Ever daydream as a child? Perhaps you had “sluggish cognitive tempo,” a condition some mental health leaders say affects as many as two million American children. The NYT reports on the campaign to have “SCT” recognized in the medical community as a legitimate and medically treatable disorder. The symptoms include “lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing.” But not everyone is convinced:
“We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as A.D.H.D. has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another,” said Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.” […]“The scientist part of me says we need to pursue knowledge, but we know that people will start saying their kids have it, and doctors will start diagnosing it and prescribing for it long before we know whether it’s real,” Dr. Lee [an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles] said. “A.D.H.D. has become a public health, societal question, and it’s a fair question to ask of S.C.T. We better pump the brakes more diligently.”
It may well be that some children do have this disorder—we don’t take a stand on the technical debate the medical community is having over SCT. But Dr. Frances and Dr. Lee are undoubtedly right. This may be a legitimate disorder and not just the normal expression of restless adolescence it seems to be. Once the medical and pharmaceutical industries start viewing its symptoms as treatable, however, tons of children will be suspected of having it just for being children. A whole cottage industry will grow up, linking Big Pharma to parents and teachers who want to medicalize, isolate, and manage normal and recurrent aspects of being a child. Sometimes children just like to daydream, and sometimes on a warm spring day they just are mentally lethargic.Under the new medicalizing dispensation, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would be the first to be fed pills for letting their mind wander in the classroom. By all means, research into slow cognitive function should continue. But let’s not make the mistake of assuming that childhood is a disorder.