My 16 year old daughter was diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder and then, at the age of 57, so was I. A lifetime of struggle was placed into a context that made sense of a lot of failure and frustration. This blog documents and celebrates what has happened to me since.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Go with what you know...

My oldest is home, her freshman year of college completed--a freshman year that, three years or so ago, none of us really thought would happen. Her high school counselor had her pegged for some kind of "trade school" track. Her mother and I talked bravely about our daughter "taking a year off" to get some life experience, maturing a little, before going to college.

A few months ago she and I went to the inauguration of Barak Obama. It was a very big deal for my Econ/PoliSci major girl. Obama is her first political love and to hear her talk you'd think he was Bobby Kennedy, or something. I like him, too, but I never would have gone to stand in that cold to watch him sworn in except that her plans to go with other kids from school fell through. I was pretty glad they did. It closed a 40 year loop for me, and opened one for her.

We were listening to a sports radio station as we drove her back to school in North Carolina. The pickin's on the dial were slim in that part of Virginia and she's a big sports fan. Typical talk show format, two guys bantering and blustering about the scores and news and scandal one hears about in late January.

One of them asked the other about a kid he was mentoring: how was the kid doing, what was up with that?

The mentor answered that things were a lot better for the kid and a big part of that was getting the kid off of all "those meds" they had him on. "Kiddy crack," he called it, and then he went on to say that there was no such thing as ADD--it was all just a conspiracy to sell drugs and turn kids into zombies.

My daughter became furious, an ability she has (and one the origins of which I cannot, for the life of me, trace to either her mother or me) and I became sad (my more modulated response the product of a sense of complication that comes with 61 years of getting knocked around because I was furious about something). A striking contrast, I realized, loops opening, loops closing.

I don't know if the kid that the man was mentoring was appropriately on medication and now was being deprived of a means to overcome a disability. I don't know if he was, instead, just a "boy" being a "boy" and was medicated in an attempt to make him easier to live with. I know that either is possible.

The mentor, however, did not seem to know that either was possible. He seemed to know, and he was telling the world, that only one of those scenarios was possible. He had no appreciation of how ADD and ADHD really work because he didn't really have any experience with it, or, if he did, he didn't have the framework of analysis necessary to understand what 57 years or so of my life was trying to teach me about myself, what learning about my daughter's condition finally taught me about the both of us.

He didn't have the last three years or so of our family's experience. He didn't get to see her--with medication and therapy--pull her act togther. He didn't see her talk and write a rap that convinced the only college she wanted to attend--the only one for which she applied--to take a chance on her. He didn't hear as she quite plausibly told them a story about her previously lack luster academic performance taking a sharp upward trajectory in her last two plus years of high school, he didn't hear the insight she had about her potential coming open like bud when her ADD was detected and she learned how to cope with it. He also didn't see her sail through this just-completed freshman year, proving that she wasn't just blowing smoke to the admissions people a year or so ago.

There are many like him, in the world, and they do a lot of unintentional harm to a lot of people who suffer with a real disability. Sometimes the person they harm is themselves, having internalized all of the denial and despair, analyzing in black and white, moral and immoral--putting forth one over-heard political, medical, pyschological, moral or religious agenda or another. Often this comes bubbling up from frustration and is latched onto by people who have tried to deal with a difficult situation and, unable to figure it out, fall back on blaming those they were unable to help--including themselves. I once read that this is a very common defense mechanism to which we are all prone when we want to fend off feelings of inadequacy--blame the victim, even when we are the victim, ourselves.

But riding along that day Sugar Bear and I knew what he didn't know. We knew she dodged a bullet, a bullet that wounds a lot of kids' spirit, an limits a lot of kids' futures.

So, we drove on through the Virginia countryside, with little more to listen to and talk about except the casual certainties of the type one hears a lot on the radio, the kind of stuff thrown off by people who have little grasp of so many things they talk about--and less grasp of the impact the wreckless misinformation they heard somewhere and now spread themselves.

A few hours later I dropped her off at her dorm, said good bye. I drove away alone. A part of my tears were just the normal (and wonderful) regret at parting after a couple of days spent with her on a father-daughter adventure we would both remember for rest of our lives. But there were two other aspects of it that I had parsed out by the time my plane landed back here in Oregon.

One of these was the overwhelming feeling of graditude and relief that comes from seeing a disaster averted, from seeing that something so dreaded and worried-over is not going happen, seeing the cloud pass over. There may be disasters ahead--but not that disaster.

The other part, though, was that I was doing the kind of mourning that it is written Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount, the "blessed are those who mourn" kind of mourning. "Blessed," here, has the meaning of "increased" or "magnified" or "matured."

Because I know there are a lot of people out there, right now, who are touched by that cluster of disorders we call ADD or ADHD. Some are profoundly disabled, some only a little annoyed by it. Too many of them live in situations in which they don't have benefit of what I have learned about all this. Too many of them "know" what people on the radio have to say about it, too many people on the radio don't know that they don't know, at all.

I know that it's all complicated. When someone goes off on this "there is no such thing as ADD" thing--and working in child welfare, believe me, I hear it a lot--I have to approach carefully, thoughtfully, granting the reality of over-diagnosing and over-prescribing, while at the same time asking for appreciation of the reality of this condition and the need to deal with it, where it exists, as the disability that it is.

And in these situations I have learned that I cannot effectively ask for that appreciation by quoting statistics and science. I am most credaible, I find, on the basis of my own testimony--the testimony of results and outcomes in my own life and the lives of my daughters. It's all I know--really--and, I find, it's surprisingly convincing. Perhaps the "ADD deniers" with whom I engage as gently as I can are less convinced but those who are listening in--and these conversations almost always take place where there are plenty of people listening in--seem to be thinking about it in a different way than when the conversation began.

Sixty one years and the best I can come up with is a soft spoken"sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't so we should find out the facts for each specific case an act according to them." That's because, truly, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't and we should find out the facts for each specific case and act according to them. It's not flashy but that's the wisdom, here.

No matter which side of partiality, here, one is tempted to embrace, H. L. Mencken stands in the background warning, again, that for every problem we face in life there are answers that are simple, obvious and wrong. We are attracted to those answers because they come easily to us, others are glad to supply them to us and we don't have to work for them. Too often, though, we end up working through the wreckage we create by accepting and acting on such answers.

About Me

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I am a convinced Beanite Friend, a member of Bridge City Friends Meeting, Willamette Quarterly Meeting and North Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Notwithstanding the doubts of some who claim the name, I am a Christian who does a Buddhist practice and believes that God talks to everyone, all the time. I have worked in the judicial branch of government, as well as being a trial lawyer, a public school teacher (counselor and coach), a kite merchant, and a Marine Corp Sergeant. I am currently working as a consultant to public and private agencies on issues of child welfare, juvenile justice, and substance abuse treatment courts.