Dav Pilkey on ADHD

Q: And you had to sit in the hall in elementary school?

A: So little was known about those conditions back in those days, and I think it was just seen as I was distracting everyone in the class with my silliness. I couldn’t stay in my chair and keep my mouth shut. So the teachers from second to fifth grade just put me in the hall. It ended up being kind of a blessing for me, too, because it gave me time to draw and to create stories and comics. I guess I made lemonade out of it…

Q: You must hear from young readers who tell you about their own difficulties and why your books help them.

A: I do. That’s actually one of the reasons I love to go out on the road and tour so much. Sometimes they’re proud in a way. There will be kids who will have posters they hold up that say that they’ve “got dyslexia like Dav,” or they’ll tell me proudly that they have ADHD. I don’t call it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I call it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Delightfulness. I want kids to know that there’s nothing wrong with you. You just think differently, and that’s a good thing. It’s good to think differently. This world needs people who think differently; it’s your superpower.

Here is more from Michael Cavna at The Washington Post.


"I want libertarians to know that there’s nothing wrong with you. You just think differently, and that’s a good thing. It’s good to think differently. This world needs people who think differently; it’s your superpower."

True dat.

Tralalalala wedgie power!

I’m kind of surprised that nobody is . . .

. . . just a minute, I’ll be right back.

Is it really a superpower or are we just being politically correct?

I believe ADHD can make one more imaginative, and possibly more creative (depending on what 'creative' means). And when an ADHD person focuses on something, they focus hard and persistently. Those features are 'powers' in everyday life. Perhaps competitive advantages.

But in my view, the difficulties that ADHD brings are often so great that they stifle those powers. By difficulties, I mean the world's reaction to those who suffer from it and the intrinsic difficulties caused by inability to concentrate on some of the fundamentals.

For example, if you can't bring yourself to tidy the house (a very common indicator of ADHD), then you'll find it difficult to unleash any superpower such as imagination or hyperfocus.

This is rather tragic. It suggests potential advantages which cannot be deployed.

Maybe, but then again: ""If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" - Albert Einstein

Thomas Edison also had a cluttered desk. Brian Greene said that his room was voted messiest at Harvard one year but later changed to being very organized. That must have been when his productivity fell.

I looked into a decade ago (see my longish comment below) and discovered, 1) it's a continuum (like Asperger's/autism) between relatively mild conditions and more severe and genuinely disruptive conditions, 2) consequently diagnosis is tricky, and 3) we don't know what causes it. There are cases where medication is warranted, but I also think there are cases where we're over-diagnosing.

In our modern times where every individual can specialize in whichever activity finds interesting and rewarding, it may be a superpower.

This is exactly right. Our world unfortunately demands a lot of skills from most of us that ADHD does not prepare you for. The super talented and bright can ignore many of these demands but most people aren't so fortunate to be born with such gifts.

If being different as a child is a superpower, then the current education system is kryptonite. We can talk about differences being acceptable and even superior, but until we change primary and secondary schooling systems, we're just talking--and we'll have this exact same conversation in 15 years. Just my two cents.

Respectfully, disagree.

We are a disorderly nation: ADHD is the pandemic of the era. This past Sunday I went to the supermarket. The young man who was the cashier did something I've never seen before: he rang up all the refrigerated items in my very full basket first, then the unrefrigerated items (I notice such things both because I bag my own groceries and am orderly myself). I laughed out loud and I asked the young man if he is that orderly at home. He replied yes, everything in his room is in its place (mise en place). One thinks of ADHD as being the disorderly condition: nothing is in its place.

There's an episode of House in which House's buddy, Wilson, reunites with his ex-wife, disrupting the (not so) orderly life of House and his roommate Wilson. In one scene, the ex-wife puts the milk carton in the refrigerator door. Milk doesn't belong in the door, and Wilson moves the carton to the back of the refrigerator where it's coldest. This repeats several times. House is pleased because it's proof Wilson and the ex-wife aren't suited for each other and that she will soon be gone. Of course, the ex-wife is ADHD, while Wilson is obsessive-compulsive.

I told the young man at the supermarket that people who are excessively orderly in their environment are often compensating for what's disorderly in their heads. I too am orderly, and find today's social and political disorder excruciating. Mise en place.

In my day, it was referred to as “ants in your pants”. You were not medicated, but punished if you couldn’t control yourself. That approach seemed to work.

Boys need to get away from their desks, go outdoors, play sports, blow things up and punch each other.


And I hear recess has been cut way back in many schools. We used to live for recess when I was a kid. Don't know how I'd have made it through the day without morning and afternoon recess, plus lunchtime.

Children can play after school.

Doesn't really address the problem, which is a sustained period of time where they cannot move much and must concentrate on purely mental activity. They need relief during that stretch of after. Afterward is too late. By then they've already acted out and given up on school.

