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An Ongian Alternative View of the A.D.H.D. Crisis

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 9, 2014: In a lengthy opinion piece in the NEW YORK TIMES print edition dated November 2, 2014, "A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D.," Richard A. Friedman, M.D., a professor of psychiatry with expertise in pharmacology, discusses "the recent explosive increase in the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its treatment through medication." (The acronym A.D.H.D. stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.)

Friedman's opinion piece prompted a flurry of letters that were published in the NEW YORK TIMES print edition dated November 9, 2014.

Drawing on the work of the American cultural historian and theorist Waleter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), I want to suggest an Ongian framework for discussing the recent increase in the A.D.H.D. diagnosis. See Ong's article "World as View and World as Event" in the AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, volume 71, number 4 (August 1969): pages 634-647.

So what exactly is the problem that Dr. Friedman addresses?

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According to Friedman, A.D.H.D. "is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Friedman reports, "The lifetime prevalence in children has increased to 11 percent in 2011 from 7.8 percent in 2003."

Thus the A.D.H.D. diagnosis has been trending upward in recent years.

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In addition, Friedman says, "And 6.1 percent of young people were taking some A.D.H.D. medication in 2011, a 28 percent increase since 2007. Most alarmingly, more than 10,000 toddlers at ages 2 and 3 were found to be taking these drugs, far outside any established pediatric guidelines."

Adderall and Ritalin are typical medication prescribed for A.D.H.D. children. They are described as psycho-stimulants. Friedman explains the neuroscience of how they work.

Fair enough -- Friedman has made a case that we may have a problem with A.D.H.D. in contemporary American culture.

First, I want to discuss Friedman's observation about "the highly stimulating digital world." The digital world that Friedman mentions is a byproduct of our secondary oral culture.

No doubt that the digital world is stimulating. However, I admit that I have my doubts about how much cultural conditioning toddlers ages 2 and 3 are receiving from the digital world. But I may be mistaken about this. Perhaps toddlers ages 2 and 3 are receiving enough cultural conditioning from the digital world that it is influencing them and leading adult caregivers to refer them for the A.D.H.D. diagnosis.

In addition to drawing on ingenious studies in neuroscience to help us better understand the A.D.H.D. diagnosis, Friedman uses an extended analogy to discuss the supposed problems of A.D.H.D. children. He describes A.D.H.D. children as having a certain set of traits. Their traits are a bit tricky to discuss.

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It's not as though they never pay attention to anything. On the contrary, they pay close attention to things that they find interesting.

At first blush, this sounds like the human condition. After all, how many among us do NOT pay attention to things that we find interesting? Surely we do not need to invoke neuroscience about dopamine receptors to account for this common human experience.

But at no point does Friedman discuss the adults who are involved in referring the children who are diagnosed as having A.D.H.D. Is it possible that the adults involved in referring those children have unreasonable expectations of children's behavior? Are the adults involved perhaps too impatient with certain kinds of child behavior?

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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