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Medicalizing Humanity
Scientists Label Childhood a Disorder

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.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Something had to replace ADHD, the most recent disorder found to be entirely imaginary.

  • Honk

    Get your kids out of public schools now.

    • Andrew Allison

      You think that will save them from pseudo-medicine? It’s time to start calling a spade a spade and the “disrder-du-jour” charlatans exactly what they are.

      • Corlyss

        Well, I think kids would fare better in a Catholic school simply because they haven’t succumbed to the social insanity to the same degree that public schools have. One doesn’t have to be Catholic to attend. I almost got sent there myself because my mother was an unorthodox non-practicing Catholic. It’s kind of like why Bruce Bawer, author and unrepentant critic of EU’s Muslimization, decided to leave Netherlands for Norway: the latter hadn’t succumbed to the open immigration madness and the draconian social experimentation regarding Muslims that the EU had.

        • Andrew Allison

          Always a pleasure. You may be right that abandoning the duty to actually teach is social insanity. I prefer to think of it as dereliction of duty. The immigration is debatable. Our country has had a very open immigration policy. The difference, I submit is that here there was, at least until recently, a recognition that integration was necessary in order to succeed.

          • Corlyss

            “a recognition that integration was necessary in order to succeed.”

            In America the problems have been building since the Kennedy reform of 1966. There was no consideration given to the unintended consequences of the policies or to what happens when you have a sudden influx of needy people who don’t bring anything to the table except their eager participation in the growth of the welfare state and a resulting displacement of the native-born who were most likely the bedrock of the welfare funding. I think the nature of the immigrants was very much on the minds of Dems like Kennedy because they just experienced the massive defection of the South from the party and felt a very pressing need to replace it with guaranteed Dem voters, which is exactly what the immigrant population has always been because of their nesting in big cities which are inevitably controlled by Dems. Admittedly too cities where the jobs were, but as immigrant ranks grew in the early 20th century, cities were also where the robust welfare programs were most likely to exist. Additionally, when the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts were passed in the mid-60s, just prior to Kennedy’s reforms, the black southern population was about 50% Republican because they had looooooooooooooong memories about who there were tormentors were. The Dems had no assurances about how long it would take to shift those numbers to replace the loss of their white voters. Of course, in the last 50 year, the memory of blacks’ Republican affiliation has been almost totally lost due to relentless propagandizing by Dems so that now the ignernt gits staunchly believe almost universally that Dems have always been their best political friends and allies.

        • Boritz

          My brother and one of my best friends and others who have gone through this education will never get over the influence of the sisters who staff the schools. They didn’t tell me they wake up in a cold sweat decades later, I just got that impression.

          • Corlyss

            Every choice has its advantages and disadvantages. Ask your brother and his friend 1) how they would stack their education up against their peers and 2) how they would measure their educational benefits against the psychological downsides.

  • Boritz

    When 12 year olds were sorting chunks of coal at the mine they didn’t exhibit these issues. This is an example of post 19th century child rearing principles gone astray.

    • Corlyss

      Well, I’d be all for returning 12 year olds to the mines if only Obama would stop his war on coal.

      I’ve had a jaundiced view of child labor laws ever since I found out that a principal force behind their passage was the unions who never liked the competition. If their rice bowl hadn’t been involved, I am skeptical that they would have been such firm supporters out of pure altruism.

  • Vincent Mohan

    “…sometimes on a warm spring day they just are mentally lethargic.”
    Warm spring days happen at the end of the school year. If you’re not lethargic and daydreaming by then there is something wrong with you!

  • free_agent

    What would be interesting is if it is “a legitimate and medically treatable disorder”. Ambitious upper-middle-class parents want ambitious and upper-middle-class-destined children. If SCT is actually *treatable*, there will be one more weapon in their arsenal to turn their children into over-achievers. Tiger moms everwhere rejoice! I anticipate a great business opportunity.

  • qet

    It really is too bad Foucault is not alive to witness this. This would fit right in with his analyses of modernity.

  • qet

    Also, here is another post that highlights Via Meadia’s mild schizophrenia. Slowness, after all, is relative. In today’s world of hyperachieving entrepreneurialism that Via Meadia frequently champions, any kid who is not spending every spare moment learning C++ and Java, developing new algorithms for blockchains and taking MOOCs is going to be a drag on the new economy and a burden to the value-producers. Via Meadia’s ideal often appears to be the hyperactive teens out in California who would rather spend their summers inside Y Combinator developing apps than ride their bikes and go to summmer camp and advance our society not one whit. Because nothing says progress than another new app for sharing selfies that gets bought by Yahoo for a billion dollars.
    This new model of a well-spent youth also appears to be the baseline against which this new DSM entry-in-waiting will measure cognitive “slowness.” The Y Combinator kids of Via Meadia’s brave new world are parallel processing multiple tasks faster than an MV/8000 (I would expect the CEO of Via Meadia to recall this bit of ancient history but not his line staff). I would have expected Via Meadia to champion this new “disorder” and warn the slow kids that they had better not expect some Blue Model to support them when they grow into unemployable adults.

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