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Friday, April 26, 2019

Time to stop punishing kids for having "ADHD" and other nonsensical diseases


ADHD, autism, dyslexia. There are so many bad things a kid can be diagnosed with. We have been working in cyber security these days. As part of that we are interviewing successful hackers. It turns out that our country’s top hackers were all diagnosed with these “bad” things.  They were almost all in special ed when they were in school. I find myself wondering if these bad are things are really all that bad.

Here are 14 common signs of ADHD in children according to health line

  1. Self-focused behavior
A common sign of ADHD is what looks like an inability to recognize other people’s needs and desires. This can lead to the next two signs: interrupting and trouble waiting their turn.

2. Interrupting
Self-focused behavior may cause a child with ADHD to interrupt others while they’re talking or butt into conversations or games they’re not part of.

3. Trouble waiting their turn
Kids with ADHD may have trouble waiting their turn during classroom activities or when playing games with other children.

4. Emotional turmoil
A child with ADHD may have trouble keeping their emotions in check. They may have outbursts of anger at inappropriate times. Younger children may have temper tantrums. 

5. Fidgetiness
Children with ADHD often can’t sit still. They may try to get up and run around, fidget, or squirm in their chair when forced to sit.

6. Problems playing quietly
Fidgetiness can make it difficult for kids with ADHD to play quietly or engage calmly in leisure activities.

7. Unfinished tasks  
A child with ADHD may show interest in lots of different things, but they may have problems finishing them. For example, they may start projects, chores, or homework, but move on to the next thing that catches their interest before finishing. 

8. Lack of focus 
A child with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, even when someone is speaking directly to them. They’ll say they heard you, but they won’t be able to repeat back to you what you just said.

9. Avoidance of tasks needing extended mental effort
This same lack of focus can cause a child to avoid activities that require a sustained mental effort, such as paying attention in class or doing homework.

10. Mistakes
Children with ADHD can have trouble following instructions that require planning or executing a plan. This can then lead to careless mistakes — but it doesn’t indicate laziness or a lack of intelligence.

11. Daydreaming
Children with ADHD aren’t always rambunctious and loud. Another sign of ADHD is being quieter and less involved than other kids. A child with ADHD may stare into space, daydream, and ignore what’s going on around them.

12. Trouble getting organized
A child with ADHD may have trouble keeping track of tasks and activities. This may cause problems at school, as they can find it hard to prioritize homework, school projects, and other assignments.

13. Forgetfulness
Kids with ADHD may be forgetful in daily activities. They may forget to do chores or their homework. They may also lose things often, such as toys.

14. Symptoms in multiple settings
A child with ADHD will show symptoms of the condition in more than one setting. For instance, they may show lack of focus both in school and at home.

These are interesting problems. Are they reasons to drug your kid? I found myself wondering, as I read this list, how many of them apply to me?
  1. Self-focused behavior
Aren’t we all self-focused? It would seem to me that being other-focused would be rather strange.
2. Interrupting
I was always being called to task for interrupting. When I have an idea I want to say it. My third grade teacher complained to my mother that I was always shouting out the answers. To this day, I don’t know why that was a problem. I knew the answer and was bored with listening to her call on kids who didn’t.

3. Trouble waiting their turn
I can’t stand in line and have no ability to wait my turn.

4. Emotional turmoil
I am not sure what keeping your emotions in check actually means. Does it mean pretending that you don’t feel how you actually feel? I am really bad at that.

5. Fidgetiness
I could never sit still. I still can’t sit still.

6. Problems playing quietly
Well I can do that. I am doing it right now.

7. Unfinished tasks  
I have written 31 books. I have started maybe 100. Does this count?

8. Lack of focus 
My wife complains about this all the time. She speaks and I say “what?” and she asks why I didn’t hear her and says I wasn’t listening. I am never listening. I am thinking about something else.

9. Avoidance of tasks needing extended mental effort
A lack of focus can cause a child to avoid activities that require a sustained
mental effort, such as paying attention in class or doing homework. 
Wow! there are people who pay attention in class and don’t avoid doing their homework? Not me. Not my children. Outside of worries about reprimand and worries about grades I can’t imagine why anyone would pay attention in class.

