Yesterday, The Globe and Mail published, For A Child, It’s All About Control. The premise of the study, conducted by researchers in New Zealand followed 1,000 children for more than thirty years. The findings, published in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences stated that “those children who demonstrated strong self control skills as early as age three were less likely to abuse drugs, and develop health problems, experience financial difficulties or be convicted of a crime.” The ability to control one’s own behaviour is an indication, therefore, of future success. I guess that makes most of us the doomed portion of the population.
I’m not just writing this because I felt like I was reading a paper in 1900, not 2011. I’m writing because I have an autistic child, where the controversy in his way of being is primarily described as behavioural — difficulties with attention, focus and impulse control. Children diagnosed with ADHD, ADD share similar impulse control “issues.”
It’s an odd time we live in. We diagnose every possible human way of being under the sun, while also being able to appreciate, paradoxcally, the creative contributions and potential of people with, as we say, “different kinds of minds.” Despite all our best efforts to use medications to control behavioural issues, the individuals we medicate are often incredibly able, talented, and have been, in fact, insanely successful. An official ADHD website proudly lists successful people with the disorder, the list including Albert Einstein. And this list. In keeping with funny little lists, here’s one that cites some successful autistic people. And another one.
Most of us have heard and read about Donald Treffert’s work in giftedness and autism, although not every autistic person possesses exeptional gifts (even though everyone is exceptional). The real issue seems not to be that the ability to exercise self-control makes us more successful, but in how we learn to work within the frameworks we’ve got. The most heralded people of our culture are the ones who are able to think out of the box; in other words, differently.
Another issue is one of pedagogy. The study insinuates, for me anyway, that all children should be alike: focussed, sitting at their desks and compliant with their teacher. A child like Adam is a sure candidate then, to be banned from schools that use these criteria as a series of prerequisites. Sure, we all have to learn the rules, but the rules also have to bend for the accommodation of individuals so that they can learn. One example is having children move throughout their day in order to think. As physical programming gets slashed and Canadians, in a recent CBC report, are getting fatter, it might be no wonder how children have difficulty concentrating. There are many different ways to learn. Most autistic chidlren need sensory stimulation throughout their day, similarly, to be able to focus.
“Self-control is a vital skill for scanning the horizon to be prepared for what might happen to you, for envisaging your own future possibilities, for planning ahead to get where you want to go, for controlling your temper when life frustrates you,” says Terrie Moffitt from Duke University, quoted in the article. Really? Can we truly plan ahead? I mean, a few years under my belt and I’ve been stimied over and over at the universal joke: that life never ends up the way we plan. Nevertheless, we’re all supposed to have a good one. While it’s not the entire point of my post here, some of the reasons cited as necessary for being in control of oneself in the study seem a little silly.
How many of us have had behavioural issues in our lifetime, or a real diagnosis effecting our ability to control our impulses? Have the researchers considered the contributions made to our society by individuals who have severe difficulties with it? How many of us might have to use many accommodations throughout our day in order to be “successful” — the very word raising many other questions on what success really means?
“You’re training people to think about long-term consequences of their behaviour,” Professor Piquero was quoted.