Constructing the ADHD Child in Historical Children’s Literature
we seek historical explanation for the possibility of the diagnosis of conduct disorder in something other than psychiatry’s explicit refusal to ground its explanation in anything other than the pathological motivations of the individual. But we also seek explanation in something other than the motivations of a centralized and repressive mandate of power. We take as our cue Michel Foucault’s suggestion that the pursuit of motivations behind a phenomenon, whether construed at the level of the individual, or in terms of a broader mandate ‘from above’, leaves aside questions about the actual ‘know-how’—the tools taken up by various governing agencies in achieving specific aims.
The estimated number of children aged 3–17 years ever diagnosed with ADHD, according to a national survey of parents, is 6 million (9.8%) using data from 2016–2019. This number includes: 3–5 years: 265,000 (2%), 6–11 years 2.4 million (10%), 12–17 years: 3.3 million (13%). Boys (13%) are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls (6%). Black, non-Hispanic children and White, non-Hispanic children are more often diagnosed with ADHD (12% and 10%, respectively), than Hispanic children (8%) or Asian, non-Hispanic children (3%).1
The alarmed critics of the Ritalin disaster are now getting support from an entirely different side. The German weekly Der Spiegel quoted in its cover story on 2 February 2012 the US American psychiatrist Leon Eisenberg, born in 1922 as the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, who was the ‘scientific father of ADHD’ and who said at the age of 87, seven months before his death in his last interview: ‘ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease.’2
Consistent with this, one can trace ADHD back to early nineteenth-century observations of children and how they differed in behavior. Poems from the early 1800s demonstrate that these behavioral differences among children were observed far before there was a common scientific name for the problem.
Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity can be found in Phil’s behavior, just as we see in children who are diagnosed with ADHD these days. Phil is unable to sit still even for one meal at the table, constantly fidgety, moving about in his chair to the point of falling off it.
By making a claim to “if”, the narration reveals a lack of knowledge about “Philip”—whether or not he could be “a little gentleman”, but the narration can know that “Philip” is there available to “see” for “me”. And “let me see if” can be understood as an unavailable ‘see[ing]’ here with a desire to see in one sense. In another sense, being “a little gentleman” could be recognized and examined by ‘see[ing]’ outside “Philip”, which also implies that “Philip” is expected to be “a little gentleman”. Then this idea of ‘see[ing]’ shifts to be in relation to what “a little gentleman” means—being “able [t]o sit still for once at table”. At this point, ‘see[ing]’ can be read to be an ongoing process in order to get to “see” this “sit still” of “he” “for once”. The narration knows that “sit still” has not happened yet and claims a self-constructed and self-directed ‘see[ing]’. That is to say, there is no one to be there to do the “let[ting]”. ‘See[ing]’ can be produced through which ‘Papa’, ‘Mamma’ and ‘Phil’ are mobilized to react differently to explain the very idea of the necessity of being “a” “gentleman”. But there is a difference between the narrative of ‘Papa’ and ‘Mamma’ and that of ‘Phil’: it is not because they are claimed differently as Papa’s ‘bade’ and Mama’s ‘very grave’ look[ing] against ‘fidgety Phil’. Instead, ‘won’t’ can be understood as that ‘sit still’ has not happened yet and cannot come true other than being constituted as ‘wriggles’ and ‘giggles’ with which I read this as a conviction—“sit still” will not happen—that comes up before his ‘sit[ting]’. So it is not about “sit still” or not. Rather, it is the way ‘sit[ting]’ is constructed as being not ‘still’. This is, as I analyze, all about the narration mobilizing the non/see[ing] of doing differently in which being “a little gentleman” is something that can be relevant to the notion of being civilized and advocated by certain classes of society. The ‘fidgety’ manner of ‘Phil’ is framed as the antithesis of being “a” “gentleman”, which should be ‘bidden’ with “getting cross”.The Story of Fidgety Philip“Let me see if Philip canBe a little gentleman;Let me see if he is ableTo sit still for once at table”:Thus Papa bade Phil behave;And Mamma looked very grave.But fidgety Phil,He won’t sit still;He wriggles,And giggles,And then, I declare,Swings backwards and forwards,And tilts up his chair,Just like any rocking horse—“Philip! I am getting cross!”