10. Mistakes
Children with ADHD can make mistakes because they weren't paying attention? Isn’t that true of everyone?

11. Daydreaming
A child with ADHD may stare into space, daydream, and ignore what’s going on around them
Good for them. They have stuff that they want to think about. Why is daydreaming a bad thing? Oh yeah. School.

12. Trouble getting organized
A child with ADHD may have trouble keeping track of activities. This may cause problems at school, as they can find it hard to prioritize homework, school projects, and other assignments. 
School again. Not caring about stuff that has been assigned in school is not a disease, it is a rational reaction to school.

13. Forgetfulness
Kids with ADHD may be forgetful in daily activities. They may forget to do chores or their homework.  
Here again this is about school, which is boring. A normal reaction to boring.

14. Symptoms in multiple settings
A child with ADHD will show symptoms of the condition in more than one setting. For instance, they may show lack of focus both in school and at home. 
If you are into what you are thinking about you, will be into it at any time of day. Guilty.

So I have ADHD. I am glad they didn’t have this diagnosis when I was a kid because I certainly would have been drugged into submission. (My mother believed in doctors.)

Not every kid is the same. We want to identify potential hackers so we can teach them to hack. (The country needs them badly.) Could we figure out if a kid is likely to want to hack so we can get them out of special ed and into something they might love and we might need?

Here is a list of types of kids that I came up with:

  • Puzzle solver
  • Diagnostician 
  • Deal maker
  • Builder
  • System creator 
  • Rule breaker 
  • Describer
  • System analyst
  • Orchestrater
  • Organizer
  • Helper
  • Designer
  • Performer
  • Maintainer
  • People person
  • Dilettantes 
  • Neats

Imagine that we could identify the kind of kid you are and create a curriculum for you that fit in with who you are as a person. That is what this list is for, helping us treat kids as they need to be treated.

Imagine that a kid is in school and the teacher is talking. Will they be paying attention? Will they be able to focus?

Puzzle solver
ADHD? Not if they can’t stop thinking about a puzzle

ADHD? If they are stuck on a problem they will not be paying attention to the teacher.

Deal maker
ADHD? If they are in middle of a deal.

If they are thinking about what they want to build or are building, they will not pay attention to you.

System creator 

Rule breaker 
Thinking about what he could get away with.

A describer might be paying attention because they are looking for things to describe.

System analyst
They are always looking for the underlying system. 

Only paying attention if there is nothing to orchestrate. 


Is there someone who needs help?

Thinking about designs.

Waiting his or her turn.

They are probably paying attention.

People Person
Is thinking about someone else in the class.

Only paying attention if the subject fascinates him.

Neats like order. It is orderly to pay attention.

ADHD is clearly a personality feature that anyone with a particular way of looking at things will often exhibit. School is the problem, not the kids. School demands that you stop thinking about what you were thinking about and pay attention and do what you were told. We think that kids who resist this are weird and need to be drugged. We should be finding out what they are thinking about, and help them think about it better. Nah. Too obvious.

They didn’t use the ADHD diagnosis when my son was in school. Lucky for him. (He refused to do his reading homework when he as a kid. He said it was boring. I looked at it  — a bunch of random  paragraphs followed by multiple choice questions. It was really boring. I went to see the teacher. She asked me what she should be doing. I suggested giving him a book to read. This worked fine until the other kids in his reading group complained about having to read a book.)

How about my son’s son? They had him drugged so fast it was impressive. He exhibits every trait we just saw, so drug him please.

How about my daughter? I will let her explain (she is the writer.):

Breaking News:
41-Year-Old Still Bad At 3rd Grade 
Reading Comprehension

Every night when Milo asks for help with his homework I get a little nervous.  As long as he needs help with a researching a report or writing something or practicing spelling words I feel on safe ground - these are things I know how to do -  but I've been waiting for the day when I have to tell him I simply don't know the answer to something.  That day turned out to be yesterday.

Milo reported that his class had taken a practice "assessment" (they don't call them tests because they don't want the kids to freak out about being tested all the time, so they call them assessments so that instead the kids can eventually freak out about being assessed all the time). He had gotten two answers wrong on the assessment so his assignment was to change the answers to the correct ones and explain why those were the correct answers. Since he wasn't sent home with an answer sheet this meant his homework was really to guess at the correct answer, make sure I agreed, and then come up with an explanation for the answer we'd agreed upon.

