I look to the young girl with her head bent over word problems that will never make sense to her. She feigns interests in them for a minute before she looks up.
“I can’t do this.”
“Keep trying,” I tell her.
She picks up her pencil and tries to solve the problem once more, but she gets the answer wrong anyhow. She shakes her head. I look away in shame because in that moment I, too, am taking part in stripping the artist from this girl. I was being payed to bend her mind into something that defied everything it was inclined to be.
Years earlier, at the urging of her teacher, she was tested for ADD. School work had failed to interest her, and so had her classes. She had wanted to paint, to dance, and to live as we often fail to do. She had friended the artist inside her and was at one with life. I sensed it. Her body held all the signs of a gifted artist, and the lack of interest that she held in school had only been a confirmation of that. But like many children, her talent fell to the fatal pen of a misguided diagnosis. Since then, I have watched her transform into the child that this diagnosis intends to make: a child that uniformly aligns with the rest. A child whose mind is strictly governed to follow a narrow order of thoughts. A child that does not question, and hence, one that does not produce.
The fault in the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is inherent in the name itself. It suggests that the person diagnosed lacks an ability to focus properly in all instances. However, the individual diagnosed is only observed within the conventional settings of where we generally believe individuals should be concentrating. These settings include classrooms, offices, and other similar academic and rigid settings. We do not observe the individual who supposedly lacks the ability to concentrate in the settings he or she wishes to be in before the diagnosis is made. For instance, the girl referred to earlier used to hardly concentrate on a homework assignment for longer than a few minutes, but when painting or drawing, she would be entirely absorbed in the artwork before her for hours at a time.
Furthermore, if we look to what are considered the common symptoms of ADD/ADHD, we see “careless mistakes in schoolwork,” lack of attentiveness to details, inability to follow through with school work and instructions, and an aversion of “tasks that require focused mental effort, such as homework.” But much of what is observed here has to with the individual’s performance in an academic setting. None of the less traditional settings or tasks are considered before deeming the individual lacking in concentration.
Thus, without testing the individual in alternative settings that are more comfortable to the artist, the diagnosis bares a high likelihood of needlessly subjecting artists to treatments that debilitates rather than aids their particular talents. And in the case where such diagnosis is made, the individual’s trajectory is largely monitored within the academic and professional fields. I have witnessed the process of diagnosis among members of my family and friends, and it hardly attempts to observe the individual’s ability to perform in non-academic tasks. Their parents then monitor their improvement by focusing on his or her rising academic performance and ability to concentrate on long tests and mundane tasks such as research and assignments.
And the process of diagnosis, with its large focus on academic improvement, has incidentally subdued the wandering minds of artists in favor of one that is better suited for the carrying out of assignments and tests. And with a mind that is trained to remain focused and to limit its concentration on particular tasks, the ability of the artist to produce is critically disturbed. To produce art requires a great deal of mental freedom. What law school is to a lawyer, what medical training is to a doctor, wandering and “zoning out” is to an artist. That unseen world that the artist withdraws to is where all magnificent ideas and creations are fostered. And therefore, it is necessary that the mind of an artist be allowed and even encouraged to roam beyond what is placed before it without the overbearing fear of wrongdoing. The natural tendencies of the artist should not be cautioned nor threatened with the possibility of what is, for art’s sake, a detrimental medication.
And yes, it absolutely natural that the artist is easily bored by the rigid laws of academic and professional settings because art is in constant tension with them and with what attempts to confine artists into roles they are ill-suited for.
For this reason, the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, along with the dulling effects of the medication prescribed, pose serious challenges to the artists of our society. The selective vision used in the process of monitoring the individual’s improvement means that certain settings and corporate-like professions are assigned significantly greater importance. The studios of artists or the havens of writers, as in the case of many friends and family who have undergone diagnosis and treatment, are hardly considered in the process, making such settings appear inferior or irrelevant to the well-being of individuals.
The most disturbing aspect of the medication being widely prescribed for those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD is that it presents a disturbing trend of individuals purchasing their conformity. It has normalized the concept of attention as a commodity that can be bought.
In an article published in The New York Times, the alarming rates of those diagnosed and medicated is attributed to the nature of marketing that participating drug companies have used. In various advertisements, they have “stretched the image of classic ADHD to include relatively normal behavior like carelessness and impatience. “
But most importantly, within these statistics are writers, painters, musicians, and other artists whose talents to wander and produce were challenged by a label that restricts the freedom of the mind. Friends of mine, artists whose only faults were that they couldn’t feign concentration in what did not interest them, accepted the diagnosis. Many went on to become serious students and professionals, roles they had stubbornly resisted before.
The process, without intending to, serves perfectly the purposes of capitalism, a system which requires a great deal of individuals with abilities to concentrate for long intervals and to apply themselves fully to complicated and cumbersome tasks.
Additionally, the diagnosis only tests the person’s ability to function within the settings most relevant to corporate professions, and the medication prescribed yields a mind that is most fitting for the role. Originality in thought disrupts the delicate fabric of corporations and the broader system of capitalism, which unquestionably demands uniformity in the workforce. Unsurprisingly, the diagnosis, along with the system it unintentionally serves, have ostracized many original and artistic minds, placing them within carefully monitored arenas until the artist within them departs.