Wednesday, October 19, 2011


 “Conditions for creativity are to be puzzled; to concentrate; to accept conflict and tension; to be born everyday; to feel a sense of self.” Erich Fromm

I have been thinking a lot about the overlapping of learning disabilities and creativity. There are a lot of behavioral and cognitive parallels between artists and people with Attention Deficit Disorder. Apparently the national guidelines for the diagnosis of this mental impairment have been amended to allow for treatment of children as young as four years old. Now, I am not a medical expert, nor am I dismissive of the existence of certain mental variations that cause trouble for individuals seeking to live a "normal" life. It does bother me though, that there are waves of potentially artistic little people being diagnosed and often medicated for "disabilities" just because their model for understanding the world is not the same linear model that our society has standardized.

I'm going to get personal here. As an older child I was diagnosed with A.D.D. by way of two measly testimonials (one from me, one from my mom). I was a straight-A student with a load of friends and the ability to concentrate for hours on end. Still, it took me so much time to complete tasks, and I often had trouble deciphering what homework and test questions were trying to ask. In light of my "diagnosis" I started a medication routine to alleviate the "problems." I continued to bring home perfect test scores, and I only had to study half the time to reach those goals! Fantastic, right?!

But here's what else happened. I COULD NOT THINK ABSTRACTLY. Like at all. The girl who at one point couldn't have enough paints and clay in her world, literally had zero desire to create anything. Thinking deep philosophical questions about life seemed like a waste of time. I did not care about the connections between things or the patterns they created. All that interested me were facts, data point, and timelines. I suppose that shouldn't have bothered me. After all, my lateral thinking was at an all time high, and it only cost my soul! Thankfully though, a small voice in the back of my head prevailed, and that medicated period was a brief one.

I was old enough to take account of my strengths, weaknesses and what kind of person the medication was making me. The trouble is that a seventeen year old who has been medicated since he was four is not going to remember that he was an artist once, and a nation that encourages the extinction of its creative citizens has no future.
The images above are of three famous individuals believed to have had ADD: Thomas Edison, Michael Phelps, and Leonardo da Vinci. While medication arguably has a place in aiding certain individuals with ADD, we do not know how it would have affected the life and achievements of some of these people had they been medicated from age four.


  1. The good news though is that parents rarely medicate their children that young and usually don't chose to until about age 11. Even then the medication today is different from the medication of the 90's- now doctors prescribe medications that aren't stimulant based. Also most children don't take their medication on the weekends or during summer and winter vacations. I think that all parents are as ambivalent about medicating their children as you are Nicole and I couldn't agree more. We need more schools that teach to different types of learning and less drugs.

  2. i agree with everything you are saying, but I don't think the medications affect everyone the same. my son (who is 10) has been medicated since he was 7, and I have found that he is able to EXPRESS his creativity more, probably because he is able to concentrate long enough to complete a thought now. I have had ADD, for sure since adolescence, and started taking medication for it about a year and a half ago. It has its good and bad parts. I find that I, too, am now able to finish what I started, whereas before I would not be able to follow through and finish a project, which was not only frustrating and overwhelming, but made me not want to start anything new because i was drowning in unfinished work. I am also better able to focus my creative ideas and filter out distractions. But, like I said, i'm sure the medications affect everyone differently.
    As for my son, his self-esteem was suffering so much because of always being in trouble, being called stupid and retarded, that we felt that medication was needed at this time, and as for the times that he is not on medication, i've seen a marked improvement in his self-control and attention. It may just be a matter of growing out of it, but I didn't want to wait to find out that the damage to his self-esteem was already done.

  3. Grace,
    I'm sure that there have been changes in the medication, and I have to trust that it is administered thoughtfully by parents. I am just concerned that changing the minimum age requirement for diagnosis to four may encourage parents of younger "wild" children to sedate the creativity out of their children who may just understand the world differently than their peers.

    Hi, Lydia.
    Fair point. I don't pretend to know how differently medications effect people. It sounds like you have gone about the whole process thoughtfully both for yourself and your son, and I can only imagine how many pieces of information were at work in your choice. We want the best for those little people in our lives, and it tears us up when they seem unequipped to navigate life! I just wanted to be honest about my experience. Sometimes I think that our educational system does not recognize the value of abstract thinkers, and it makes me sad to think that there are little people who can learn just fine in an environment that meets them half way.

  4. you are absolutely right, there is not enough thought given to educating the whole child, or the individual for that matter. kids are stuck in a desk and expected to sit there for 6 hours straight and listen to a teacher drone on about dates and equations. my son has had some teachers who don't even like kids, let alone want to bring out the best in them, who are negative and snarky and discouraging. but he has also had teachers who see his strengths and want to help him discover them, who don't see him as a "problem child" but as an inquisitive and slightly disorganized delight. the teacher makes a HUGE difference in how he sees himself and as a result, how he performs!

    and i think anyone who wants to medicate children so young is crazy. we need to allow them free reign at that time, and we need a chance to see what their strengths are, as well, so we can cheer them on in the later years when there are so many pressures trying to make them change who they are!


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