I’m kicking off a new 12-part video series based on my book The Myth of the ADHD Child: 101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion. In this first video, I explain why I used the word ”myth” in the title of the book. Some people think that by using this word, I’m saying that ADHD symptoms don’t exist. That’s wrong. I do believe ADHD symptoms exist. I just don’t believe that they’re due to ADHD. Enjoy this 11 minute video (and below it there’s a transcription for those who would just like to read the content of the video).
Transcript of Slide Show:
”Hi, I’m Dr. Thomas Armstrong. This is part 1 of a 12-part series entitled The Myth of the ADHD Child based on my book of the same name. In this video, I’d like to explain what I mean by using the word ‘’myth’’ in my book’s title.
In 1995, my book The Myth of the ADD Child was published. In that book I wrote about 50 practical strategies to ‘’improve your child’s behavior and attention span without drugs, labels, or coercion.’’ Then, 22 years later, in 2017, I essentially rehauled the entire manuscript and added 51 more strategies, to make, in all, 101 non-drug strategies. The reaction to each book was about the same. The professionals in the field of ADHD pretty much ignored it, hoping it would go away. Many parents and educators found it transformative and appreciated all the practical strategies.
And a lot of people were angry about it. Most of those had only read the title and not much else. They were upset because they thought I was saying ADHD doesn’t exist. That their symptoms or those of their kids or students were illusory. And I’m not saying that at all. I’m very aware that these symptoms exist. I was a special education teacher for 5 years, so I’m quite familiar with the symptoms.
In this video I want to explain why I used the word ‘’myth’’ in my title. Some people say it was to sell books, but my motivation to write the book wasn’t to sell a lot of books, but to get people to think differently about kids who are impulsive, hyperactive, distractible, forgetful, or in way ways atypical.
Those who were upset by my book were thinking that I used the word ‘’myth’’ to mean ‘’false.’’ But I was using the word in a different way. It turns out that the Greek word mythos means ‘’story.’’ The problem was that I just didn’t think the adhd story was a very good one, and I felt that there were other stories out there that can explain the same symptoms in a better and more comprehensive way.
Let me illustrate my point. Here [slide 4] you see someone dropping a pencil. It’s something any of us can do at home. You hold the pencil, you let go of it, and then what happens? It drops to the desk or floor or whatever is under it. We can all observe this and agree that the pencil drops when you let go of it (that’s assuming we’re not in a space capsule or something like that). The big question, however, is WHY did it drop? And it turns out that over the past 2500 years there have been different stories about why this pencil – that we can all see drop with our naked eyes – behaves in this particular way.
Around 350 BCE, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke about The Great Chain of Being, which was a hierarchical view of looking at the nature of different substances and beings. He believed that God (or the gods) was at the top of this hierarchy and that stones and minerals were at the bottom. His explanation for why the pencil dropped would be something like ‘’the pencil wanted to drop down to be with its own kind’’ (that may be simplifying things a bit). In Aristotle’s way of thinking every being seeks to be with its own kind. This is why the ancients thought that fire flamed upwards – it wanted to be with its own kind, the stars This explanation may sound kind of strange to many of you, but it was pretty much the way people viewed the question of causation for almost 2500 years.
Then in the seventeenth century, this way of looking at things changed dramatically. An English mathematician and scientist Isaac Newton worked out a mathematical formula for what he called ‘’the law of gravity.’’ In his way of thinking, the pencil dropped to the floor because of this force, which he formulated as you can see in this slide. To ascertain the force existing between the pencil and the floor, or more famously the apple and the ground, or the earth and the moon, or two other bodies, you needed to use a gravitational constant (forgive me if I don’t go into detail about that), times the product of the two masses divided by the square root of the distance between them. As you can imagine, this was quite a shift from Aristotle’s view. And the law of gravity held sway as the explanation of why a pencil (or anything else) drops for almost 250 years.
