Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Book Review: Willie

(Tags at Blogjob were attention deficit disorder,Dexedrinehyperactive childpreschoolers who are not ready to be in school,realistic expectations for young childRitalinWilliam F. Buckley Jr. Also worth preserving, as this post is reclaimed from Blogjob: readers commented that they, too, used to know kids who might have been "hyperactive" but had grown up to do responsible jobs competently.)

A Fair Trade Book
Title: Willie
(Click on the picture to buy it directly from the seller who posted the picture; in theory I get a small commission on that sale too.)
Author: Ann Colin (Herbst)
Date: 1997
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 0-670-86314-9
Length: 243 pages plus 4-page resource directory
Quote: "I'm not thrilled to hear about Willie running out of the classroom. This kind of impulsivity is just the thing that the Ritalin is supposed to control. Is the drug having any effect on him? Clearly, it must be doing something--although what we've seen so far has mostly been negative. The hypertalkativeness and temper tantrums are particularly disturbing."
As regular readers know, I'm a bit of a skeptic about "attention deficit disorder." Why? The disease condition existed (it was called hyperactivity) when I was a child. Out of approximately a thousand children at my school, none was thought to have it. Now it seems to be an epidemic--"Anywhere from 3 to 9 percent of all school-age children are affected."
I remember one boy who was generally described as "crazy," although he wasn't receiving treatment for it, and who was impulsive enough that when he shoved another kid's arm through an upper-floor window the other kid reported being told, "You know what Johnny's like; you should've known better than to stand between Johnny and a window." But nobody suggested that Johnny needed medical intervention, or shouldn't be allowed to come to school. More "sensible" children just "watched out" for Johnny. And Johnny made it through high school, even through college, and became...a minister. The Reverend Doctor Johnny Doe, known for his lively sermons and youth ministry. I wouldn't go to him for spiritual counselling but The Nephews always said his church threw great children's parties.
You needed that little vignette of Johnny in your mind so you could understand the cognitive dissonance I feel about Willie. As a reader I wanted answers to questions: What, if anything, is the matter with all these children who have "A.D.D."? Do they really need medication? Does medication help them? Does it harm them? If they grew up on farms, or at least in houses big enough that each one had a room of his or her own, with at least one parent or trusted parent-figure in the house all the time, how many of them would be "sicker" or needier than Johnny used to be...and how many would be calmer and more sensible?
Willie gave me some answers. Yes, he lives in a big city, in an apartment. Yes, his mother starts working outside the home before he's two years old: "Twice a week, he attends a two-hour play group with six other children who are all nearly eighteen months old...the emphasis is on socialization, which Willie obviously needs," because "He runs all around the room...knocking toys off the shelves and interrupting whatever little puzzles or games the other children there are quietly playing." He "whirls around faster and faster until he collapses in a heap." At home he's not unbearable: "I love spending time just with him on our own...sing songs, bake cookies..." "With me and [younger brother] Peter, Willie [thirty months old] is usually a true joy to be around" and "can be unusually considerate."
However, in public, he's "outgoing." "[H]e's got a terrible habit of following interesting looking strangers...trying to get their attention," and he fights over territory with other two-year-olds. And, at three, when the teacher tries to get each child in "play group" to make an organized ("linear") three-minute speech, "Willie...got up and said, 'On the way to school I saw dog poop...I saw dog poop...' He started to laugh...I finally told him to sit down...I just got back from a teachers' conference where they discussed something called 'sequencing.' I think this is what Willie has so much trouble with. His sentences don't flow logically from each other," the teacher fusses.
When I was a kindergarten teacher aide, nobody worried a great deal if a five-year-old child's sentences didn't flow logically from each other. We recognized that that child didn't have a special, precocious talent for reading and writing--like the one about which teachers worried my parents--but we understood that the child's verbal brain development was likely to even out in another year or two. Now, basically, a "disease label" is being slapped on Willie because he's not a child prodigy? Talk about the "revenge of the nerds"!
But, at four, Willie really causes a meltdown...he throws tantrums! In the twentieth century, if children started to form the tantrum habit, spankings and time out usually cured them. Now, it seems, the latest thing is to torture them with psychoactive drugs. Surely the right pill will allow four-year-olds to turn into short 24-year-olds at school, young parents seem to think.
Long story short: Willie is medicated. It doesn't help. (Why should it help--he wasn't sick.) Willie's parents spend more time with him and minimize the amount of time he spends in abusive schools. Willie grows older. By the time he's old enough to enter primary school, he's old enough to act like a normal healthy primary school child.
Some people who've grown up without medication report that anti-hyperactivity drugs seem to work for them--Christopher Buckley says, in Losing Mum and Pupthat Bill Buckley seemed to like Ritalin in his old age. However, the pills are pricey and they certainly do make some children sick. If there's no living with a child at home, I wouldn't advise young parents to rule out the medical approach. If the child is "a joy to be around" at home but less of a joy to have in the classroom, however, I'd recommend that parents consider what does work for Willie, and try that approach. Shopping around for the right school, or even homeschooling, is safer than medicating a healthy child.
Ann Colin is alive and Twittering (under the name of Ann Herbst), so Willie is a Fair Trade Book. To buy it here, send $5 per copy plus $5 per package plus $1 per online payment to either address at the very bottom of the screen. Out of this total of $10 I'll send Colin-Herbst or a charity of her choice $1. To buy two copies, send me a total of $15 and I'll send Colin-Herbst or her charity $2.