Nature vs Nurture
There are a couple of components of ADHD to consider:
1) Being hyperaware (focus and awareness are diametric opposites)
2) There appears to be a visceral repulsion to reading things that are disagreeable and for things that are disagreeable to do. “Oppositional defiant disorder” is often co-occurring.
There’s a high chance the visceral reaction is related to having been chronically forced to interact with disagreeable authority that didn’t have the capacity to compromise.
The visceral reaction is likely a deep body, imperceptible flashback. This flash triggers a switch that leads to a cognitive “shut down”.
A pathway for ADHD to develop via nurture would suggest that I’m suggesting that there may be no genetic element involved in ADHD. What about how it’s commonly found in families alongside other hereditary conditions like Dyslexia?
Genes and multi-generational traits are hard to tease apart. Family genetics and multigenerational trauma can lead to variations in family behaviors affecting childhood development and thus, long-standing disorders.
Even conditions we’ve long associated with being ‘purely genetic’, like Dyslexia, also have environmental associations. For example, clumsiness can often be found in people who have been disallowed freedom of movement growing up. A gene that causes parental hyper-negativity to broken glass and excessive noise can cause restricting movement in kids, and thus, clumsiness. Thus, it can look like there is a direct gene for clumsiness when there can be an indirect route, via the impact of parental behaviors.
It may be enough to label Dyslexia as an end-point condition, but we can also consider that using small clustered symbols (words) to learn can also be deemed unnatural, despite it being routine and cheap. Dyslexia can be seen as a clumsiness of vision, thus, can be worsened by factors that disallow early childhood interactions with seeing words.
The Attention Economy
Attention deficit disorder is characterized by repeatable, consistent traits. However, the label ADHD is often applied to represent the thousands of factors that affect attention.
Let’s delve a little deeper into attention: Attention is the economy, and the economy is attention. Essentially, the economy is founded on the notion that attention is a finite resource that must be divided in order to generate a variety of products and services. The value of anything is determined by how much interest others will pay to it. People’s self-esteem is linked to the amount of accessible attention.
Everything we interact with has the means to attract or divert our attention. Everything from traffic signage to the camouflage industry is in the attention economy. In normal situations, inattentiveness is merely a sign that the subject hasn’t yet earned enough priority over other, more highly valued, data.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not called a disease because the reason is not known (as in Parkinson’s disease).
I was going to write the term many, but leaning into honesty: most people with ADHD are diagnosed without fully considering the human element.
Labeling someone as deficient in attention is corrupted by the very notion that the amount of attention deemed normal, is determined by the very entity that benefits from that person’s attention.
A neuropsychiatric examination positive for ADHD reveals measurable deficits that can point back to biological deficiencies. However, these exams cannot show context, history, or prognosis. If someone tests positive for ADHD without symptoms, do we medicate? And what if someone safely benefits from ADHD medication without a positive finding on neuropsychological examination? Do we stop the medication?
When it is up to others to define what can be done given a particular timespan, attention is almost always considered insufficient rather than the demands being re-examined. This is labeling corruption: the ability to label something as insufficient and be the benefactor of what is insufficient at the same time.
Attention and our gut senses
If the data presented this far progressively diverged away from our beliefs on this topic, one may begin to feel inklings of a visceral repulsion. Once an idea has been defended, it’s hard to reexamine without feeling disquieting visceral shifts. Often such is the case in the arena of psychiatric diagnosis, where the ability to feel understood and achieve a resolution to long-held confusion crosses with incomplete understanding.
This brings us to one of the primary determinants of attention: disgust (with shame, guilt, and fear encompassed). These are the natural inhibitors of curiosity, and naturally, attention. These play a role in confirmation bias.
Some people can be so addicted to having their beliefs confirmed that they’re unable to pay attention to new concepts. A feeling of guttural repulsion naturally develops when we read things that increasingly diverge from our underlying beliefs. Relief (the opposite of disgust), follows once we create a label that satisfies internal logic or, a shortcut: social agreement.
It’s often easier to not have formed opinions when learning things; novel content about a subject can often be better digested by those with less experience. Guilt, shame, and disgust are inhibitors of curiosity and, by extension, attention. Those able to emotionally deal with the feeling of disorientation will benefit from the ability to constantly relearn.
In practice, it is often more difficult to speak about novel ideas on a subject with those who are already experientially entrenched in that very subject.
The fault game
School is where we often see attention problems mishandled.
Think of a reason someone might shame students for being inattentive without first engaging in a fuller investigation. Shaming others can be an unconscious attempt to repulse alternate explanations. For example, it could be that a student is inattentive, or it could be an ineffective education. If an educator’s identity is wrapped up in being a good educator, then the students may have to bear the responsibility for being faulted for their inattentiveness in order to maintain the teacher’s pride and agreement to continue the relationship dynamic. One who finds great joy and relief in being competently orientated may also be emotionally disincentivized for self-investigation. Self-improvement requires the layaway of prideful competency.
Wanting to avoid feelings of visceral repulsion can set up the mechanism to feel relief following critically judging others. When a situation can easily call into question one’s competency, thinking “it’s the other person’s fault” offers inexpensive relief. A high avoid visceral repulsion can also lead one to approach new information with defensiveness rather than curiosity, and thus low attentive capability. This is irony: low attention paid to the investigation of students appearing attention-less.
Despite knowing shaming others isn’t sustainable, we may still reflexively shame others for not paying enough attention rather than re-examine our approach. Of course, responding to every instance of a student’s failure to attend with a full investigation isn’t sustainable in most cases. Stepping away from the case for a first-step empathetic response to inattentive students may force students and parents to resolve the issue without draining educators’ resources that may be better spent continuing a not-for-all teaching model. Projecting blame, in healthy-enough doses, may allow the brain to continue its function rather than be constipated by the visceral defense of guilt and shame.
Consider when one child is asked to do the work of 1.5 children existing in a many-bosses model. The child can be called deficient in attention to spare the authority figures the hassle of being more tactical or coming into awareness of their own roles in overwhelming the child, or acceptance that the intended teachings to the child are likely more trivial in comparison to the other parts of the child’s life.
Our educational system does not teach boundaries to children. It rewards children for not thinking about their own boundaries. Children are often not allowed to say, “this is too much”. They aren’t allowed to say ‘no’ to homework, or the validity of the homework, or the intensity, or the frequency. When we leave academia and interact with a work environment, we may be left accepting that we should be able to handle anything that is asked of us, without ever considering the existence of the concept of burnout, decision-making fatigue, or exploitation.
Humans are biased toward labeling others as biologically deficient rather than legitimate products of an unknowable past. This is called trait ascription bias.
I cannot resolve ADHD as not a byproduct of trait ascription bias on a large scale.
The vast majority of children who come in with diagnosable attention deficiency disorder have home-life disturbances. This includes (but is not exhaustive): parental alienation or divorce, high household emotional expression, overbearing or rigid parenting, under-involved parenting, and unresolved family trauma (example: where an abuser continues to have direct access to a child due to parental avoidance).
The kicker is that when questioned directly about home-life troubles, the patients or family members seeking an ADHD diagnosis can appear defensive, showing loyalty at all costs to hierarchy and/or traditional family narrative and seeking the concept of being purely biologically flawed with attention deficiency rather than consider the possibility that their until-now respected elders to had been given bad blueprints for life navigation thanks to generational trauma.