I receive two magazine subscriptions: Popular Mechanics and ESPN, the magazine. I learn a lot of cool stuff from the first, and the second I originally subscribed to only in support of my friend who landed a job as their head of ad sales. He long ago left ESPN, but for whatever reason I’ve not bothered to figure out which credit card is getting billed for it, so it keeps arriving.
And as luck would have it, I finally learned something from the most recent issue (Sept. 7, 2009) of ESPN. (I’m not going to link to the article because ESPN has a policy of making people pay to read some of its content. If you want to pay for it, the article is entitled, “In His Element.”) It’s the story of a kid named Clay Marzo who is a surfing prodigy. He struggles in school. He struggles socially. He pretty much struggles as long as he’s on land. Everyone just assumed he was a typical surfing stoner malcontent until his coach got him evaluated by an autism specialist named Michael Linden who diagnosed him as having Asperger’s, with symptoms of both ADD and OCD.
As a medical professional, Linden is exactly the kind of person in whose hand these labels can effectively be used. He knows they do not necessarily describe “disorders.” In fact, the doctor goes on to assert that it’s probably these very conditions that make him such a mind-blowing surfer. In other words, a “normal” kid would struggle trying to do what Clay does, just as Clay struggles doing things that come more easily to them.
In a sidebar to the story, journalist Alyssa Roenigk writes:
Michael Linden . . . believes 20% of pro athletes have ADD or ADHD – more than four times the rate of all adults. Kids with ADHD are drawn to sports because activity helps them release excess energy, plus the focus required to develop skills can calm their minds. Linden also says kids with ADHD have quick reaction times and tend to move instantly to the next moments. “They rarely dwell on mistakes and losses.” . . . Similarly, an athlete with OCD can practice shooting free throws or throwing a slider over and over without losing interest. And those with Tourette’s . . . may also have the ability to master quick, precise movements, which is why some are drawn to high-risk activities requiring extreme concentration.
As I suggest in my post entitled, "The Only Way To Learn About Each Other", we need to figure out a way to include these children in our educational communities without medicating or segregating them. Rather than trying to force these square pegs into the round holes of our current educational systems we need to find ways to adapt the way we educate to suit these perfectly normal kids, not just for the sake of these kids, but for all of us.
Instead we see school districts across the country cutting athletic, physical education, music, and arts budgets, in favor of yet more of the sitting in desks, facing forward style of education, taking away some of the few areas in which we’ve traditionally done a good job of serving these kids. Couple this with ever-growing class sizes and it’s almost criminal.