Yesterday’s NYTmes featured an article by Alan Schwarz on an emerging new form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) called “sluggish cognitive tempo” (SCT) which is “…characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing.” Schwarz writes:
Experts pushing for more research into sluggish cognitive tempo say it is gaining momentum toward recognition as a legitimate disorder — and, as such, a candidate for pharmacological treatment. Some of the condition’s researchers have helped Eli Lilly investigate how its flagship A.D.H.D. drug might treat it.
It isn’t hard to imagine that Big Pharma and Big Data might be joined at the hip: Big Data tests kids based on their “academic growth” as compared to students in the same age cohort and Big Pharma comes up with a “flagship drug” to treat students whose growth fails to match that of their peers.
Fortunately, at this juncture, the existence of SCT is still in dispute. The article quotes some academics and medical practitioners who are cautious about defining SCT as a medical condition:
“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.”
A public health experiment whose patients are too often identified because of our obsession with test scores. Later another skeptical academic was quoted:
Steve S. Lee, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, said in an interview that he was conflicted over the journal’s emphasis on sluggish cognitive tempo. He expressed concern that A.D.H.D. had already grown to encompass too many children with common youthful behavior, or whose problems are derived not from a neurological disorder but from inadequate sleep, a different learning disability or other sources.
The article eventually links the pharmaceutical industry with the medical practitioners who are advocating the identification of SCT as a medical condition, reporting that Eli Lilly underwrote the study that determined that Strattera, their leading ADHD drug, benefited children with this diagnosis. Later in the article, it noted that the physician who identified SCT as a medical condition “…received $118,000 from 2009 to 2012 for consulting and speaking engagements” underwritten by Eli Lilly. The same physician declined to comment on “…his financial interests in the condition’s acceptance.“
Having recently watched The Dallas Buyers Club and had too many instances of cancer diagnoses among family members and friends, I can appreciate where someone suffering from a disease might be annoyed that a drug that might help them is unavailable… But my experience tells me that in too many cases parents, doctors, and teachers often look for a quick and simple way to solve a complicated problem… and Big Pharma is only too happy to provide what the “patient” needs. Before we go any further with this “public health experiment” we might want to take a look at what is leading to the diagnosis of this disorder: our unrealistic expectation that all children will develop at the same rate intellectually and that all children must conform to an education system that defines “daydreaming” as a condition requiring medication.
One of Diane Ravitch’s posts today discusses how Pearson is encouraging the sales of products that will help schools “swim in the digital ocean” and includes an excerpt from blogger Peter Greene who writs cynically about the overselling of technology, insinuating that it is unnecessary in today’s classroom. Every time I read commentaries that conflate the profiteering going on in technology and testing companies like Pearson, I cringe a little bit because I fear the source of the reaction is based on a fear that technology will displace jobs. Education, like health care, will always require face-to-face conferencing and personal care…. but like health care technology CAN play a role in streamlining the delivery of the service and diminishing the need for time spent recording data and increasing the time analyzing data. What’s maddening in schools is the sense that the introduction of technology is based on a desire for technology companies and software salespersons to make a profit and not on a desire to help teachers do their jobs more effectively. These misgivings led me to go back into my archives and submit the following comment:
Public schools can use technology to good effect without the middleman if they adopted some kind of open source framework. I think we need to find a way to embrace those aspects of technological advancement that will help achieve equity and effectiveness. See this post from a few months ago for examples:http://waynegersen.com/2013/11/30/technology-can-make-a-difference/