If you give methylphenidate (Ritalin) to a child who doesn’t need it, that child will become mechanically fixated on repetitive tasks, no matter how meaningless, no matter the lack of reward, demonstrating what doctors call “robotic tendencies.” I always thought this mean to kids, until I started working at a factory, where unshakeable fixation and robotic tendencies were positively encouraged. That, arguably, says everything about why ADHD diagnoses have skyrocketed in the last thirty years.
Bestselling author Dr. Dale Archer wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD himself until after beginning his medical career. He openly gives thanks for that. He attributes his professional success to his condition, which makes him ambitious, mentally agile, and intolerant of busy-work. And his accomplishments are exportable. As he writes: "Simply put, ADHD can be best understood as a brain with a very low boredom threshold (yes, this is greatly simplified, I wish it were so easy)."
Several entrepreneurs, discoverers, media figures, and others Archer identifies show ADHD diagnostic traits. However, when regarded as features rather than disorders, these traits acquire new distinction. These include an ability to juggle multiple responsibilities, carefully learned composure under stress, and relentless curiosity. Though it’s impossible to diagnose the dead, Archer notes that many famous pioneers apparently demonstrate ADHD symptoms, and grow bored with settled living and wage earning. Archer even calls ADHD “the explorer gene.”
|Dr. Dale Archer|
Archer never claims ADHD isn't serious, or that nobody needs medication to control symptoms. Some people’s faculties are irreparably shattered. But too many doctors prescribe powerful drugs as a first, rather than last, resort. In America, where insurance companies make treatment decisions and Big Pharma markets directly to doctors and consumers, ADHD diagnosis rates in 2014 stood above 11%, far higher among boys. In Britain, where health care is nationalized, ADHD diagnoses stood below 2%.
Too often, especially with children, diagnoses come based on undesirable behaviors in group settings. Schoolteachers, underpaid and short-handed, recommend students for heavy stimulant treatments following disruptive classroom comportment. According to the DSM, doctors should prescribe anti-ADHD drugs only following two-hour diagnostic sessions, but predominantly cannot afford such time, writing scripts within three minutes. Most such prescriptions are written by GPs, not trained in diagnosing psychological situations. All in an effort to silence noisy, curious children.
Most such criticisms are written by journalists, physicians, and other white-collar professionals with little working-class experience. I contend that economic issues loom large here. Many children from overstuffed classrooms graduate into employment in overstuffed factories or cube farms. The skills we claim kids should learn in school take second place to real workplace skills like shutting up and buckling down. We diagnose kids, and increasingly adults, on flimsy grounds and questionable science, to subordinate them.
Some people certainly benefit from medications, provided they know what they’re getting themselves into. Just as antidepressants blunt all emotions, anti-ADHD meds channel all thinking, even beneficial thinking. Archer quotes entrepreneur Mark Neeleman on taking Adderall: "When I am on it I am like a machine and can't stop working." Neeleman, according to Archer, takes medications three days a week to accomplish nuts-and-bolts business responsibilities, then goes natural four days to think like an entrepreneur.
An ADHD patient himself, Dr. Archer identifies several shortcuts and work-arounds successful ADHD superstars have invented. Some are individual, from “brain dumping” and leveraging technology, to exercise regimens and productive relationships. Others are more diverse and complicated; a few verge on begging society to reorganize itself to stop compounding ADHD problems. Archer openly longs for “progressive” classroom education permitting more adaptability to individual needs. If he’s serious, I’d suggest he consider Tom Little’s Loving Learning.
ADHD isn’t some picnic, neither for its sufferers nor those who love them. Archer acknowledges it brings significant complications and makes life burdensome for many people. But for those willing to embrace their diagnosis as an opportunity, rather than a disorder, it opens distinctive windows on life’s little-seen viewpoints. Bosses and schoolteachers will medicate you to enforce your conformity. But if you prefer a life of creativity, exploration, and risk, ADHD may be your ticket.