27 August 2007

ADHD: Now and Then

I often feel it wise to start certain posts with disclaimers. This is that sort of post. ADHD can be a tricky subject, and I will say up front that I do not believe that every case of ADHD or ADD can be narrowed down to one specific cause. Disease can affect brain function, as can diet. Not only this, but I have found observed that children allowed a steady consumption of electronic media like video games, cell phones {text messaging!}, television, and the like seem to display more behaviors that folks would classify as ADHD symptoms. And then there is, of course, the modern tendency to cage up boys who simply need to run and play in the sunshine.

However, comma...

It seems that more and more children are being diagnosed with this "disorder." Granted, some of this is a money game because schools get more money for children diagnosed with learning disabilities or handicaps than they do for "normal" kids. So perhaps some are just diagnosed to line the pocketbook. But if you have ever talked to the parent of a child with ADHD, then you know that it can be a real problem.

Imagine my surprise when, while reading Charlotte Mason's first volume, Home Education, I discovered that lack of attention was something Mason believed was a struggle for...every child:
What is Attention?--It is evident that attention is no 'faculty' of the mind; indeed, it is very doubtful how far the various operations of the mind should be described as 'faculties' at all. Attention is hardly even an operation of the mind, but is simply the act by which the whole mental force is applied to the subject in hand. This act, of bringing the whole mind to bear, may be trained into a habit at the will of the parent or teacher, who attracts and holds the child's attention by means of a sufficient motive.

Self-Compeller.--As the child gets older, he is taught to bring his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without. He should be taught to feel a certain triumph in compelling himself to fix his thoughts. Let him know what the real difficulty is, how it is the nature of his mind to be incessantly thinking, but how the thoughts, if left to themseves, will always run off from one thing to another, and that the struggle and the victory required of him is to fix his thoughts upon the task in hand. 'You have done your duty,' with a look of sympathy from his mother, is a reward for the child who has made this effort in the strength of his growing will. But it cannot be too much borne in mind that attention is, to a great extent, the product of an educated mind; that is, one can only attend in proportion as one has the intellectual power of developing the topic.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention. It is, to quote words of weight, "within the reach of every one, and should be made the primary object of all mental discipline"; for whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only in so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them. (italics are Mason's, bold emphasis mine)


So let's review:

1. Everyone can let their thoughts run away with them if they lack discipline and training. Attention is, in Mason's opinion, not something naturally occuring. Rather, it is taught. She suggested beginning to teach it in infancy by simply trying to hold a child's attention on something--a toy or a flower--for a bit longer than the child was naturally inclined to do.

2. The child should be taught that his own will can conquer his attention problem, that it is a problem, and he should be encouraged to feel great victory when he harnesses his attention to a subject.

3. Lack of attention is a sign that the child is uneducated. This reminds me of how Julian Elliott at Durham University, after thirty years of study, declared dyslexia a fancy word for being, simply put a poor reader--or illiterate, depending on severity. But Mason expanded on her idea. She said the child without attention could not develop the topic. Think about being overwhelmed: too much information in an illogical order, and a person's mind will literally shut off. Children are given much information, and it is dumped on them without teaching them any method of learning {think Trivium here, folks}. It is easier for schools to say ADHD than to say that the children are uneducated.

4. Finally, natural giftings do not make up for a lack of attention. In fact, Mason goes so far as to say that attention is what allows the child to develop their gifts. Without attention, the child will never reach their full potential. This is perhaps the biggest danger in labeling a child.

Personally, I would add that television especially teaches inattention. Flipping channels, or commercials flipping themselves from one subject to disconnected other subject--both of these things model disfunctional thought processes. To think about a subject until a conclusion is reached is what the brain is designed to do. To allow a child's thoughts to be fleeting and shallow is all television {even an "educational" program} will do.