Maybe school should be about studying.

Precisely! School should be about studying. And we should try to maximize the effectiveness. That may mean returning to longer recess periods in order to optimize the actual effects of the in class period.

Students are like sesame seeds; the more you squeeze them, the more you get from them. Never fear squeezing them.

Children are like corn. Don't mess with the children of the corn, Basil.

I imagine the teachers lived for recess too. At my school, they opened the door, we ran out, they stayed behind in the classroom to read the paper or do whatever minimal teacher stuff they did back then.

A break for everyone.

Here's a photograph of some graffiti that I took some years ago. If you look in the lower left you'll see the letters "ADHD", indicating the writer is a member of the ADHD crew. Now just what those letters stand for, I don't know. It changes from time and the writers are definitely playing on the medical diagnosis. How do I know? Beyond my general knowledge of graffiti culture, just look above in the upper left. You'll see it saying, "I kan't pay attention!" That's obviously a comment on "ADHD". Another local crew is the AIDS crew, where AIDS can mean "Alone In Deep Space".

Some years ago I wrote a working paper. Music and the Prevention and Amelioration of ADHD: A Theoretical Perspective. Here's the abstract:

Russell A. Barkley has argued that ADHD is fundamentally a disorientation in time. These notes explore the possibility that music, which requires and supports finely tuned temporal cognition, might play a role in ameliorating ADHD. The discussion ranges across cultural issues (grasshopper vs. ant, lower rate of diagnosis of ADHD among African-Americans), play, distribution of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, neural development, and genes in culture (studies of the distribution of alleles for dopamine receptors). Unfortunately, the literature on ADHD does not allow us to draw strong conclusions. We do not understand what causes ADHD nor do we understand how best to treat the condition. However, in view of the fact that ADHD does involve problems with temporal cognition, and that music does train one’s sense of timing, the use of music therapy as a way of ameliorating ADHD should be investigated. I also advocate conducting epidemiological studies about the relationship between dancing and music in childhood, especially in early childhood, and the incidence of ADHD.

Download at Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/238609/Music_and_the_Prevention_and_Amelioration_of_ADHD_A_Theoretical_Perspective
SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1527090


I am a poster child for ADHD. My most troubling symptom is time distortion, which results in forgetfulness, tardiness, missed appointments, etc. I cope using technology. I have little tolerance for boredom or boring activities and am constantly scanning the environment for stimulation. I am never bored, however, as I have many interests. When something interests me I can hyperfocus and dive deep for hours. Though I was always distracted in school, at the University I was fascinated with math and was able to maintain focus long enough to graduate.

I also play music, including percussion, as well as guitar, sax, and to a lesser extent piano, trombone, trumpet, and clarinet. I am not sure music helps except while I am playing, at which time it relaxes me.


The problem is that if you're super talented and creative, then having ADHD is not a bad thing at all. But if you're not, to succeed in the world at a regular job it probably won't come in handy. Nothing wrong with shooting for the stars, but you need a backup plan and I don't think that ADHD helps much with that.

I think it's more a "male adolescent" thing than a psychological disorder. Male human adolescents are simply not wired to sit in neat rows indoors behind desks for 6 hours a day.

Yet, most of them do it pretty well. We tell just-so stories all we want. "Adult males are not wired for office/plant/cleaning/agriculture jobs. They are wired for hunting, fighting, etc." Schools need more discipline.

They do it because they're required under government mandate from a whole bunch of apparatchiks who got themselves anointed gatekeepers, grandma.

Education is a private good. Public education should be burned to the ground.

Education is a private good that can be supplied by family members and others in the child's patronage network.

I see, we only to give up education. What can go wrong? Has any civilized country ever made that choice and survived to tell the story?

"Public education" is a recent contrivance; we got the Renaissance without it. It is premised on two very big lies: that equality of inputs will yield equality of outcomes, and that education generates intelligence.

"we got the Renaissance without it". By the way, we got the Dark Ages without it, too. I see, widespread illiteracy, as in the 15th Century, is the goal. Thanks, but I think literacy is better.

We don't have to de-invent the wheel, we can just copy what works. Instead of playing with children's lives just because a bunch of crazy ideologues want to vent their anger and give dpfree rein to their delusions.

We also got the Greco-Roman World without it, so there.

I'll meet you halfway: public education ends by age 14. After that, it's up to the teenager and his or her family and friends.

"We also got the Greco-Roman World without it, so there."
Sure, and voters had to ask people to help them to vote, creating embarassing situations.

"I'll meet you halfway: public education ends by age 14."

It seems adequate.

ADHD is fake, no?

ADHD is the modern day version of left handedness.

It's the name for a set of behaviours you can see with your own eyes. What's fake about that?

Besides which, recent brain scanning work is tentatively suggesting structural differences between ADHD and non-ADHD.

