T he book “Doppelganger” by Naomi Klein (not Wolf) is enormous in scope. It’s got me reeling. She spins out her thesis about Doppelgangers from the psyche to literary device to sociology to systems. Be patient with me as I spin.
In Klein’s terms, Autism’s “Doppelganger” is ADHD. That’s my hot take. According to Psychology Today, “ADHD and ASD share overlapping characteristics around executive function, the focusing of attention, social behavior, and auditory processing.” While they “twin” in these areas, the treatment in our educational system for these atypical neurological diagnoses has a distinctive Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde division.
Please note! I do not think that autism and ADHD are the same. I am only noting where they are “twins” and where the educational system meets one and not the other.
At the same time that white, affluent kids with autism received special services, kids with ADHD, often black and Hispanic, are relegated to the “shadowlands” (Klein’s term), left to roam the halls of their elementary schools, or consigned to detention rooms.
Here are some statistics: 17% of Black children, 15% of white children, and 12% of Hispanic children have an ADHD diagnosis.
Because of affluence and access to medical treatment, autism appeared for many years to be a primarily white boy diagnosis. With that affluence, these kids enjoyed special education opportunities for their particular diagnosis that other populations with atypical neurology did not enjoy, including whole schools devoted to their care and education. Nothing showed me this more than a local institution, The Summit Center, in Getsville, NY.
Their reputation has flourished. Even though it was a financial stretch for us, a few years ago, we enrolled our son with ADHD into their summer camp program, believing their ADHD program would “twin” their programming for kids with autism.
The then director was lionized for his care of kids with autism. During Summit’s adhd summer camp parent lectures, he spoke lovingly of his experiences helping kids with autism in a school setting. He understood them to need a different interaction that suited their unique needs. Conversely, when he talked about kids with ADHD, he spoke of how these kids lacked compassion and their BEHAVIORS needed to be addressed. While autism was an opportunity for compassion and learning, ADHD was ultimately about enforcing crime and punishment. Consequences. You, as a parent or educator, could do your best to keep the “behaviors” from happening with positive antecedents, but ultimately, the behavior had to be adjudicated regardless of age. A child with ADHD is choosing to act out, while a kid with autism needs to learn how to interact socially. Kids with ADHD need consequences, while kids with Autism need understanding. Hard to learn compassion if you are never shown it.
Research shows that more kids of color with autism are getting diagnosed. I wonder if they will receive the compassionate care of their affluent brethren. Summit is very expensive.
School systems treat the behaviors associated with ADHD (with or without a formal diagnosis) as outliers to shun, punish, and ultimately (as charter schools are authorized to do) kick kids out. Rather than address a rapidly rising diagnosis, kids with ADHD rarely, if ever, receive compassionate care inside their schools. Statistically, there is at least one kid with ADHD in every classroom. Instead of instituting Resource Rooms where kids can go to receive more individualized help as their IEPs require, they are consigned to holding centers in the form of detention rooms without certified teachers to provide them with education. As they spend more and more time out of the classroom in isolation, those behaviors increase. Resource Rooms are one example of systematic changes.
The lack of resources is not what I witnessed with my oldest neuro-typical white son. As a mom of this kind of child, I blithely believed that his school was a group of educators who worked with parents to provide the best education for all. With every challenge he faced, the system was like a Maserati that quickly sped away from obstacles. I didn’t even notice it was a system. At this same school with this same group of educators, I had a very different experience with my neuro-atypical black and Hispanic son. For every challenge we faced, the system was like a rusted-out, puttering jalopy meant to stall and cloud the air with exhaust. I was very aware that the system had nothing to offer.
When all the issues with the boys’ elementary school shook out and Cal went to another school, I was sad. A lot of the educators at the school we left were family favorites. We loved them. Many went above and beyond the cruddy system to give both boys what they needed. There were some fantastic educators.
When we endure a broken system, we tend to blame the people. We can’t yell at a system. This blame gets shuffled around instead of lying at the feet of the system. The system includes but is not limited to access, access to remedies based on affluence, bias, lack of educational resources, curriculum, etc. The issues we had were not interpersonal.
Were there hurt feelings? Hell yeah, but the hurt feelings and righteous indignation weren’t the problem. Parents can blame teachers, teachers can blame parents, and everyone can blame kids all day long, but this keeps the system standing; in fact, a broken system thrives when it never gets blamed.
As I became more and more aware of the issues at hand, I realized how often I participated and championed this broken system with my older son.
The summer before first grade, I called the school to have my older son Sam put into a different classroom than another kid. I felt that MY kid needed protection from a kid with impulse control issues. The school obliged as my kid was the one they championed, the one who could seal their reputation as a “good” school by graduating into a better, often private, high school. Later, I saw this kid I had shunned at the park with his little brother. He wasn’t a collection of behaviors but a loving little boy. A few more years and a couple of skirmishes later (in which Sam was held accountable) and participation in basketball together, this boy would become Sam’s friend.
What I should have done in first grade was advocate for both kids. I could have demanded to know what educational opportunities were being provided for kids when impulse control issues arose. When my next kid was that kid, other parents called about; I realized the school offered nothing much. The only education opportunities they provided for impulse control were to wander the halls and detention until they could formally boot him out. The “shadowlands” are brutal.
Someday, I know Sam will write about his experiences in elementary school. He feels like I got it wrong. At the time, I needed to paint a pretty picture of that school because what else was available inside this rusty old city? The good free schools were limited. But are they good? Sam would eventually become resentful of how his favorite friends were getting treated. He started feeling alienated.
Blaming kids and banishing them for things they can’t control doesn’t solve the problem for anyone. The kids the system is supposedly serving get a lesser education as well. How regulated can a classroom be if some kids ‘ educational requirements aren’t addressed? No kid feels safe or protected. Please don’t misunderstand me; segregation isn’t the answer either. Don’t even get me started on the white flight suburbs and the wack-a-dos banning/burning books and censoring history. When we as parents call schools and blame kids for behavior they can’t control, all in the name of protecting our “perfect” kid, we are walking a plank.
Be hard on systems, but soft on people. ~ Naomi Klein
What if kids with a diagnosis were provided services to address their ADHD? What if the system changed? What if they received the effective treatment and compassionate care that places like Summit provide kids with autism?
These issues are complex. It isn’t a one-and-done fix. At the end of Doppelgangers, Klein speaks about what we can do in the future. What if instead of acting like warrior moms protecting our own, we worked as a community and invested in equitable education for all?
There is a beautiful line from Arthur Miller’s play “All My Sons” which is about a man who strives to get the best for his kids by short changing on the equipment his company built for the war. His eldest son Larry knows this and gets into the plane his father built and is killed because of it.
“Then what is this if it isn’t telling me? Sure, [Larry] was my son. But I think to him [the pilots killed] were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were” ~ Arthur Miller
The diagnosis of ADHD needs to come out of the shadowlands. All our kids deserve the compassionate care and education promised regardless of their neurology.
One of the kids on Cal’s bus was shit-talking another kid with Autism. She said, “he’s not like us. We have ADHD.” Cal told me later that this girl speaks of having ADHD as if “we have our own country.” This made me laugh. I wish he and his fellowship with ADHD had access to their very own mountains, creeks, and valleys with their own needs codified and resources allotted. His current school does some of that, so much so that this little girl on the bus recognized she wasn’t alone or alienated. She has country(wo)men, who are not left to scrape together an education from the shadowlands.
Maybe if she receives enough compassionate care, education, and understanding, she will learn how to wrap her arms around this kid from another country in solidarity. This is what I hope for all children, solidarity.
And, if you read this book, immediately contact me. I would love to know what spun you out!!