Friday, March 26, 2010

"Seen and Not Heard"

Have you ever heard the saying “Children should be seen and not heard” when you were growing up? I did. Being the only child of the entire family (I didn’t even have cousins), it was daunting to hear this comment from some conservative European relatives. My observations and opinions were not taken seriously — simply because of my youth.

The reason I bring this up is that our society seems to have this attitude towards children with ADHD: They should be seen and not heard.

Children with ADHD shouldn’t upset the natural order of things in the household, in school or in grocery stores, parks, malls or museums.

They shouldn’t ask too many probing questions about gravity or chemical reactions. This is considered annoying. Instead, they should be satisfied hearing the standard pat answers. As Blake was once told by a teacher, “That’s all you need to know right now.”

They shouldn’t point out the inconsistencies in a parent’s logic. This is considered being disrespectful. “Why are you telling me not to drive with one hand on the wheel when you do it?” my daughter Madison will say to my husband. “That’s different; I’m the adult,” my husband will respond, irritated. “I didn’t question my mother when she told me something.” Maybe they just want to understand the rationale behind a particular rule, not necessarily counter the rule.

They shouldn’t point out an error in a teacher’s lecture. Teachers oftentimes will figure that the student is trying to embarrass them or act like a wise guy. Blake’s science teacher didn’t like being told that Jupiter had more than four moons. Blake had just been at the planetarium and was volunteering this information, but the teacher got offended. Maybe the student is actually thinking about the content of the lecture or has some new information to tell the class.

They shouldn’t be restless when they have that very physical need to move. “Why can’t you sit still? Why are you tapping your pencil?” Madison’s biology teacher will tell her. They should be like all the others sitting quietly.

They shouldn’t defend themselves when they are wrongly accused of doing something because they are considered argumentative. Madison was helping organize a classmate who was late to French class, but the teacher thought she was just chatting socially. “But I wasn’t chatting, I was helping her,” Madison protested. “C’est tout! Je ne peux pas enseigner en haut de tes voix fortes! Jennifer et Madison, sortez-vous la class!” the teacher said as she banished Madison and her friend from class.

They shouldn’t act up because they are bored. They should just grin and bear it.

Children with ADHD shouldn’t ruffle people’s feathers. “Why is Aunt Hilda being mean to grandma and saying it with a smile?” Blake asked. These children have the courage and honesty to say what everyone else is thinking and not saying—and then are faulted for saying it. They see when people are being hurtful or dishonest, and they call them on it.

I think many people do not understand their depth — of intelligence, of emotion, of perception, of passion.

Children with ADHD are expected to just fit in and not be different. (Notice that being different has a negative connotation.) In 6th grade, Blake wanted to talk about cloud formations, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the Martian space probes with his friends, but his friends wanted to talk about Spider Man and The Hulk. In middle school, Madison was very much a tomboy and loved biology, emergency vet, riding her Razor scooter down the hill and soccer. She wasn’t yet interested in lipstick shades or flirting with boys like many of the other girls. Children with ADHD have many interests and shouldn’t be faulted for it. We should encourage their curiosity.

The irony is: Aren’t the innovators, the individualists, exactly what we need more of? Should we be dampening this spirit in these children, making them fit into some kind of arbitrary mold? As Dr. Stephen Hinshaw of UC Berkeley said in a presentation for CHADD’s ADHD Awareness Day last September at Berkeley, “If ADHD were so bad, it would have been naturally selected out of the population generations ago. Obviously, many of its traits were prized by earlier societies.”

Not only do we need to see these children with ADHD but also hear them — and maybe even listen to what they are saying. We may learn a lot.