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The Evolution of ADHD Child

ADHD – the most common neurodevelopmental condition diagnosed – is also the most popular and I think overrated ‘learning disability’ in the known world (or shall what I say in the Western world, particularly in North America). Yes, because thanks to increased awareness from both medicine and the media, the diagnosis and intervention have increased. But the problem still lies here. Many neurotypical individuals still think of ADHD people as immature and childlike, especially from regions where ADHD is still unknown (like in my native country the Philippines, where although ADHD is now known by the medical community here and also public SPED schools exist, most Filipinos don’t still know that).

What’s wrong with ADHD?

Today, in the modern world of classrooms and offices, one must be still and concentrate to one task a time and not wander in space. This seems not favorable for most ADHDers for they are impulsive and cannot concentrate on ‘boring’ paperworks and tend to daydream. Seems they are really wrong and intervention is needed like suspension and termination or maybe medication. And that’s what most people will do to control ADHD symptoms. But alas, although concentration increased by altering ADHDers’ brains with the help of medication, the traits are still there. The hyperfocus is still present, so does the wandering eye. This gets the ADHDer’s teachers and employers annoyed, and poof…termination from school or work.

The social world seems unfriendly to ADHD too. Thanks to short attention span and impulsivity, a person with ADHD may seem not listening to his friends and may accidentally blurt out inappropriate comments that can offend other people. Friends and romantic partners think of the ADHDer as naughty, troublesome, and doesn’t seem to care at all that they eventually slip away and leave the ADHDer alone and isolated. Depression occurs as a result of constant rejection.

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Image courtesy of cathiadhd.com

That’s how fast the ADHD brain shifts from one topic to another.

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(C) Hank Ketcham/Marcus Hamilton/Ron Ferdinand/King Features Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Dennis the Menace – with suspected symptoms of ADHD – a burden to teachers?

Unfortunately, neurotypicals have really pathologized ADHD to the point that they have become slaves of stimulants just to eradicate these symptoms. What the majority doesn’t know is that ADHD traits like impulsivity and creativity helped humans survived during prehistoric times.

Huh? Really?

Yes.

During the caveman days, people don’t work at offices and grt paod to buy food. They hunt moving animals in the wild. To effectively hunt, hunters need extra focus (hyperfocus) to easily locate and successfully hunt meat.

Another thing is hyperactivity let prehistoric people explore new territories and their impulsivity helped them find food and survive against invading animals, other tribes, or calamities.

As Weill Cornell Medical College professor Richard Friedman stated in the New York Times[1], “Consider that humans evolved over millions of years as nomadic hunter-gatherers. It was not until we invented agriculture, about 10,000 years ago, that we settled down and started living more sedentary — and boring — lives. As hunters, we had to adapt to an ever-changing environment where the dangers were as unpredictable as our next meal. In such a context, having a rapidly shifting but intense attention span and a taste for novelty would have proved highly advantageous in locating and securing rewards — like a mate and a nice chunk of mastodon. In short, having the profile of what we now call A.D.H.D. would have made you a Paleolithic success story.”

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“So, I have meats, while you only harvest cherries.”[1]

To prove this hypothesis, Northwestern University conducted a study on a nomadic tribe in Kenya called the Ariaal[2] (it’s not the font Arial). This tribe is divided into 2 groups where the first group are hunters and the second group are farmers. It is noted that this tribe has the gene DRD4 7R, which is responsible for ADHD-like symptoms (hyperactivity and impulsivity), which is better suited for nomadic life in the wild than sedentary life in the farm. Based on the observations, the hunter group of the Ariaal with DRD4 gene are healthier than the farmer group with the same gene. Why is that so? Maybe the hunter group enjoy their roasted meats, while the farmers are bored to death picking up grains…

This means ADHD might be an evolutionary advamtage in the wild before agriculture was invented. Without ADHD, we people would have been extinct today.

Unfortunately, the medical community, media, and pharmaceutical companies demonized ADHD and made it a disability. The diagnosis of ADHD has steadily increased. Well, tjis sounds good, but the quick solution is control the symptoms with medicine without finding their unique strengths. Instead, they are forced to fit in the ‘boring’ steady world of classrooms and offices.

I didn’t say let’s move out of the city and settle in forests. What I wish is to let ADHDers not just be pathologized for their symptoms, but rather be appreciated also for their positive characteristics.

What can be good in ADHD?

Like in my prevoius post about ADHD, people with ADHD are generally creative and can solve various problems quickly and with novel solutions. Also, they are more able to multitask and get things done right away. Also, ADHDers have a very good sense of humor that even bosses and teachers laugh at their jokes. And finally, a lot of successful people have ADHD (see my previous post about ADHD), especially from sciences and show business.

