Friday, March 06, 2009

ODD boy out

In his History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault noted the proliferation of categories invented by Victorian-era medical scientists to describe every conceivable form of deviant sexual behaviour. This form of scientism--the use of scientific discourse, the objectification of the human personality, the taxonomies--was, as he knew, a method of controlling and disciplining populations.

Those taxonomies, however, are not confined to sexual matters. "Problem" children, for example, are currently being diagnosed, assigned new classifications, and then treated by the very people who invented them.

I'm not particularly well-versed in current theories of child psychology, except to note that a series of "disorders" has sprung up that never existed in my day. "Attention Deficit Disorder" (ADD) is the big one: when I was a child, people would say "daydreaming again" or "your mind is wandering." And then there's "Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder" (ADHD): all of the former plus "getting up to tricks." Now they're pathologies.

Of course at the extreme end of the scale any normal activity becomes, well, abnormal. Concentration is good; obsession is bad. Cleanliness is good; the Lady MacBeth complex is overdoing it a bit. A little fear keeps us alive; phobias cripple us. But it seems to me that we're defining "normal" a touch too narrowly these days.

The danger of classification became salient for me when I read an article today about an eight-year-old kid who was locked in a closet by his school for acting up (I believe the current term is "acting out"). It was supposed to be a "time-out room" but it didn't, as school officials admitted, really meet the standard for one.
When I was a schoolboy, we just had to stand in the corner. I didn't know how lucky I was.

Unnervingly echoing Foucault, a child protection expert stated that time-outs should be used to discipline, not to punish. This, he thought, might be straying into punishment.

The child, it appears, may have autism and Obessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)--and something called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

Oppositional Defiant Disorder, eh? Hmm. I think I have that.

I looked it up. Here's the way the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the folks who had homosexuality in there too until it was delisted in 1987--and that was a story in itself) defines the syndrome:

Diagnostic Criteria
  1. A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:
    Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.
    1. often loses temper
    2. often argues with adults
    3. often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules
    4. often deliberately annoys people
    5. often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
    6. is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
    7. is often angry and resentful
    8. is often spiteful or vindictive
  2. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.
  3. The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a Psychotic or Mood disorder.
  4. Criteria are not met for Conduct Disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial personality disorder.
If the child meets at least four of these criteria, and they are interfering with the child’s ability to function, then he or she technically meets the definition of Oppositionally defiant.

The first three criteria, and criterion 6 (four criteria in all), seem to define everything I know about the blogosphere, for what it's worth--well, add 4, 7 and 8 for some bloggers--but more importantly they also define, for me, a perfectly normal child. Or maybe an intelligent one, asking a lot of questions beginning with "Why?"

When I was in kindergarten, longer ago than I care to remember, I wandered out of the big gym where we were confined during the day. The principal, Mr. Scott, strode up to me. I remember looking way up to see his face. "Go to your room," he ordered. "You go to your room," I said.

This was the 'fifties, and kids just didn't talk back to elders and authority figures. The word spread, my teachers were shocked, and my parents were told about it. They had a little talk with me, but I suspect they were secretly amused.

That was that. But now I wonder if my natural curiosity, my instinctive questioning of authority, my irritation with others for any number of reasons, and my reaction to insulting comments, smugness and stupidity (which are far too often found in combination)--all of which I had as a child--might have landed me in far more serious trouble today.

I envision someone in a white coat, checking off 1, and 2, and 3, and--yes--6. "Aha! That's four! He has Oppositional Defiant Disorder! Nurse, the Ritalin, if you please."

No doubt I was thus afflicted, and remain so in middle-age. But, fellow bloggers of the Right, Left and even the Centre, admit it--aren't we all?

No comments: