A creative; a cautionary tale of dwindling numbers A creative; a cautionary tale of dwindling numbers “Creativity has been recanted as a fabled journey littered with riches beyond our wildest dreams and whilst it is difficult to achieve...
A creative; a cautionary tale of dwindling numbers
A creative; a cautionary tale of dwindling numbers
“Creativity has been recanted as a fabled journey littered with riches beyond our wildest dreams and whilst it is difficult to achieve, like all mythical journeys, if you create well you will be rewarded. The end.”
Creativity covers a huge expanse of propositions. Writing, filmmaking, science, art, theatre and more.
Yes I am aware there is a huge middle section but really, how many people who really want to make a relative success of their lives through pursuing creativity — have paused and thought of the upcoming generations?
Are we simply pre-programmed from a young age to hit those grades and grasp whatever job fits our esteemed qualifications?
Can the completely new determined push of Big Pharma be eradicating the dreamers of the world through Ritalin and Adderall consumption, to cure them of the mythical ADHD?
If this prevailing thought was around and being implemented when the great creative masters we still read about and applaud were young, would they have survived the mass medication as so many today endure?
Would they have still clung onto their creative edge?
To conform to society’s parameters, are we going to force our future generations to forgo creative thinking and musings about creating mystical playgrounds to occupy their minds, whilst trying to swim above the loud crashing waves of ever increasing educational needs and pharmaceuticals?
L. Alan Sroufe a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development wrote in The New York Times. (January 28, 2012)
THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing.
Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.
But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?
In 30 years, there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.
As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.
Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behaviour problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.
Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.
What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. Indeed, there are a number of incontrovertible facts that seem at first glance to support medication. It is because of this partial foundation in reality that the problem with the current approach to treating children has been so difficult to see.
Back in the 1960s I, like most psychologists, believed that children with difficulty concentrating were suffering from a brain problem of genetic or otherwise inborn origin.
Just as Type I diabetics need insulin to correct problems with their inborn biochemistry, these children were believed to require attention-deficit drugs to correct theirs.
It turns out, however, that there is little to no evidence to support this theory.
In 1973, I reviewed the literature on drug treatment of children for The New England Journal of Medicine. Dozens of well-controlled studies showed that these drugs immediately improved children’s performance on repetitive tasks requiring concentration and diligence. I had conducted one of these studies myself.
Teachers and parents also reported improved behaviour in almost every short-term study. This spurred an increase in drug treatment and led many to conclude that the “brain deficit” hypothesis had been confirmed.
But questions continued to be raised, especially concerning the drugs’ mechanism of action and the durability of effects.
Ritalin and Adderall, a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, are stimulants. So why do they appear to calm children down?
Some experts argued that because the brains of children with attention problems were different, the drugs had a mysterious paradoxical effect on them.
However, there really was no paradox.
Versions of these drugs had been given to World War II radar operators to help them stay awake and focus on boring, repetitive tasks.
And when we reviewed the literature on attention-deficit drugs again in 1990 we found that all children, whether they had attention problems or not, responded to stimulant drugs the same way.
Moreover, while the drugs helped children settle down in class, they actually increased activity in the playground. Stimulants generally have the same effects for all children and adults.
They enhance the ability to concentrate, especially on tasks that are not inherently interesting or when one is fatigued or bored, but they don’t improve broader learning abilities.
And just as in the many dieters who have used and abandoned similar drugs to lose weight, the effects of stimulants on children with attention problems fade after prolonged use.
Some experts have argued that children with A.D.D. wouldn’t develop such tolerance because their brains were somehow different. But in fact, the loss of appetite and sleeplessness in children first prescribed attention-deficit drugs do fade, and, as we now know, so do the effects on behaviour.
They apparently develop a tolerance to the drug, and thus its efficacy disappears. Many parents who take their children off the drugs find that behaviour worsens, which most likely confirms their belief that the drugs work.
But the behaviour worsens because the children’s bodies have become adapted to the drug.
Adults may have similar reactions if they suddenly cut back on coffee, or stop smoking.
TO date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behaviour problems, the very things we would most want to improve.
Until recently, most studies of these drugs had not been properly randomized, and some of them had other methodological flaws.
But in 2009, findings were published from a well-controlled study that had been going on for more than a decade, and the results were very clear.
The study randomly assigned almost 600 children with attention problems to four treatment conditions.
Some received medication alone, some cognitive-behaviour therapy alone, some medication plus therapy, and some were in a community-care control group that received no systematic treatment.
At first, this study suggested that medication, or medication plus therapy, produced the best results. However, after three years, these effects had faded, and by eight years, there was no evidence that medication produced any academic or behavioural benefits.
Indeed, all of the treatment successes faded over time, although the study is continuing. Clearly, these children need a broader base of support than was offered in this medication study, support that begins earlier and lasts longer.
What we found was that the environment of the child predicted development of A.D.D. problems. In stark contrast, measures of neurological anomalies at birth, I.Q. and infant temperament — including infant activity level — did not predict A.D.D.
Putting children on drugs does nothing to change the conditions that derail their development in the first place. Yet those conditions are receiving scant attention. Policy makers are so convinced that children with attention deficits have an organic disease that they have all but called off the search for a comprehensive understanding of the condition.
The National Institute of Mental Health finances research aimed largely at physiological and brain components of A.D.D. While there is some research on other treatment approaches, very little is studied regarding the role of experience.
Scientists, aware of this orientation, tend to submit only grants aimed at elucidating the biochemistry.
Thus, only one question is asked: are there aspects of brain functioning associated with childhood attention problems? The answer is always yes. Overlooked is the very real possibility that both the brain anomalies and the A.D.D. result from experience.
Our present course poses numerous risks. First, there will never be a single solution for all children with learning and behaviour problems. While some smaller number may benefit from short-term drug treatment, large-scale, long-term treatment for millions of children is not the answer.
Second, the large-scale medication of children feeds into a societal view that all of life’s problems can be solved with a pill and gives millions of children the impression that there is something inherently defective in them.
Finally, the illusion that children’s behaviour problems can be cured with drugs prevents us as a society from seeking the more complex solutions that will be necessary.
Drugs get everyone — politicians, scientists, teachers and parents — off the hook. Everyone except the children, that is.
If drugs, which studies show work for four to eight weeks, are not the answer, what is?
Many of these children have anxiety or depression; others are showing family stresses.
We need to treat them as individuals.
As for shortages, they will continue to wax and wane. Because these drugs are habit forming, Congress decides how much can be produced.
The number approved doesn’t keep pace with the tidal wave of prescriptions.
By the end of this year, there will in all likelihood be another shortage, as we continue to rely on drugs that are not doing what so many well-meaning parents, therapists and teachers believe they are doing.
(The full piece can be read here )
It’s a rather illuminating piece highlighting the mass approval and reach of pharmaceuticals into the young lives of our future generations.
Who really benefits, the children or the pharmaceuticals industry?
What impact could it have?
A piece from Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American.
"Just because a diagnosis [of ADHD] can be made does not take away from the great traits we love about Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend, Hobbes. In fact, we actually love Calvin BECAUSE of his ADHD traits. Calvin’s imagination, creativity, energy, lack of attention, and view of the world are the gifts that Mr. Watterson gave to this character." -- The Dragonfly Forest
In his 2004 book "Creativity is Forever", Gary Davis reviewed the creativity literature from 1961 to 2003 and identified 22 reoccurring personality traits of creative people.
This included 16 "positive" traits (e.g., independent, risk-taking, high energy, curiosity, humor, artistic, emotional) and 6 "negative" traits (e.g., impulsive, hyperactive, argumentative).
In her own review of the creativity literature, Bonnie Cramond found that many of these same traits overlap to a substantial degree with behavioral descriptions of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)-- including higher levels of spontaneous idea generation, mind wandering, daydreaming, sensation seeking, energy, and impulsivity.
Research since then has supported the notion that people with ADHD characteristics are more likely to reach higher levels of creative thought and achievement than people without these characteristics, research by Darya Zabelina and colleagues have found that real-life creative achievement is associated with the ability to broaden attention and have a “leaky” mental filter-- something in which people with ADHD excel.
Recent work in cognitive neuroscience also suggests a connection between ADHD and creativity.
Both creative thinkers and people with ADHD show difficulty suppressing brain activity coming from the "Imagination Network."
Of course, whether this is a positive thing or a negative thing depends on the context.
The ability to control your attention is most certainly a valuable asset; difficulty inhibiting your inner mind can get in the way of paying attention to a boring classroom lecture or concentrating on a challenging problem.
But the ability to keep your inner stream of fantasies, imagination, and daydreams on call can be immensely conducive to creativity.
By automatically treating ADHD characteristics as a disability-- as we so often do in an educational context-- we are unnecessarily letting too many competent and creative kids fall through the cracks.
