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Seeing red: Critical narrative in ADHD research

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Product Description

By Brenton Prosser

Published: 2006
ISBN: 978-1-876682-92-7
Pages: vi+317
Imprint: Post Pressed

Overview

The lines of debate surrounding ADHD have been well-established for decades. Concerns about the validity of ADHD and its numerous historical precursors have extensive empirical and theoretical support. On the other hand, we have the reality of millions of school-age children (mostly boys between the ages of nine and fourteen) who are diagnosed with ADHD, identify as ADHD, and carry this identity with them into adulthood. We are left with the 'Great ADHD Debate', comprised by two endlessly polarized discourses and social practices. Brenton Prosser's Seeing Red changes this markedly.

Page one of the book begins with a poem, Red The Squirrel, written by one of Prosser's research participants. Like an ADHD child struggling with the rules of a classroom setting, Red is '...naturally full of energy/and not suited to sitting still'. As the poem continues, we see that Red 'couldn't seem to learn anything because the teacher just droned away'. The poem illustrates the embodiment of two contradictory identities-the ADHD-diagnosed medical subject on one hand, and the high energy, under-stimulated kid on the other.

Implied in the presentation of this poem is the complex nature of the ADHD diagnosis and self identity process. It asks us as clinicians and researchers: how valuable is it for us to debate the etiology of ADHD when Red is alive and well in our schools and homes? Red is an embodiment of contradiction , one of the realities of standing out, of being different. As the many wonderful examples of poetry and prose in Seeing Red illustrate, having unconventional behavior 'medicalized' does not encompass the entirety of a person's identity.

The channel through which Prosser argues for this new perspective toward ADHD is the use of 'critical narrative'. Stemming from a perspective rooted in contemporary social theory, and qualitative analysis, this text provides one interesting vignette after another about the experience of ADHD children and their parents. Whether the use of these multiple perspectives accomplishes the task of being 'critical' in the true social theory sense is debatable. At several points, various narratives are presented, but they are not clearly situated in any specific social theory. Perhaps the author did not adequately locate the data within an established theoretical framework, an interpretation suggested by the various social theory references appearing throughout the text (Habermas, Hall, Foucault, McLaren, etc), often without clear connection to each other. On the other hand, there is tremendous freedom in reading these various narratives, and the experiences that they describe. Especially within the context of ADHD, which is a diagnosis under so much clinical and cultural scrutiny, it may be effective to allow the narratives to speak for themselves without having to be presented in a self-consciously theoretical fashion.

Despite the book's shortcomings in situating an analysis within a body of social theory, Prosser's attempt to bring in a variety of subjectivities into the explanation of the ADHD experience is groundbreaking, and may very well advance the qualitative discussion of ADHD. Though the text makes several poignant statements about the nature of ADHD and the subjective experience of it, perhaps most compelling is the discussion of education policy with regard to ADHD. As Prosser argues , the medical approaches to ADHD which seem to address disruptive behavior in primary school appear to be less helpful at the secondary school level (p.235). He goes on to explain that many of the students he interviewed reported that medication was not a fix all, and did not 'guaranteed better behavioral or educational responses'. This assertion, combined with several others with regard to ADHD and education, is extremely important, and arguably, could not really be articulated without the critical narrative perspective adopted throughout this book.

This education discussion culminates especially well with the extended story of James McKenzie, an Australian boy ultimately labeled with ADHD, who experiments with drugs, and has an extremely difficult time in public schools. 'Over the last few years the continual rejection and failure at school had made him bitter and dejected. He tried drugs to escape... but things got messy when you mix pot with ADHD medication. It saw him taking his medication less, and asking more questions about ADHD.' (p.251) This is a wonderful coming of age story in which this resilient boy ultimately questions whether or not 'ADHD was for him'. This story, in which a young boy clearly illustrates agency in adopting the label of ADHD, not only throws into sharp relief the complications with the ADHD diagnosis, but introduces an entirely new discussion with regard to ADHD: the ability of the individual to influence the overall diagnosis and treatment process.

This introduction of agency through the critical narrative approach is pertinent not only to parents, but more specifically to educators, who often see it in their best interests to quell disruptive behavior, regardless of the validity of a diagnosis. It is in the educational interests of children to have a non-distracting, focused environment, but as Seeing Red points out so well, certain children are not going to fit into typical education forums, regardless of the medical approaches used to change their behavior. It is debatable whether the ongoing classroom struggle over discipline and academic performance surrounds a genuine emotional disorder. It may say more about the environments of education, home life, and even television and video games, than about the true emotional health of an individual child.

