Fake ADHD Isn’t Real (Part 3 of 7)

Another source of ADHD denial is the way we’ve defined freedom and discrimination in the United States.  In a class I taught, I once posed a question about discrimination.  Way back in the olden days I sold cell phones, the kind that only made phone calls and had roughly 18 minutes of battery time.  If you wanted to listen to music on your phone you had to duct tape a cd player to it.  The store where I worked required a two-year contract and a $250 deposit if a customer did not have a credit card.  One customer who did not have a credit card complained to me that the policy was “discrimination.”  I asked my students if they agreed. They said no.

We had a long discussion and came to the conclusion that in broad terms “discrimination” applies to being judged negatively based only on things which one has no control, such as race or gender or height or whatever, whereas other kinds of decisions are based more on things people can control. There are lots of exceptions, but that seemed, for everyone in the room at least, a good starting point. A customer with poor credit did not merit a credit line. You can argue about to what degree people have actual control over their finances, and there may be systemic discrimination in play, but the popular conception is that one has some control, or at least should.

I think for less serious forms of mental illness, that many people believe the symptoms would be controllable if the sufferer just tried harder.  According to this line of thinking, for someone who is not obviously mentally ill, not ranting and writing manifestoes and wearing unwashed clothes, what’s the big deal?  Just buck up like everyone else.  And that person better not get any special help! It’s okay to discriminate against people with mental-illness-lite because those people are suffering the consequences of their own actions.  No one says to me You wear glasses?  You should just try harder to see more clearly But I was told a thousand times you could do your homework on time if you really wanted to.

Everyone experiences sadness, grief, loss,  and hopelessness at times and for some people such emotions turn into clinical depression and others they do not.  Everyone at some time has trouble settling down to focus, but people who have more trouble may look like they’re just not trying.  Hyperfocus confuses the issue because ADHDers have tons of attention for things they like.  It’s true for me. I can spend hours reading a book when I really need to spend ten minutes opening my mail.  Turning off that hyperfocus kind of attention is just as hard as turning on other kinds.  And it has nothing to do with intelligence.

In the United States, these discussions of deficit and agency and accommodation take place in a context where traditional values include self-reliance, rugged individualism, and the meritocracy.  As an example, see the “you didn’t build that” dustup from the 2012 presidential election, where a vague pronoun turned into a tussle about American values.

(Next: Victorians mess up everything.)

All my posts on ADHD Fakeness.

A Motorola DynaTAC 8000X from 1984. This phone...

No cell for you! Next!

Fake ADHD Isn’t Real (Part 2 of 7)

I used to think ADHD is fake. Or at least poorly defined.  One of my first memories of ADHD was a student research project in a class I taught as a new teacher.  This student’s assertion was that symptoms of ADHD in children were also the symptoms of being a child in the first place: not sitting still, having difficulty focusing on things that aren’t exciting, and so on. I tended to agree.  When I got my first letter about having to provide an accommodation to a student with a learning disability, I thought oh, great.  I was young and struggling anyway to keep up with my work as a teacher (with undiagnosed ADHD), and now I was having to provide this accommodation, to take class time and my personal time to recruit a note taker to a student who didn’t seem all that different from anyone else.  I’m not proud of that response, but I understand where it came from.

Back then, I did not consider that I could have ADHD for two reasons.  I thought it was a children’s disorder (with sketchy symptoms) and I thought having ADHD meant that you could not concentrate, and I had always read compulsively.  I just thought I was a brat because I didn’t like to do boring things or deal with thorny problems.

Working in an educational institution, I know that one reason people deny ADHD exists is that limited resources will be directed toward some people and away from others.  As a parent with two autistic kids in special education, I am keenly aware of the resources spent on my children while schools are being closed and programs cut. As a professor at a teaching institution (as opposed to a research institution), the overall focus is on trying to help all of our students learn and succeed, but there is backlash and resentment from some professors.  Someone put a quote on a wall once that said good students learn no matter what the teaching method. I’m not sure if that was an indictment of poor students, or a justification for laziness on the part of professors.

My kids get special, individualized attention, but my son’s entering kindergarten class had thirty kids to a room.  I am grateful for the resources, and, though I’ve never really experienced it, I would understand other parents’ frustration and jealousy. I’ve even heard some of the special ed staff gripe about the money spent on vocational ed. We’re lucky that the state of Michigan has stringent requirements for special ed (because it can’t be cut), but on the other hand, the staffing and facilities shift around more than a hyperactive toddler in an airport.

When resources are scarce, the claws come out.  Just witness the United States federal government when it works on budgets (if you don’t give in, why I’m just going to shut the whole thing down!).  Why do kids with ADHD deserve a break for their behavior and extra help and others don’t?

(Next: ADHD is un-American)

All my posts on ADHD “fakeness.”


Kind sir, I beseech thee, take your Obamacare and shove it up your Teapot Dome.