So, ADHD is not a disease. It is an evolutionary advantage in humans. It is also a variation in humanity, just like having different skin colors and having left-handed people to ensure human survival.

Sources:
1. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/opinion/sunday/a-natural-fix-for-adhd.html?_r=0&referrer=
2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2848548/Did-ADHD-evolutionary-advantage-Traits-linked-disorder-helped-nomads-survive-hunting.html

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Neurodiversity? Disability or Variety?

I was (and even now) wondering why someone with neurodiverse conditions (ADHD, dyslexia…) are considered disabled? Except of course for those with classic autism or with severe Tourette’s, the rest who are more able to function independently (high-functioning autism, dyspraxia…) are unfortunately labeled as ‘disabled’ or ‘abnormal.’ Medically speaking, neurodiversity is called neurodevelopmental disorders or even developmental delays. For example, someone with dyspraxia cannot learn to crawl at a certain age (I think it’s between 9 and 12 months), but what they don’t notice is that there are cases where dyspraxic toddlers may not crawl at all but they learn to walk ahead. Unfortunately, the medical community seems not noticing these.

I may think of a hypothesis where neurodiversity evolved to be ‘specialists in thinking’ so that humans may grow and progress. That’s because some of the most clever people in history have neurodiverse conditions.

Huh? But how is that? Neurodiverse children spend time on SPED schools, and adults are usually unemployed or underemployed. What does this mean?

What I mean is that the higher-functioning neurodiverse people are able to think ‘outside the box’ or  unusual from the neurotypical (normal, mainstream brain development of most people). I’ll give you an example: a neurotypical child in a science classroom may think of the process of photosythesis (how plants make food using the sunlight), whereas an ADHD child may stare out of the window and think what may happen in photosynthesis if the weather is cloudy and should think of a way for the plants to make food even if it’s cloudy.

Sounds great, right? ADHD kids usually think of some ways to solve various problems. Unfortunately, teachers usually see that as a distraction from the discussion. (Inattention symptoms of ADHD).

Here’s another example: an autistic teenage boy will spend time on computer mastering computer programming and may even create new computer programs. Isn’t it very innovative? And productive? Whereas, your normal teenage boy will only spend hours on the computer watching porn.
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Oh boy! This lad has more productiveness and will be a big help to you more than this ‘normal’ guy below.

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Oh yeah…

But here’s the problem.

Thanks to medicine, we have sought help for the developmentally delayed through therapies. However, thanks also to medicine (and popular culture too) that they have made the neurodiverse disabled by not adhering to ‘normal’ development (aka ‘cool’).

Medicine? Well yes. Remember there is a medical model of disability for neurodiversity where the deficits of neurodiverse conditions are given more attention rather than the strengths (i.e. ADHD’s hyperactivity vs hyperfocus), which makes them more disabled and nonfunctional and also makes them immature. (What?)

On the side of pop culture, well, this is very obvious like making the autistic nerd and the clumsy dyspraxic laughable. At a glance, this is funny, but in reality, it’s bullying.

Sadly, the modern world seem to discriminate neurodiverse people quickly and do not appreciate their strengths and their contribution to humanity.

Here’s the thing. Autistic minds are linear and can systematize facts for analysis of problems. ADHD brains are impulsive to be ready for flight or fight for survival. Dyscalculics have strong intuition. These brains helped propelled human civilizaition and evolution.

Instead of pathologizing neurodiverse conditions, these should be part of the human ecosystem. Remember the environmental ecosystem with different living things? The same goes with human brains. There should be variety in the food chain. Otherwise, if only same species remain, the ecosystem will be imbalanced and has the high risk of destruction and even extinction. If we homo sapiens continue to endorse neurodiversity as adisability, then, chances are, we might face extinction as well.

Immaturity? Why won’t we call that neoteny instead? According to scientists Gould and Montagu[1], neoteny is a positive trait towards evolution because the longer the childhood, the longer for brain development and the higher chances of thinking innovation.

Neoteny?

According to educator Armstrong[2], neoteny means “holding youth” and refers to people who act younger than their age. That doesn’t necessarily mean selfish and self-centeredness. This means curiosity, playfulness, curiosity, humor, creativity, sensitivity, and wonder[3], that are essential in the ever-changing world. All these traits should be valued for us to move forward.

Well, anyway, I think aside from awareness and management, neurodiversity needs acceptance as well as difference, not disability.

