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The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Childby Thom Hartmann
From the Introduction
. . . The premise of this book is that children who have what we have come to know as ADHD are an important and vital gift to our society and culture, and, in the largest sense, can be an extraordinary gift to the world. In addition, for those adults who have been similarly diagnosed or defined, this book offers a new way of understanding themselves and their relationship to the world--a way that brings insight, empowerment, and success.
Genetics and Differences
The long history of the human race, as we’ll see in this book, has conferred on us . . . a set of predilections, temperament, and abilities through the medium of our genetic makeup. These skills were ideally suited to life in the ever-changing world of our ancient ancestors and, we have now discovered, are also ideally suited to the quickly changing modern world of cyberspace and widespread ecological and political crises that require rapid response. I will call this genetic gift the Edison gene, after Thomas Edison, who brought us electric lights and phonographs and movies and--literally--ten thousand other inventions. He is the model for the sort of impact a well-nurtured child carrying this gene can have on the world. . . .
When Edison’s schoolteacher threw him out of school in the third grade for being inattentive, fidgety, and “slow,” his mother gave the teacher a piece of her mind, withdrew him from school, and became his teacher from then until the day he went off on his own to work for the railroads (inventing, in his first months of employment, a railroad timing and signaling device that was used for nearly a century). She believed in him, and wasn’t going to let the school thrash out of him his own belief in himself. As a result of that one mother’s efforts, the world is a very different place. . . .
What exactly defines those bearing this genetic makeup? Edison-gene children and adults are by nature: enthusiastic, creative, disorganized, non-linear in their thinking (they leap to new conclusions or observations), innovative, easily distracted (or, to put it differently, easily attracted to new stimuli), capable of extraordinary hyperfocus, understanding of what it means to be an “outsider,” determined, eccentric, easily bored, impulsive, entrepreneurial, and energetic.
All of these qualities lead them to be natural explorers, inventors, discoverers, and leaders.
Those carrying this gene, however, often find themselves in environments where they’re coerced, threatened, or shoehorned into a classroom or job that doesn’t fit. When Edison-gene children aren’t recognized for their gifts but instead are told that they’re disordered, broken, or failures, a great emotional and spiritual wounding occurs. This wounding can bring about all sorts of problems for children, for the adults they grow into, and for our society. . .
1993: The Hunter Gene
Dozens of studies over the years have demonstrated that ADHD is genetically transmitted to children from their parents or grandparents. From the 1970s, when this link was first indicated, until 1993, when my first book on the topic was published, conventional wisdom held that ADHD, hyperactivity, and the restive need for high stimulation were all indications of a psychiatric illness that should be treated with powerful, mind-altering, stimulant drugs.
But could it be that ADHD, this psychiatric “illness” has a positive side? . . . Here’s a chart from my first book, Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception, that broadly summarized my 1993 view of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and that contrasts the hunter-gatherer skill set with the skills of the farmer:
The Hunter/Farmer View of ADHD
Traits As They Appears in the “Disorder” View:
1. Short attention span, which can become intensely focused for long periods of time
2. Poor planning, disorganization, and impulsiveness (tendency to make snap decisions)
3. Distorted sense of time; lack of awareness of how long it will take to do something
5. Inability to convert words into concepts and vice versa; a learning disability may or may not be present
6. Difficulty following directions
8. Acting without considering consequences
9. Lacking in social graces
Trait As It Appears in the “Hunter” View:
1. Constant monitoring of the environment
2. Ability to enter the chase on a moment’s notice
3. Flexibility; a readiness to quickly change strategy
4. Tirelessness; the ability to sustain drive, but only when “hot on the trail” of some goal
5. Visual/concrete thinking; clear sight of a tangible goal even if there are no words for it
7. Becoming bored by mundane tasks; enjoying new ideas, excitement, the “hunt,” or being “hot on the trail”
8. Willingness and ability to take risks and face danger
9. “No time for niceties when there are decisions to be made!”
1. Attention is not easily distracted from the task at hand
2. Ability to sustain a steady, dependable effort
3. Purposeful organization; long-term strategy that’s adhered to
4. Awareness of time and timing; tasks are completed “in time,” on pace, and with good “staying power”
5. Patience; an awareness that good things take time; a willingness to wait
6. Playing on a team
7. Focusing on follow-through; tending to details and “taking care of business”
8. Taking care to “look before you leap”
9. Nurturing; creating and supporting community values; attuning to whether something will last
In 1996, the Journal of Genetic Psychology published an article titled “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: An Evolutionary Perspective,” in which they suggested that, “ . . . ADHD may have served an adaptive function and may have been selected by the environment for survival.”
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