Monday, August 23, 2010

Ordinary people

Here’s another installment in Peter Gray’s series on whether ADHD should (in the wide majority of cases, at least) be considered a “disorder.” An excerpt:

My goal in that [previous] essay was to explain the extraordinary increase in rate of ADHD diagnosis that has occurred over the last two or three decades. I don’t think that increase is primarily due to a change in brain structures in the general population; I think it is primarily due to a change in social values and especially in the conditions of schooling. Today, as a society, we are far less tolerant of children who don’t adapt well to our system of compulsory education than we were in the past, and so we diagnose them and give them drugs.

For a somewhat (but not fully) analogous case, consider homosexuality. Homosexuality is biologically a condition of the brain; but the decision to label it as a disorder, or not a disorder, is a social judgment. Until 1973, homosexuality was on the American Psychiatric Association’s list of official mental disorders, but in that year it was removed. Suddenly, gay people were no longer “disordered.” That decision clearly reflected a change in social values, a change that made it possible for people with the brain condition of homosexuality to live happier lives than they had been able to before, when they more or less had to stay in the closet and were subject to terrible abuse and even arrest if they did not. With regard to homosexuality we have as a society become more liberal and accepting. With regard to the kind of childhood rambunctiousness and impulsiveness that leads to a diagnosis of ADHD, however, we have as a society become less liberal and accepting.

He concludes that “our focus should be on changing our system of schooling to accommodate children’s diversity rather than on changing children’s brain physiology to accommodate schooling.” Worth reading in full.

..How can I comment?