For those who want to understand ADHD from a strictly clinical perspective, this book may simply be too radical. However, for social scientists and others concerned with the everyday lived experience of ADHD, and the multiple ways that those labelled as ADHD interpret who they are, this book is a must read. This text represents a fresh break from the orthodoxy of social critiques of ADHD currently available.

Submitted by:
Adam Rafalovich PhD
Pacific University
Department of Sociology
2043 College Way
Forest Grove, OR 97116

Table of Contents

Foreword

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2

  • The dissertation
  • The tapestry unfolds...

The Hem (Sections 1-3)

Section 1 - To Find

  • A journey begins...
  • In a camp by a valley...
  • Where Everyman is seen by a stream...
  • Himself reflected...
  • Pondering unknown lands...

Section 2 - Standing there, surrounding scenes echo

  • Secrets of the past...
  • And ballads of the bards...
  • Stories of Swordsmen...
  • And legacies of Lords...
  • All showing the power of tales...
  • To warn him on his way...

Section 3 - Evening closing in, he starts his trek

  • As he goes weaving his own threads...
  • Of a special tale...
  • With its own secrets to uncover...

The Scenes (Sections 4-6)

Section 4 - See his first confident strides slow

  • As he leaves his world's edge...
  • But guided by companions' candles...
  • He continues westward...
  • And inward...
  • Then eastward...
  • Through many scenes
  • And toward the whispering town...

Section 5 - Seeing the distant Cathedral

  • He pauses, lamp in hand, to map his steps...
  • Before continuing onward and inward...
  • To the north...
  • Through many more scenes...
  • And in a new land...
  • And reflects on his adventure...

Section 6 - As his path winds on he tells of old friends

  • William...
  • Daniel...
  • Steven...
  • Renae...
  • Jacob...
  • Michael...
  • Phil...
  • And of his own journey toward the Cathedral...

The Central Panel (Sections 7-8)

Section 7 - And then, drawing his sword

The growing pains of James McKenzie: A narrative in five chapters...

  • He fights for his friends...
  • And with the famed...
  • To fight for the forming...
  • To fight the formidable spells of Wizards...
  • And find the passing of an age...

Section 8 - Reaching the Cathedral he collapses on its steps

  • Where he unravels his tale to other pilgrims...
  • And the townsfolk gather to hear...
  • Inside the Cathedral, he presents to the powerful...
  • And repeats his epic to the players...
  • Then, his journey over, he whispers to his peers...
  • Before bidding them...
  • Adieu! ...

Part 3

  • A journey toward the mythopoetic
  • Appendix 1
  • Appendix 2
  • Bibliography

Reviews

SEEING RED: CRITICAL NARRATIVE IN ADHD RESEARCH

Brenton Prosser

Teneriffe Queensland: Post Pressed, 317 pp, ISBN 1-876682-92-2

By Adam Rafalovich, Department of Sociology, Pacific University, Forest Grove OR, United States

The lines of debate surrounding ADHD have been well-established for decades. Concerns about the validity of ADHD, and its numerous historical precursors, have extensive empirical and theoretical support. On the other hand, we have the reality of millions of school-age children (mostly boys between the ages of nine and fourteen) who are diagnosed with ADHD, identify as ADHD, and carry this identity with them into adulthood. We are left with the 'Great ADHD Debate', comprised by two endlessly polarised discourses and social practices. Eric Prosser's Seeing Red changes this markedly.

Page one of the book begins with a poem, 'Red The Squirrel', written by one of Prosser's research participants. Like an ADHD child struggling with the rules of a classroom setting, Red is '... naturally full of energy/and not suited to sitting still'. As the poem continues, we see that Red 'couldn't seem to learn anything because the teacher just droned away'. The poem illustrates the embodiment of two contradictory identities: the ADHD-diagnosed medical subject on one hand, and the high energy, under-stimulated kid on the other.

Implied in the presentation of this poem is the complex nature of the ADHD diagnosis and self identity process. It asks us, as clinicians and researchers: how valuable is it to debate the etiology of ADHD when Red is alive and well in our schools and homes? Red is an embodiment of contradiction, one of the realities of standing out, of being different. As the many wonderful examples of poetry and prose in Seeing Red illustrate, having unconventional behavior 'medicalised', does not encompass the entirety of a person's identity.

