty inherent in every “flower,” every type of mind.
While nobody wants to downplay the challenges of people with very strong neurological differences, I have to agree with Armstrong that we need to rethink our limited ideas about what is “normal,” and what a classroom should look like. I also agree that so many traits are along a spectrum. If we think about anxiety, for instance, everyone has some anxiety. It’s only when there’s an extreme where it’s truly difficult to function in society. There isn’t some clear black borderline where the folks on one side are “normal” and the folks on the other side have “anxiety disorder.” We just know that if it’s really difficult to function, to socialize and learn, the person deserves to have some help–that means help in being able to conform AND help in terms of everyone else adjusting the external environment to some degree, and adjusting their expectations, to make that individual better able to be a part of the group. That is the compassionate response to differences. Do we really need everyone to fit into a narrow definition of normal for us all to get along and appreciate each other? I think that as a culture we could do much better at embracing neurodiversity and learning differences!
Beautiful flower, or victim of "gargantuan disorder"?
I just pledged to help fund this forthcoming documentary on helping kids with behavioral issues, which is being filmed by an Oscar-winning documentarian. It’s clear from the clip that this will be an uplifting, inspiring, and educational documentary. It’s my dream that films like this one will wake up some of the less enlightened folks out there who think that all behavioral problems stem from laziness, character flaws, and bad parenting. ALL kids, whether or not they have learning differences, deserve to go to a school where they feel honored and respected, where they are able to learn academics and social skills.
Tara Pope-Parker in the New York Times has a wonderful piece on Rosie O’Donnell’s son Blake’s struggle with auditory processing disorder. Boy, could I relate to what she was saying, especially his description of the zoo visit (although I have to say, there’s an upside to having a child whose most comfortable form of expression is kinesthetic–it makes for VERY engaging and creative oral presentations and conversations!).
As I said in my comment, there are many different types of auditory processing disorder, some of which have been identified with certain areas of the brain. Terri James Bellis’ book When the Brain Can’t Hear was invaluable in helping me understand the differences and why my one friend’s son found the Fast ForWord sample on the internet challenging while my son didn’t have any trouble with it whatsoever, even though both had auditory processing issues. To make matters more confusing, you can have a word retrieval and auditory memory deficit that causes you to express yourself with the wrong word at times even though you can actually hear the difference between similar sounding words. I remember when my son was 7 and said, “Mom, your blood sound travels through your veins” while running his index finger down his calf. It took me a good 10 minutes to get that he meant “blood STREAM.”
The relationship between language processing issues and auditory processing issues is a complex one. Then too, there’s the curious relationship between vestibular (spinning, swinging, movement) input that travels from receptors in the inner ear to the brain for processing, and speech. Why is it so often easier to elicit speech in kids with autism and/or sensory processing disorder when they’re on a swing? It’s a fascinating topic, perhaps one that the Times will explore at a later date.
How has sensory processing based auditory issues (sensitivities and difficulty blocking background noise) affected your child? Does he or she have other auditory processing issues as well? Language processing issues that seem to be related?
Have you used The Listening Program or Therapeutic Listening or FastForWord? Did it work for your child?
While my child is not on the autism spectrum, I was fascinated by this TV news report on a west coast school for teens with Asperger’s Syndrome. So many kids with autism, SPD, ADHD, and other biologically based learning differences have to put forth a Herculean effort to learn in a typical school environment. It seems to me that we should have more schools devoted to helping kids who have a certain set of weaknesses and strengths so that they can focus on learning what they have to learn and doing it in an environment that is supportive in every way.
Does your child’s classroom have carpeting and no bells, as in this school? My intermediate school, which my son will attend, was a newer building and it had these sensory friendly features. It was so wonderfully quiet that even with my difficulty blocking out background noise I was able to do self-study math in the back of the room while the teacher taught the other kids the standard curriculum in the front of the class. With sensory kids, the environment of the classroom and other school areas, such as the cafeteria, really matters!
Now if you could tie the social studies lesson into monster trucks...
Here’s a PBS article on the difficulties boys face in school.
Do you find your son’s teachers are impatient with or devalue his interests?
My son’s lucky to have an SLP who totally gets boys and their obssessions with Lego, Godzilla, Star Wars, and videogames. She knows how to engage boys at where their interests are, which is invaluable!
How about your son’s reading interests? Does he prefer nonfiction, pictoral encyclopedias, and coffee table books? Do you feel his teachers honor those preferences?
Or, do you have a girl whose interests are more like those we traditionally associate with boys? Does she have a hard time with teachers and other girls who put subtle (or not so subtle!) pressure on her to be interested in “girl things”?
Our kids need to be pushed out of their comfort zone and exposed to different interests and different types of books, but we also need to honor their proclivities and interests.