Then in 1916 Einstein happened on the scene with a radically different explanation for gravity which he called his ‘’general theory of relativity’’ (I use a memory device where the ‘’g’’ in general is related to the ‘’g’’ in gravity). Anyway, he did this crazy thought experiment where he imagined he was in an elevator off in space somewhere, and he couldn’t see out and didn’t even know he was in an elevator in outer space. Then he imagined that the elevator suddenly accelerated through space. From his perspective, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish whether the pressure he felt from his feet on the floor of the elevator was due to the acceleration (which, remember, he didn’t know about), or due instead to the force of gravity. It was this idea of the equivalence of acceleration to gravity that led him to come up with the idea of bodies of mass distorting the space-time continuum.
As in this illustration [slide 7], imagine a trampoline and somebody putting a bowling ball in the middle. This would distort the fabric of the trampoline, and if he pushed it around some, it would distort in different ways. It’s this distortion of the space-time continuum that we feel when our feet press to the floor, or the pencil drops to the ground, or the earth holds the moon in its orbit. Like Newton, this idea was mathematically expressed, though not in any way that would make sense to most of us. Let’s just say a lot of high level mathematics with some topology thrown in helped get the job done.
But now we can see the situation. We all saw the pencil drop, right? But why did it drop? People had radically different views of that over the centuries.
There’s a great book out there that discusses these types of theories or ‘’paradigms’’ governing the development of science over time, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. This book is considered one of the most important books of the 20th century, and it was the book that introduced the world to the idea of ‘’paradigms’’ which has become so prominent in so many different fields of endeavor.
Now, let’s turn our focus to the question of ADHD. I love this particular picture (slide 10). It’s a shot from the 1933 film Zero de Conduite (Zero for Conduct) by the director Jean Vigo. It’s about boys living and studying in a boarding school, and the pillow fight scene is one of the most famous in all of cinema. We can see here some of the telltale signs of ADHD, the hyperactivity, the impulsivity, the distraction, the chaos. We can all see this, just like we saw the pencil drop to the floor. The question is why?
Over the past forty years, a story or paradigm has emerged to explain why some kids behave in this way. It’s because it was suggested they have a disorder which was named ADD, in 1980, and then ADHD in 1987 – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This disorder is described as a ‘’neurobehavioral disorder’’ with a range of specific behaviors or symptoms that you see described here in this Fact Sheet published by the Centers for Disease Control. Overnight, hundreds and then thousands of studies were published outlining the ins and outs of this disorder, parent advocacy groups were created, training programs were established, treatments were developed (primarily medications, but also some cognitive-behavioral therapy and parent training), and lots of publicity given to it in the media.
It bears mentioning that in the 1970’s it was virtually unknown as a diagnosis, and now there have been almost 10% of all kids and teens in the U.S. having been diagnosed with ADHD sometime during their lives, and the ADHD drug industry has blossomed into a ten billion dollar a year business worldwide.
So there you have it. One big story about why millions of children act impulsive, hyperactive, and/or distractible. One story to cover them all. Sounds a little simplistic to me. Especially given the fact that if one takes up an interdisciplinary view of the question, there are all sorts of other explanations for why kids may behave in these ways. Other stories to tell.
In this video series, I’ll be exploring ten alternative stories or ‘’paradigms’’ that do an equally good or even better job of accounting for these so-called symptoms.
I’ll look at a developmental paradigm – that ADHD kids have brains that develop normally but two or three years later than neurotypicals.
I’ll examine cognitive studies suggesting that ADHD kids are novelty-seekers, a key element in creative behavior.
I’ll look at the education side of things, how kids diagnosed with ADHD must function in school settings that are mismatched to their natural ways of learning.
I’ll take a sociological view in examining how the structure of the family and the patterns of culture have changed over the past sixty years, and how this has led to a culturally-born disorder of attention deficit.
And I’ll look at six other key ‘’stories’’ that can be told about why we have more restless, frenetic, undisciplined, conflicted, kids in our society.
I hope you join me for the rest of my 12-part video series; The Myth of the ADHD Child.”
For educators, I’ve written the book ADD/ADHD Alternatives in the Classroom.
This blog post was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_Armstrong