Much to my dismay, the assessment he brought me wasn't math homework, which I still feel pretty confident with since we're at a 3rd grade level, but reading comprehension.  I totally, totally suck at reading comprehension. Or, more accurately, I suck at reading comprehension "assessments." I scored the same on the math and verbal SATs despite the fact that I never really got math and spent huge quantities of my childhood with my nose in a book. 

I took Milo's reading comprehension assessment and sighed.  This was going to be okay now, right? After all, I'm an adult. I read lots of books and one assumes I comprehend them or I would have stopped reading long ago. Not only that, Simon and Schuster and the New York Times agree that I'm a writer. No published author could be bad at reading comprehension, right?

The first thing I did was look over the questions and the answers, which was how I always approached reading comprehension as a kid. The passages they give you to read are always so mind-numbingly boring that my usual strategy was to see if I could answer the questions without actually reading the passage (wait, maybe that explains why I never did well on these things ... but I digress). My heart sank as I realized in order to help Milo with his assessment I was going to have to actually read the passage. It turned out to be a mind-numbingly boring passage about a kid who went to camp to learn to swim. He didn't want to be in the group with the non-swimmers, even though he couldn't swim, so he kept asking when he could be moved up into the group for swimmers. Day after day he goes to the camp, does the stuff he's supposed to do, and asks if he can be moved up to the group with the kids who can swim. Eventually he learns to swim and gets moved up into the group. The end. ARE YOU STILL AWAKE?? Just checking.

So the first question Milo had gotten wrong was something like: 
The kid in this story is:
a. lazy
b. keen
c. reckless
d. angry

Milo had put down that the kid was lazy. 

"I get that," I said to him. "I totally get that. You put down that he's lazy because he didn't want to have to do all the things he had to do to learn how to swim, right?"

"Yes," said Milo. "He just wanted to go right to the group for kids who knew how to swim."

"Here's a tip that it took me a really long time to learn," I said. "The answer is never that the main character is lazy.  Or mean, or evil, or a slob. The main character in these things is always something nicer than that. I can't explain why, but that's how they write them. Even though you're right.  He is kind of lazy."

"So maybe it's reckless?"  Milo said.  

"Maybe," I said. "I mean, anyone who doesn't actually take the time to learn to swim and just tries to swim is a little reckless. It's not angry, though I could make an argument for why it could be angry. Maybe he's angry about having to be in the group for non-swimmers."

"Is it angry?" Milo asked.

"It's not angry,” I said. "Let's look up what 'keen' means." Milo was shocked that I didn't know what it meant. I explained it's a word that no one has used in the last fifty years, so it makes perfect sense that it would appear in a reading comprehension assessment for eight year olds. The definition for "keen" is 'confident'. The answer was "keen."

We moved on to the next question. And for the life of me I couldn't figure out the answer. I found myself making an argument for every single answer. They all seemed equally valid.  And then I remembered why I couldn't do reading comprehension as a kid. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't stop arguing with the people who wrote the test.  

I always felt like if they would just give me the chance to make my case in person I could convince them to see it my way. I wanted to accompany my responses with long essays about how all answers could be right if viewed in the right way. It wasn't that I didn't care.  It was that on some level I cared too much about writing and reading to fill in a letter on a bubble sheet and move on. I always found myself editing the passages as I read them, thinking about how I would rewrite them. As I read through the answers I saw them all as correct because writing is fluid and open to interpretation and that is what makes it such a joy to experience. One person may see a kid in a story as lazy and another may see him as angry and they are both right, and if you don't understand that then you haven't comprehended anything about what you've read.

Does Milo have ADHD? It seems doubtful from this. He is a good kid who just wants to get the answer right (a neat). Does my daughter have ADHD? She certainly has “I don’t want to do it your way.” Looks like ADHD to me. I should have drugged her.

As I am writing this, the FDA has just announced that it approved a treatment for ADHD that is A nerve-stimulating medical device that sends therapeutic signals to parts of the brain thought to be involved in ADHD.