It's a name that incorporates the judgement that the set of behaviors is a "disorder".

Like if someone were to rename left-handedness "hand-dominance inversion disorder"

If we lived in a society where nobody made left-handed scissors or people wiped their butts with their left hand, that might be a problem, but would the problem be with the left-handed person, or with the society?

No, it's not a "male adolescent" thing, it's not fake, it's not just an excuse, and "punishment fixes it" is completely wrong.

When I was a kid, a firecracker blew up in my hand because I lit the fuse and then something happened and I paid attention to that and I forgot about the *explosive device I had just lit the fuse of*.

It's an actual thing that happens. It shows up in FMRI scans. We know approximately what's going on.

As to whether it's a superpower, or a disability, or both? That varies a lot. Accommodation can help. Punishment and telling people to "try harder" demonstrably make it worse. The net result is that a lot of adults with ADHD have significant symptoms of trauma, and difficulty functioning, not because of their innate condition, but because they're used to being constantly attacked for things they can't perceive or do anything about.

As an adult, with a bit of support, I do pretty well, and I get very good results because I know how to take advantage of ways I think differently. Economically, it seems to me, this is hugely advantageous for society; I pay a lot more taxes than the people who got beaten into submission and don't try to do anything that would take advantage of their potential strengths.

> It shows up in FMRI scans.

This is not a point in your favor. Everything shows up in fMRIs. It’s the 21st century equivalent of phrenology.

You saying no one fits the diagnostic criteria or you saying the diagnostic criteria shouldn't exist? Can't really see what else you could be saying. Taking a little from column A and a little from column B doesn't really work.

Robert Lowell wrote his best poems when he was off him meds. And Patty Duke did her best acting before her diagnosis. So I guess bipolar depression is a "super power," too. Just ask the folks at the homeless shelter.
ADHD isn't as extreme as that, but it's still a mental disorder and for most people it's more of a blessing than a curse. Also, medicine helps in many cases.

A reminder that "disorders" like ADHD and autism are defined relative to a norm of what the ideal behavior is. Is there some reason why sitting still and paying attention is objectively valuable, or is that only a valueable skill relative to a social context? Much of modern schooling techniques was developed during a time when schools were meant to run like factories and churn out more or less identical factory workers who could follow orders and churn out more or less identical widgets. Thus sitting still and paying attention to a central organizer became a valuable personality trait. Prior to that kids were either uneducated, taught by governesses, or tutored in a single trade. Many just learned whatever interested them. There weren't classrooms full of kids sitting in rows doing identical assignments and listening to lectures. ADHD didn't exist back then, it hadn't been identified as a "disorder" because being antsy and distractable wasn't such a problem when you learned just whatever interested you and didn't have to sit in a chair for hours and follow a standardized curriculum.
In other words the "problem" of ADHD might just disappear if people adopted different educational frameworks - let kids explore their interests organically instead of following a rigid schedule and lesson plan.

There is a massive difference between left-handedness and ADHD. ADHD impacts your ability to do all sorts of things in every factor of youyr life.. It goes far beyond just sitting still and far beyond education.

The key word is "deficit." I would compare it more to diabetes.

I would say left handedness is an excellent metaphor for ADHD in that back in the days when left handed children forced to use their right hand the insistence they be like the majority caused much suffering for them and was bad for society overall. For one thing, from a purely economic point of view it was a horrible waste of resources.

I would say you have no idea what you're taking about and are only operating with a stereotypical concept of what ADD is.

I think I am saying it's not productive to treat children who fit the criteria for ADD or ADHD the same as those who don't. Not exactly a controversial position, but opinions can differ.

This post seems to suggest that ADHD is just a minor thing with an upside of higher creativity/energy. I just wanted to share how troublesome ADHD can be. I do not have an official diagnosis as testing costs thousands and I did not realize the potential cause until recently. That's an incomplete list of problems I experienced which I can attribute to ADHD:
1) Constantly failing to dress properly while in school (open zipper, untied shoes and so on).
2) Constantly forgetting things while in school and now (keys, pens, homeworks, documents) leading to lower grades, lost time, missed meetings, being late, et cetera. I spend about 20-60 minutes per day just looking for things and more if my room is not messy.
2) Forgetting to come to some of the final exams, being on the brink of expulsion from my undergrad university a couple of times (still graduating a top university with GPA of 3.9).
3) Making frequent "stupid" grammar/continuity/numeration/arithmetic mistakes due to poor attention both in HWs and in research papers.
4) Wrecking my first qualifying exam attempt by misreading two problems out of three, making them harder than they were and solving them faster than everyone else.
5) Constantly forgetting what I am doing while at work unless I am completely 100% excited about it.
Off course, it could be not ADHD but some other personal deficiency. I certainly hope that I would be able to do better when I get proper medication in a few months.

I hope the medication helps and you don't have to wait too long to get it.

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