I have mild ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. So does Alan. In his case, it's not yet clear if the adjective "mild" is warranted... his ADHD isn't horrible, but on a bad day it can make all of us pretty crazy.
ADHD is one of those modern disorders: complex, still incompletely understood, and forced to go through a long trial period as a "syndrome". As recently as ten or fifteen years ago, there was a large minority of specialists claiming that there was no such thing as ADHD. As it turns out, not only is it a real condition, but it's something that can be seen without a microscope these days. Scan the brain of a kid with ADHD, and he (it's usually a he) will have, on average, a smaller frontal cortex, especially in the right lobe. The difference is structural and gross. And people who have damage to this area of the brain -- injuries or lesions -- may suddenly develop symptoms of ADHD.
But what's it like?
Well, the best metaphor I've yet heard goes like this: attention, in a normal person, is something like a gyroscope: it holds the brain's focus steady on something. If you're ADHD, you still have the gyroscope, but it's smaller and weaker. So it's harder to stay focused. Your attention tends to drift and wobble.
If your ADHD is mild, this can be overcome by an effort of will. (Though it's not a lot of fun. Efforts of will generally aren't.) Also, if you're an adult, there are various coping techniques. Mild ADHD is not a serious disability; it's occasionally a pain in the ass, but most of the time it's not messing up my life. And it may be a strength sometimes. My current job -- managing a complicated project with multiple workstreams -- pretty much requires me to skip constantly from topic to topic, all day long. I don't find this hard. I suspect a more focused person wouldn't like it much.
There's also a physical aspect. ADHD people are clumsy. It's not so much lack of dexterity -- ask me to thread a needle and I'll do about as well as anyone -- as, well, lack of attention. We drop things, we walk into things, we leave things lying on the ground and then step on them. My father once walked through a plate glass door. We break stuff, we ADHDers. We break stuff quite a lot.
Except that I, mostly, don't.
I've got the classic suite of ADHD symptoms, including some that are obscure to any but fellow sufferers. (ADHDers tend to love long firehose showers. Me too. A lot of us take up dancing or juggling or yoga in order to have some physical grace in our lives. Me too.) But I don't break stuff much more than an average person does.
I just recently realized why not: my parents trained me not to. To be precise, they conditioned me. The conditioning was classical -- Skinnerian, Pavlovian -- and aversive.
I've forgotten most of it. For which I am grateful, because I remember enough to say it wasn't pleasant. We can skip over the details. When I occasionally do break something -- knock a glass off a table, say -- I still feel the effects. Feel them physically. No, it's not like I fall to the ground clutching my head or anything like that, but I broke a glass the other day and I was still shaking a couple of minutes later. And I'm not someone who shakes.
On the other hand, it worked.
You can probably guess where this is going. Today Alan broke Claudia's camera. He broke it in a way that was just silly, too... absent-mindedness was involved, of a sort striking even in a five year old. Claude loved that camera -- she'd had it for years -- and she was pretty upset.
A recent article suggests that a kid with ADHD has the right frontal cortex of a kid 2-3 years younger. That seems about right. Alan's actions wouldn't be upsetting in a three year old. (Well, okay, upsetting, but not in the same way.)
Anyway. As punishment, he lost his Lego Mars Mission for a week. The rationale was, Mommy lost something she really liked, so we're going to take away something you really like. I scooped all the pieces together and put them in a drawer in our room.
The funny thing is, Alan accepts this. ADHD doesn't affect intelligence or empathy. He's really sorry he made Mommy sad. And he's old enough to accept certain punishments as deserved. He sees how this is equivalent to that. So, when I took the Mars Mission away, his lip quivered a little but he didn't fuss.
Taking his toy away may satisfy everyone's sense of justice, but will it stop him from breaking more stuff in the future? I'm inclined to doubt it. What my parents did to me, on the other hand, was unpleasant... but it worked: I don't break stuff. Much.
At this point in my life, I'm glad they did it. My ADHD is annoying enough as it is. If I was constantly breaking stuff, I'd be a nuisance to myself and to everyone around me. Okay, more of a nuisance. The memory of how it was done has mostly faded. So, on the whole, I'm grateful.
But I don't think I could use the same technique on Alan. We're talking about something a notch or two beyond spanking. -- No, my parents weren't freaks. They just had a very difficult kid, and nobody knew about ADHD, and my Mom hated having her stuff broken. So she hit upon a punishment technique that, in my case, happened to work.
I suspect it would work with Alan, too. But I don't think I can do it. So we'll try to find another way. I don't know what it is right now, but... something. Meanwhile, stuff will get broken.
And that's all I have to say about ADHD tonight.