The channel through which Prosser argues for this new perspective toward ADHD is the use of 'critical narrative'. Stemming from a perspective rooted in contemporary social theory and qualitative analysis, this text provides one interesting vignette after another about the experience of ADHD children and their parents. Whether the use of these multiple perspectives accomplishes the task of being 'critical' in the true social theory sense is debatable. At several points, various narratives are presented, but they are not clearly situated in any specific social theory. Perhaps the author did not adequately locate the data within an established theoretical framework, an interpretation suggested by the various social theory references appearing throughout the text (Habermas, Hall, Foucault, McLaren, etc), often without clear connection to each other. On the other hand, there is tremendous freedom in reading these various narratives, and the experiences that they describe. Especially within the context of ADHD, which is a diagnosis under so much clinical and cultural scrutiny, it may be effective to allow the narratives to speak for themselves without having to be presented in a self-consciously theoretical fashion.

Despite the book's shortcomings in situating an analysis within a body of social theory, Prosser's attempt to bring in a variety of subjectivities into the explanation of the ADHD experience is groundbreaking, and may very well advance the qualitative discussion of ADHD. Though the text makes several poignant statements about the nature of ADHD and the subjective experience of it, perhaps most compelling is the discussion of education policy with regard to ADHD. As Prosser argues, the medical approaches to ADHD which seem to address disruptive behavior in primary school appear to be less helpful at the secondary school level (p. 235). He goes on to explain that many of the students he interviewed reported that medication was not a fix all, and did not 'guarantee better behavioral or educational responses'. This assertion, combined with several others with regard to ADHD and education, is extremely important, and arguably, could not really be articulated without the critical narrative perspective adopted throughout this book.

This education discussion culminates especially well with the extended story of James McKenzie, an Australian boy ultimately labelled with ADHD, who experiments with drugs, and has an extremely difficult time in public schools:

Over the last few years the continual rejection and failure at school had made him bitter and dejected. He tried drugs to escape ... but things got messy when you mix pot with ADHD medication. It saw him taking his medication less, and asking more questions about ADHD (p. 251).

This is a wonderful 'coming of age' story in which a resilient boy ultimately questions whether or not 'ADHD was for him'. This story, in which a young boy clearly illustrates agency in adopting the label of ADHD, not only throws into sharp relief the complications with the ADHD diagnosis, but introduces an entirely new discussion: the ability of the individual to influence the overall diagnosis and treatment process.

The introduction of agency through the critical narrative approach is pertinent not only to parents, but more specifically to educators, who often see it in their best interests to quell disruptive behavior, regardless of the validity of a diagnosis. It is in the educational interests of children to have a non-distracting, focused environment, but as Seeing Red points out so well, certain children are not going to fit into typical education forums, regardless of the medical approaches used to change their behaviour. It is debatable whether the ongoing classroom struggle over discipline and academic performance surrounds a genuine emotional disorder. It may say more about the environments of education, home life, and even television and video games, than about the true emotional health of an individual child.

For those who want to understand ADHD from a strictly clinical perspective, this book may simply be too radical. However, for social scientists and others concerned with the everyday lived experience of ADHD, and the multiple ways that those labelled as ADHD interpret who they are, this book is a 'must read'. This text represents a fresh break from the orthodoxy of social critiques of ADHD currently available.

Health Sociology Review 18/3 (October 2009)


 This study represents cutting edge thinking and an innovative strategy for approaching gaps in knowledge in the wider fields of sociology and education. Hopefully this work will inspire other researchers to follow on in addressing the social and cultural problems presented by such a complex and little understood diagnosis as ADHD.

 Dr Katherine Bilton
Institute of Education
Cambridge University

Prosser has the ability through his writing to make meaningful connections between the individual and the universal. Through his rich images, he is able to weave the threads of an aesthetic (at times spiritual) expression together with a compassionate critical language to achieve a rather wonderful whole cloth. The study comes alive as it unfolds.

Professor Noreen Garman
Institute of Studies in International Education
University of Pittsburgh

This book should be required reading for all politicians, policy makers, medical practitioners and parents who unthinkingly reach for the prescription pad to solve a complex problem. We must get inside the reality of ADHD by understanding it, before attempting to 'fix' it.

John Smyth PhD
Roy F and Joann Cole Mitte Endowed Chair in School Improvement
Texas State University


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