Sources:
1. http://heartsatplay.com/neurodiversity-play-and-the-so-called-adhd-child-2/
2. http://institute4learning.com/blog/2013/08/30/neurodiversity-play-and-the-so-called-adhd-child/
3. http://institute4learning.com/blog/2012/08/20/neoteny-the-lost-fountain-of-youth-rediscovered/

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Wired Differently

I’m back. Last time, I introduced you what will I blog in this page. Now, I will define my topic. We sometimes encounter people who are weird in some ways and think and behave in a manner which deviates from normal. We usually refer to them as ‘wired differently’ or simply abnormal or ‘special.’ In the medical community, they are diagnosed with ‘learning disabilities.’ But not all of them agree with this concept. Instead, they advocate neurodiversity.

What? What’s that word again?

Neurodiversity. According to the definition in Wikipedia, neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.[1] This term was coined in the late 1990s as a challenge to prevailing views of neurological diversity as inherently pathological, and it asserts that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category on a par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status.[2] To make this definition a little less complicated, let’s just compare this to biodiversity. Like in ecosystems where there are diverse species of life forms from plants to animals, the same goes for humans who have brains wired differntly resulting in multiple intelligences and differing in the way of thinking.

But how is that? Of course people think differently. Each person is unique.

Err, what shall I say? Yes, each individual thinks differently, but what I mean is the way the brain develops from childhood to adulthood. Let me explain further.

Neurodiversity encompasses all people whose brains develop differently from the normal people. The development can be either delayed or advanced or deficient. People under neurodiversity are called neurodovergent. Neurodiversity include dyslexia (difficulty in reading letters), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (short attention span, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (hyperfocus to detail, deficient in social skills), Tourette syndrome (involuntary body movement), developmental coordination disorder (DCD) or dyspraxia (difficulty in planning and coordinating movement), and dyscalculia (difficulty in reading numbers, or ‘dyslexia of numbers.’) These conditions are also collectively known as learning disabilities. On the other hand, people whose brains develop without these conditions stated above are called neurotypical.[3]

This concept has attracted controversy because it attacks the traditional notion that ADHD, ASD, and the like are disabilities that are needed to be fixed or cured, but rather, respect the differences in thinking as part of the normal human genome variation, just like the variations in human sexual orientation or variations in human physical appearances.

Neurodiversity is a concept akin to biodiversity or cultural diversity that recognizes neurological disorders as a natural human variation. Rather than looking for cures, neurodiversity advocates work to promote social support systems and spotlight the value of neurological differences, in the same vein as variations in learning styles or social tendencies like introversion and extroversion.[4]

In short, people under neurodiversity are just normal variations of the human specie, not an abnormality of some sort.

To illustrate this, the diagram of neurodiversity[7] by the late Mary Colley, author of Living With Dypraxia, is shown below:
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That’s the presentation with the difficulties associated with those conditions. The following diagram[8] below shows the strength with each condition:
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They’re really overlapping. Okay, I think you are somewhat getting the point, but who started and how did neurodiversity begin?

An autism advocate and an autist herself, Judy Singer, coined the term in 1990s as part of the autism advocacy campaign.[2] Another autism advocate, Jim Sinclair, wrote in his 1993 article “Don’t Mourn For Us” told parents that the autism itself cannot be separated from the person who is born with it, but rather part of the person itself.[5] The term neurodiversity appeared on Harvey Blume’s 1998 The Atlantic article where he said, “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.”[6]

Since then, hundreds of people with otherwise neurotypical development have advocated neurodiversity as the way of being the way sub-Saharan Africans in the United States and LGBT communities have advocated their rights before. A lot of neurodiverse people have contributed to society whether be in art, science, politics, and so forth. However, people with neurodiverse conditions are still continued to be bullied, ridiculed, and abused in all walks of life from infancy to old age. That’s why they are prone to suffer from anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, neurodiversity campaign remains strong, and more neurotypical people are beginning to accept neurodiverse people as who they are, particularly in the Western World.

It’s a long way to go. They’re really wired differently, but the same members of the modern human specie Homo sapiens like us.

Next time, I will post about the different conditions under neurodiversity one by one, their presentation, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, advocacy, and some samples of people who have these conditions.

References:

[1] Jaarsma P, Welin S (February 2011). “Autism as a Natural Human Variation: Reflections on the Claims of the Neurodiversity Movement” (PDF). Health Care Anal 20 (1): 20–30.
[2] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurodiversity.
[3] Sinclair, Jim (1998). “A note about language and abbreviations”. Archived from the original on 2008-06-06.
[4] http://www.pbs.org/pov/neurotypical.
[5] Autism Network International newsletter, Our Voice, Volume 1, Number 3, 1993.
[6] Blume, Harvey (September 30, 1998). “Neurodiversity”. The Atlantic. Retrieved November 7, 2007.
[7] http://joelgethinlewis.com/2013/05/23/self-storm-troopers-strongbox-neurodiversity-and-snowfall/
[8] http://www.geniuswithin.co.uk/infographics/neuro-diversity-venn-diagram/