Friday, February 19, 2010

Gender, Brain, & ADD מיגדר, המוח, והפרעות קשב וריכוז

I’m an active participant in the Free Range Kids forums, where in reference to studies on brain and gender, I wrote:

Yes, I’ve read those gender brain studies, and I always say, fine, but why are we so invested in the differences? We know that the differences between any two individuals of the same gender are wider than those between the genders in general. So what do we get out of emphasizing the differences between the genders? What do we gain from it? Who funds this research? Is it advancing humankind?

A poster named Lucy replies:

"The simple answer is it helps us understand ourselves. In an ideal world, it would be used for good, for things like changing classroom environments so boys aren’t expected to behave like girls in the classroom, and as a consequence, drugged to gain that achievement. In our twisted world, such information would most likely be used to develop better drugs to get boys to behave like girls in the classroom."

My reply:
Lucy, I’m sorry you equate sitting quietly and listening, skills that our society expects of audiences at lectures and performances, as well as worship congregants, with behaving “like a girl”. Reminding you that from the beginning of compulsory education until the 1960s, both genders were expected to behave thusly in school; this in an age when gender roles were rigid.

Today, parents want to have their cake and eat it too: They like our post-feminist world where women can be doctors and men can be nurses, but when they don’t bother to set the same behavior standards for their sons as for their daughters, they cry “ADD!” at the resulting behavior. Can’t have it both ways…

Another thing I’ve been wondering about is the incidence (or existence) of ADD among populations that demand compliant behavior of both genders, such as the ultra-Orthodox, or the Amish. Does anyone know the incidence of attention deficit in these populations? My guess is that it’s very low if it exists at all. Any information is welcome.

Adding to this post:
I'm also an avid follower of the Hax forum, where a commentor called jrzWrld wrote:

"When you have ADD -- especially when you've grown to adulthood before it's diagnosed (as I did) -- there are kind of like holes in your life skills. You don't learn the way other people do, so some common, basic skills are never learned properly.

Long before I was diagnosed, I had a boyfriend who picked up on the fact that I didn't learn things like other people did or focus like they did, and that was part of why I was such a bad housekeeper. When we were setting out to clean the apartment one day, he broke the plan down for me into tiny steps that made it seem more manageable and far less overwhelming.
He didn't know I had ADD, but he had realized that I tended to view household tasks as monolithic monstrosities rather than a series of much smaller jobs strung together. Even years later I am amazed at his sensitivity."

To which I replied:

While your boyfriend sounds quite sweet, I'm suspicious of ADD having become the go-to explanation for what used to be called simply "disorganized" or "unable to run a household". Seems to me that if you take the time to demonstrate cleaning the toilet to a (reasonably intelligent) child, let him try it, and praise his efforts, it should stick in there and be retrievable years later when that skill is needed. And yes, I used the male pronoun deliberately, Moms of Sons!

In that vein, a quote from Haxer Trout-on-line:

“The goal of raising kids is to end up with adults who can function successfully (outside the penal system or a fool farm) after you're gone; who don't need someone (defense attorney? consulting psychiatrist at sentencing hearing?) to explain to the world that they're good people, just high-energy (or however you favor selling people on the idea that a piece of ca-ca is actually a chocolate bon-bon).”


  1. according to Dr. Iris Manor, senior psychiatrist for children and teenagers and head of the adhd dept of Geha Hospital in Israel, 7-10% of the global population has adhd, whether you are rich, poor, amish or otherwise. as far as gender is concerned, she, in a recent lecture, stated that there is a close to equal number of girls with adhd as boys, which is new to me as well. often, perhaps because girls feel the gender constraints, they work harder at controlling their behaviors, and perhaps more girls have add without the H (hyperactivity).

  2. We stand by the differences because they are real. It is not a matter of difference in value or importance as once thought but it is one of physiology.
    For example, before doctors understood that women don't always feel intense chest pain when having a heart attack, many were discharged from ER because they didn't have "classic" (meaning, male) heart attack symptoms. I first read about this in the NY Times a few years ago and you can read about it here:

    I know someone who is a pediatric neurologist in the Petah Tikva-Bnai Brak area and I understand that he sees a lot of ADD in boys there. In most cases, the root is physiological not behavioral. Obviously, some children can be educated to overcome their physiology (like holding in urine) but not all. Until recently, there were acceptable, even honorable outlets for people who weren't good book learners and there still should be. There is still a need for skilled carpenters and myriad of other practical, hands-on professionals but fewer and fewer schools that provide an opportunity for children to test and learn non-verbal skills.

  3. Thanks, Shoshana, and anonymous (why anonymous? I wish commentors would use the Comment As feature. You don't have to fill in the URL field; name is enough). Statistically, even though a certain % of the planet's population has a condition (blue eyes, say), it still might not show up at all in a particular population (native Africans, lets say). So while it might be that 5% of the world pop. has ADD, 0% of ultra-Orthodox or Amish might exhibit it.

  4. It has taken several million years to breed in collateral characteristics to gender differences. This, of course, avoids the effects of mixed gender among individuals. What is common to both genders is the desire to know, so what if scholars/researchers seek to learn about the collateral etc?

  5. YYbYZhL, my problem is the obsession with finding the differences. My problem is also the pink-and-blue backlash that we feminists worked to erase, and the corporations exploiting it, and the parents falling for it hook, line, and sinker. And why not? Disney et al. realize they can make lots more buck$$$ milking gender stereotypes for all they're worth than it can by eroding them...

  6. אני בהחלט בעד הרעיון לחפש מה משותף ולא מה שונה או מפריד. יחד עם זאת הייתי שמחה אם יותר אנשים היו מאמצים את הגישה לפיה כל אחד הוא אדם בפני עצמו, ואין דבר כזה "גברי" או "נשי". בלי כל קשר לכל זה אין קשר בין מנת משכל להפרעות קשב וריכוז. אדם יכול להיות בעל מנת משכל גבוהה מאוד, אבל בעל הפרעות קשב וריכוז קשות מאוד. ואז ההתמודדות היא לדעת כיצד להצליח ללמוד. כנ"ל לגבי בעיות התארגנות וכל הדברים הנ"ל. לכן לחבר בין בעיית התארגנות לרמת משכל זה פשוט לא נכון. מה שחשוב בכל אחד מהדברים הללו הוא בפשטות ללמוד את השיטות שטובות לאותו אדם להתמודד עם בעיותיו ולנצל את יכולותיו.

  7. נועה תודה שכתכת. לא התכוונתי שבעיות קו"ר קשורות למנת משכל. רמזתי שמבין הורים שטורחים ללמד את ילדיהם כשרי כלכלת בית יסודיים, לרוב אינם טורחים ללמד אותם לבנים, אלא רק לבנות, ואז כאשר הבנים אינם מבצעים מטלות-בית כלשהן, מתרצים שככה זה בנים.