Nine percent of children aged 5-17 years old are labelled ADHD on average per year, and placed in special education programs.
However, new data from The National Center for Learning Disabilities shows that only 1% of students who receive IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Act) services are in gifted and talented programs, and only 2% are enrolled in an AP course.
The report concludes that "students with learning and attention issues are shut out of gifted and AP programs, held back in grade level and suspended from school at higher rates than other students."
Why does this matter?
Consider a new study conducted by C. Matthew Fugate and colleagues.
They selected a population of students with ADHD characteristics who were part of a summer residential camp for gifted, creative, and talented students.
The large majority of the students were selected for the program because they either scored in the 90th percentile or above on a standardized test, or had a GPA of 3.5 or greater in specific areas (e.g., mathematics, chemistry).
The researchers then compared this ADHD group of students with a non-ADHD group of students who were participating in the same gifted program.
They gave all the students tests of fluid reasoning, working memory, and creative cognition. Fluid reasoning involves the ability to infer relations and spot novel and complex patterns that draw on minimal prior knowledge and expertise.
Working memory involves the ability to control attention and hold multiple streams of information in mind at once. They measured creative cognition by having the students come up with novel drawings that included one of the following elements: an oval shape, incomplete figures, and two straight lines.
The researchers found that students with ADHD characteristics (especially those who scored high in "inattention") had lower working memory scores than the non-ADHD students, even though they did not differ in their fluid reasoning ability.
This is consistent with past research showing that people with ADHD tend to score lower on tests of working memory but these findings also suggest that people with ADHD can still be quite smart despite their reduced ability to hold multiple pieces of information in memory.
Also, despite their reduced working memory, 53% of the academically advanced students with ADHD characteristics scored at or above the 70th percentile on the creativity index. In fact, for both the ADHD and the non-ADHD group of students, the poorer the working memory, the higher the creativity!
This obviously has some important educational implications. To be sure, ADHD can make it difficult for students to pay attention in class and organize their lives.
The importance of learning key attentional control skills should not be undervalued.
But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. As the researchers note, "in the school setting, the challenge becomes how to create an environment in which creativity is emphasized as a pathway to learning as well as an outcome of learning."
One issue involves the identification of "twice exceptional" students and their appropriate educational programming. Assessments of creativity are notably absent from most gifted and talented programs in this country.
Instead of automatically putting children with ADHD characteristics in special education, a broader assessment should be conducted.
For one, IQ tests could be administered that focus less on working memory and memorization, and allows for a fairer assessment of fluid reasoning and non-sequential thought among this population of students.
A broader assessment could also allow students with ADHD characteristics to display their creative strengths, including divergent thinking, imagination, and hyperfocus (when interested).
People with ADHD often are able to focus better than others when they are deeply engaged in an activity that is personally meaningful to them.
Recent research suggests that the brain network that people with ADHD have difficulty suppressing (the "Imagination Network") is the same brain network that is conducive to flow and engagement among musicians, including jazz musicians and rappers!
In terms of programming, problem-based learning (PBL) approaches may enable ADHD students to engage more with the material, and become active learners, rather than passive observers. Additionally, learning can be assessed through project-based learning (PBL), in which students demonstrate their knowledge of the course material through the creation of different products (e.g., cartoons, role-playing, blogs, videos, newspaper articles), and the constant revision of these products.
Of course, these same possibilities should extent to all students in the classroom, academically advanced or not. Because we never really know whether an ADHD characteristic is a learning impediment or a creative gift.
Consider the case of John, who in 1949 attended Eton College and dreamed of becoming a scientist. However, last in his class, he received the following comment on his report card:
"His work has been far from satisfactory... he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way... I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can't learn simple Biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time on his part, and of those who have to teach him."
This was Sir John B. Gurdon, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his revolutionary research on stem cells.
Like so many other highly creative, competent individuals, he might have been referred for testing and given the label "attention deficit hyperactive disorder".
It's time to stop letting this happen.
© 2014 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved
A lengthy read but with reflection, would you or I as we share a passion for reading and writing, could we have been labelled ADHD due to a perceived wandering attention span by an unaware society, would we have succumbed to the same tag many of a similar ilk do these days?
Makes one think?
I hope the voice of reason and the voices of many prominent figures in science echo the sentiments of the few, to the many — as the two mentioned above.
Maybe there is hope for creativity in an ever-expanding medicated society.