For years (almost since her birth) I have marveled at my daughter’s seemingly limitless energy. But over the past few months, it has become more worry than marvel. Emily has no sense of danger, if she sees something she wants, she will run after it…even into roads (thankfully not major streets, but big enough to frighten me anyway). I am coming to terms with the idea that my child may have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
With as many as ten percent of children in the US and an increasing number in the UK being diagnosed with ADHD, why would this bother me you wonder? My brother was one of the early ones diagnosed with ADHD back in the 1970s. He was put on Ritalin. He lost weight; he walked around like a zombie. And over the next thirty years, we lost that bright if a bit pesky little red-headed boy. He started drugs in junior high, went to prison and never held a job…until the drugs and alcohol wasted away his brain.
I have heard the arguments…it is the ADHD that makes these children more susceptible to addiction, but I don’t buy it. I feel in my heart that Ritalin was a gateway drug that led to a wasted life. And I don’t want that for my child. So I have been happy to let the subject slide with the doctors…until her behaviors became so extreme that they are as life-threatening as the medications. But what I am really looking for is an alternative to those drugs.
One alternative that I have found is Thom Hartmann’s The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child. This book reframes ADHD not as a chemical imbalance or medical condition, but as a genetic characteristic the same as blue eyes or red-hair; something that is not common or dominant, but nonetheless has immense value to human evolution. His book relates the DRD4 gene discovered in 2000 that is associated with both ADHD and risk-taking activity. Hartmann then draws parallels between this genetic mutation and a bottleneck in human evolution that occurred forty-thousand years ago, a time when an ice-age virtually eliminated the human species. He postulates that the very characteristics that mark ADHD as mal-adaptive in our modern society…impulsivity, boundless energy, risk-taking and the ability to hyper-focus…allowed some individuals to survive better than others.
But he does not stop there; he goes one step further, postulating that these Edison-gene individuals may in fact hold the key to the survival of our species given the complex nature of the problems we face in our modern world, primarily the environmental problems we currently face. As the title of the book implies, Hartmann views these individuals as great minds waiting to be tapped. He uses the example to Thomas Edison, whose mother removed him from school early in life because the head master said he was disruptive. She saw his hidden genius and fostered it…and as a result we have the electric light bulb, the movies and a thousand other inventions that this brilliant man patented over his life-time.
This book not only helps parents reframe their children’s behaviors not as a ‘condition’ but as something positive, it also offers sage advice on parenting and educating your child to maximize his/her potential. Hartmann is firm in his belief that the issue does not require strong medications whose lasting side-effects are not completely understood. Rather this is a mismatch between a personality type and modern life/society and in particular a type of educational system that is one size fits all…and if you don’t fit then you must be re-shaped and made to fit…through powerful, mind altering substances if necessary.
And best of all…Hartmann recognizes that homeschooling is one of the best methods of unleashing the untapped potential of these children. He states:
Homeschooling is one of the very best options for Edison-gene children because it can be so easily customized to their needs and doesn’t require them to comply with educational environments that are hostile to Edison-gene attributes. It was the educational choice that Thomas Edison’s mother made for him the second time he was kicked out of school at the age of eight. It has worked for millions of children, and universities like Harvard are publicly stating that they not only seriously consider homeschooled or non-public-schooled children but some actually give such children higher rankings in their consideration for admission because such children are more motivated, competent learners.
What a wonderful endorsement for the value of home education, especially for children being failed terribly by the strict and inflexible education system that is relatively new in human history.
While not strictly speaking a traditional, peer-reviewed scientific work, The Edison Gene does repeatedly quote studies across the sciences from sociology to medicine to support its theories. Of course, Hartmann does not always utilize these studies in context or in a manner that the scientist themselves would have endorsed. His mind, like the Edison-gene, tends to jump from one logical conclusion to another in a manner that is thought-provoking and make perfect sense…but is not within the scientific realm of hypothesis, experiment and conclusion. The other thing that this method does is make the book a bit tedious at times and difficult to follow without a background in science.
Having said that, I still found this book a refreshing and thoughtful look at a subject that remains controversial. I found Hartmann’s theories as viable an alternative as the medical model that blames neurotransmitters but fails to clearly establish which ones or how the drugs they give affect these brain chemicals. And his parenting insights for maximizing your child’s potential are truly gems.
Join me on Friday as I look at what I call the Three R’s of Homeschooling/Parenting and Government. Then next week, I look at Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome in Children by Phil Christie.