Oh good. If they won’t pay attention, zap ‘em. Individual differences be damned.

Let’s move on to autism. We used to have many child development challenges that were labeled by various name like Asperger’s and non-speaking children. Lately these have been put on the “autism spectrum” so that we can pretend that they are all the same thing. There are plenty of sites that list recognized autistic behavior such as this one (autism speaks):

Autism’s core symptoms are
Social communication challenges
Restricted, repetitive behaviors

In autism, these symptoms
Begin in early childhood (though they may go unrecognized)
Interfere with daily living

Specialized healthcare providers diagnose autism using a checklist of criteria in the two categories above. They also assess symptom severity. Autism’s severity scale reflects how much support a person needs for daily function.

Many people with autism have sensory issues. These typically involve over- or under-sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells, pain and other stimuli. Autism is also associated with high rates of certain physical and mental health conditions.

Social communication challenges
Children and adults with autism have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, they may not understand or appropriately use:
Spoken language (around a third of people with autism are nonverbal)
Eye contact
Facial expressions
Tone of voice
Expressions not meant to be taken literally

Additional social challenges can include difficulty with:
Recognizing emotions and intentions in others
Recognizing one’s own emotions
Expressing emotions
Seeking emotional comfort from others
Feeling overwhelmed in social situations
Taking turns in conversation
Gauging personal space (appropriate distance between people)

Restricted and repetitive behaviors
Restricted and repetitive behaviors vary greatly across the autism spectrum. They can include:
Repetitive body movements (e.g. rocking, flapping, spinning, running back and forth) 
Repetitive motions with objects (e.g. spinning wheels, shaking sticks, flipping levers)
Staring at lights or spinning objects
Ritualistic behaviors (e.g. lining up objects, repeatedly touching objects in a set order)
Narrow or extreme interests in specific topics
Need for unvarying routine/resistance to change (e.g. same daily schedule, meal menu, clothes, route to school) 

Many of the hackers we interviewed had been diagnosed as autistic and placed in special ed programs. Could there be another way? What if we simply assessed kids to see who they are and suggested programs of study that fit with their personal tastes?

Instead of saying that there is something wrong with them because they have narrow or extreme interests in specific topics, couldn't we just see this as a feature rather than as a bug?

My son had (and has) a narrow interest in specific topics. He was, and is, obsessed with subways. Has this hurt him in some way? He is doing just fine as the chief innovation officer at the LA MTA. But his son, on the other hand, has been diagnosed as autistic and is now in a special school and therapy for his “illness.” I never saw my son as having an illness because he was obsessed with subways. I let him go with it. Today they would drug him.

My daughter was always obsessed with writing and still is. She ignored school if it didn't entail writing. Has this hurt her in some way? (Her latest book, The Ambition Decisions, did pretty well.)

All the “terrible” things that are listed on the above site don’t look so terrible to me. I love routine. I know plenty of people who feel overwhelmed in social situations. And I know plenty of people who cannot recognize the emotions of others. Am I autistic because I love routine (as did my father before me)?

It is possible that these are genetic traits and not symptoms of a disease? It seems that we have signaled out certain genetic traits as being bad. So we take people who don’t fit our ideal and marginalize them. We can do better than this.

The problem is, of course, school. It is a rare moment when an adult has to sit quietly and say nothing while someone talks for a long time. It is a rare moment when an adult must worry about passing a test that shows that they were listening.

So the real problem with ADHD and autism is that these kids make bad students and won’t sit still in class. But learning does not depend on sitting still and listening. It depends upon goals you really have, not ones that are imposed upon you by school.

An autistic kid will probably grow up to be a very annoying adult and is certainly difficult to raise as a child. If school weren't the real problem ADHD would not be a real problem. Autism is annoying, but many people are annoying. 

Most annoying of all is our failure to recognize that kids are different and have different proclivities. We should stop making them learn algebra or literature of anything else they don’t care to learn. (My daughter got an F in Latin in her fancy middle school. Good for her.)

(I should point out that I got the categories above by interviewing many adults. The puzzle solvers almost all became doctors. The maintenance people became dentists. I am not trying to predict what kids should be. I just want offer them choices. Like puzzles? Maybe you would like to try our doctor simulation.)

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