Wyrd Kids and Planetary Survival
The Challenge of Attention-Different Boys
by George Lynn
In my counseling practice, I work with children with neurological differences, so-called Attention Deficit, Tourette Syndrome, and Obsessive Compulsive. I call these kids "Attention Different" because they essentially march to a different drummer than the rest of us. Not having the capability to screen out stimuli from their environment or impulse from within, they live very open to their experience. Taking a cue from the poet William Blake, they are able to "see the universe in a grain of sand" though, being children, they are often unable to understand what they see and to express it.
Living open to experience they inhabit the Fool or Shaman archetypes. When mad they are very mad. When glad, they are joyous! They relate magically to nature and will often show an affinity for animal communication.
On the down side, they can be extremely short tempered, oppositional, compulsive, and have a tendency to take dangerous risks. Some kids with Tourette challenges will also show sexually inappropriate behavior, language, or other strange manifestations. These things will occur even if the child receives superb, positive, firm parenting. This is about neurology, not upbringing. Every child is different..
This is a men's issue as sure as breast cancer is a woman's issues. Boys outnumber girls six to one in the Attention Different population. This ratio is especially significant for "Attention Deficit" and Tourette children. Boys also have a tendency to be more impulsive and hyperactive when compared to girls with these problems. This is a set up for shaming in the modern classroom which is most often taught by women who have very little tolerance for this kind of distinctly male, and very disruptive behavior.
There is no doubt that Attention Different kids are born this way and there are many more of them around today than there were when I was growing up in the Baby Boomer years. When I reflect on the increase in their numbers I cannot escape the conclusion that their presence is related to changes we have made in our environment that has thrown things out of kilter; environmental pollution that has affected the gene pool.
My own son, a bright 10 and a half year old, has Tourette Syndrome which is marked by very disinhibited behavior, obsessive compulsive tendencies, and verbal tics. His condition came about partly as a result of my exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam twenty four years ago. Some good research out of Stanford is suggesting that enviormental insult can potentiate emergence of abnormal neurological conditions. This is a system problem for all of us. Alive in an overpopulated and polluted world in the last fifty years, we are all susceptible to this kind of biochemical insult.
Michael Meade talks about the term "Wyrd" (weird) in Men and The Water of Life and explains that many fairy tales and myths inform us that in times of crisis those who have weird qualities will emerge to help a people through the change. Meade says that the Celts also give the word wyrd the meaning "destiny." It makes sense that at this time in our evolution when all the conventional answers seem to be failing that we would see the emergence of our wyrd in these strange kids with their strange abilities and excesses of character. Because just as Attention Different kids have "crazy artistic" or "little anarchist" temperament challenges, they also possess rare gifts in their weirdness that we need to survive as a people as we go into the twenty-first century.
Most of these children are able to apply radically different perspectives to problems to come out with radically different solutions; they are very creative. Most have intense connection with the ecology, and a deep sense of the spiritual. Most contain great drive to achieve personal goals. Most have an extremely strong sense of right and wrong which, uneducated, borders on moral rigidity. Most have a Zorba like capability for emotional enjoyment.. Many have high IQ's and intuitive understanding of computers.
Could it be that the emergence of so many Attention Different kids in the last decade or so is part of nature's self- healing process? Could it be that they are harbingers of the profound changes that the ecosystem is experiencing and will experience and the special allies that are needed to revision what is required for all our survival? Could it be that mythological wisdom is resonating with ecological wisdom here?
Breakthrough vision is needed. This vision is seen in the thinking and works of men like Mozart, who may have had Tourette Syndrome, Samuel Johnson , who may have been Obsessive Compulsive, or Thomas Edison, a likely Attention Deficit candidate. There is excellent evidence that Van Gogh was experiencing another form of neurological weirdness called Temporal Lobe Epilepsy when he painted "Starry Night." These men carried direct gifts to all of us from their wyrd natures.
What changes must we make to allow the participation of our wyrd kids in our own culture's healing process? How can we facilitate the expression of their passion for living and creativity for the good of all?
This is a project in parenting , politics, and community building. New models of parenting are needed and fathers have a primary responsibility in this regard. Why do we try to force our wild boys into the "farmer" mold (to use writer Thom Hartman's term) when they are best suited to the life of pioneers, explorers, and warriors of the heart? What can we learn from our sons about our own inner "natural children" and "wild men"?
On the political and economic front, why are resources so scarce for research and educational services for our Attention Different kids? As I counselor I have heard many fathers say "We moved from such and such school district because the district people said either that Attention Deficit Disorder or Tourette Syndrome didn't exist or that if they did there was nothing that they could do." Men should make this part of their agenda.
The key to successful education of Attention Different children is the ability to contain both their creativity and their wildness. This process starts with the educational system's acknowledgment that these kids cannot and should not be "civilized" to the behavioral standards of normals. Their gifts must be developed and their excesses of temperament must be encountered and educated. This is not easy for just as they inhabit the Fool archetype, they also easily inhabit the King and can behave so arrogantly that even the best teacher is tested to his limits.
I have observed something else about my son and other Attention Different boys and that is that they seem to be especially responsive to male mentors. It is as if they sense that men can help them understand themselves and find ways to direct and control their fiery natures. I have also noticed that there are not many male Special Ed teachers. I'm not sure why this is but I have a feeling it relates to sex-role stereotyping in teacher preparation and education. There is a need for affirmative action to get more men into this field.
One of the counselors in the local school district told us that she sees many boys whom she suspects have these differences but are undiagnosed. These kids become "pass through" candidates with parents and schools collaborating to ignore the problem. The result may be that a kid drops out or gets into drugs or other troubles. Lacking proper nurturing, Attention Different children are twice as likely to end up in the penal system than normals. This is an incredible waste of talent in our culture that costs us dearly. What is our responsibility here?
The proverb says "It takes a village to raise a child." We have found this to be the most significant challenge we face raising our wild boy because there is so much fear of wildness in our culture. So much concern with being appropriate. So much suspicion of youngsters who inhabit their archetypes of Fool, Trickster, King or Shaman so early.
We have learned that we have to build our own community by educating friends, the media, and the local schools ourselves. My wife Joanne Barrie Lynn and I more and more frequently speak to groups of people on this topic. At first it felt strange, but then we learned that people really do want to know. And we felt this community gathering around us embracing Gregory.
We need to do more than accept Gregory's kind of "diversity"; we need to embrace it, to call for it, for our own survival. New answers are needed. The Dwarf (a wyrd character from the fairy tale "Waters of Life") is looking us in the eye and offering conversation and wisdom.. We ignore this invitation at our own peril.
George Lynn is a Certified Medical Health Counselor who has pioneered the use of psychotherapy for adults and children with neuropsychological issues. When his son was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in 1991, he realized that personality can be powerfully impacted by brain chemistry independent of environment. He now works with children and adults with ADD, Tourette Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome. He is the author of Survival Strategies for Parenting your ADD Child: Dealing with Obsessions, Compulsions, Depression, Explosive Behaviour and Rage
Lynn's most recently published work is Genius! Nurturing the Spirit of the Wild, Odd, and Oppositional Child. It will be found at http://genius-childspirit.com.