From the above analysis, the claim to “see” can be regarded as an ongoing process being framed in the ‘see[ing]’ of “me” so as to get to “see” “sit still” “for once”. Paradoxically, it is, at the same time, claimed to be known as what is not going to happen. Similarly, what ‘the child’ does seems like an ongoing ‘see[ing]’ to the narration on “me” through the claim to ‘[g]rowing still’ here. However, the word ‘[t]ill’ can be read as the certainty of knowledge about the time that it will stop. In this sense, it has a result known to be there instead of waiting to “see” the result by pushing forward with an ongoing ‘see[ing]’. In other words, the narration seems to claim that the unavailable ‘see[ing]’ gradually becomes an available ‘see[ing]’, compared with the “let me see if” at first. I read that the narration has already known the result—not only did it know this “sit still” had not been achieved yet but also that “sit still” could not be achieved from the beginning. It is the narration on “me” that claims the way in which “if he is able [t]o sit still for once at table” is an unavailable ‘see[ing]’ temporarily and constitutes it as an ongoing ‘see[ing]’. Thus “for once” is known not to be there from the very beginning. Therefore, there is no unavailable ‘see[ing]’ of “sit still”. As I mentioned above, it is the way in which an available ‘see[ing]’/knowing of not “sit still” is constituted as an unavailable ‘see[ing]’.See the naughty, restless childGrowing still more rude and wild,Till his chair falls over quite.[…]How Mamma did fret and frown,When she saw them tumbling down!And Papa made such a face!Philip is in sad disgrace.
Here, ‘covered up’ can be read as that there is something waiting to be ‘see[n]’. And this is the narration making claims to ‘you’, ‘Philip’ and ‘he’ in the see[ing] of “me” in which it knows this ‘you’ has a possibility to ‘see’ ‘where’ ‘Philip’ ‘is’ and ‘where’ ‘he’ ‘is’. So, this is the way in which ‘see[ing]’ is constituted as ‘fairly covered up’. The ‘see[ing]’ of “me” always shifts, for instance, from ‘fidgety’ to ‘in sad disgrace’, then to be in relation to ‘cruel work’, which implies that “a little gentleman” cannot do ‘cruel work’ as such. When it comes to ‘Papa’ and ‘Mama’, they are ‘poor’, affected by this ‘cruel work’, for not having both “a little gentleman” and ‘dinner’ in expectation. And it is ‘their dinner’ that is constituted by excluding ‘Philip’ from ‘dinner’ at this point. That is to say, ‘see[ing]’ is constructed as ‘fairly covered up’, then ends up with the absence of ‘Philip’ as unseen.Where is Philip, where is he?Fairly covered up you see!Cloth and all are lying on him;He has pulled down all upon him.[…]Philip, this is cruel work.Table all so bare, and ah!Poor Papa, and poor MammaLook quite cross, and wonder howThey shall have their dinner now.
By taking the idea of ‘describe’ for granted, the perspective shifts from ‘poem’ to ‘parents’ in which it knows there are ‘parents of children with ADHD’ and knows what these ‘parents’ have describe[d] and ‘will’ ‘describe’ ‘to this day’. In other words, for Hammerness, ‘their child’s level of activity’ is knowable before this very act of ‘describ[ing]’: it is ‘their child’, but as being neither ‘parents’ nor ‘their child’, this unitary ‘we’5 are framed to know that the ‘activity’ of ‘their child’ has different level[s], here is a ‘nonstop’ ‘level’ ‘for the majority of the day’. Furthermore, ‘even’ claims that a ‘child’ might be thought of by others as having a possibility of ‘sitting in a chair’ rather than being ‘nonstop’, since the ‘sitting’ is constructed as ‘simple’. In this way, what constitutes a ‘nonstop’ ‘level of activity’ outside a ‘child’ turns out to be that ‘the child’ is not doing what he/she is supposed to do, for instance, which can include the idea of ‘simple’ in ‘sitting in a chair’.Parents of children with ADHD to this day will often describe their child’s level of activity as nonstop for the majority of the day, even when the child is supposed to be doing something as simple as sitting in a chair.
The narration here claims to know that ‘an example’ can be ‘provide[d]’ by the ‘story (of Zappel-Philipp)’. At the same time, there is no other ‘debate’ in this ‘example’ which is in relation to ‘pathologizing’. And ‘childhood’ is known to have ‘quirks’ of different kinds. It could imply that ‘childhood quirks’ are also known to be non-‘ordinary’. So this very notion of ‘debate’ is constituted to be in relation to the difference between ‘pathologizing’ ‘childhood’ as it is being claimed to have ‘quirks’ and not ‘pathologizing’ ‘childhood’ as ‘quirks’ can be known to be ‘ordinary’. Nevertheless, no matter what the status of ‘pathologizing’ in ‘the debate’, ‘childhood’ is already known to have ‘quirks’. Only the question of whether ‘childhood quirks’ are ‘ordinary’ remains to be uncertain.This story (of Zappel-Philipp) provides an example of the debate of pathologizing ordinary childhood quirks. The question remains open, but the interpretation of Zappel-Philipp as a hyperactive and impulsive boy with ADHD still remains speculative without accurate information about Heinrich Hoffmann’s intentions.
Non-‘historic’ ‘sources’ regarding ‘Heinrich Hoffmann’ are also known to exist according to the narration, and, with the claim to ‘at’, it also knows ‘historic’ ‘sources’ include many other things besides ‘arrangement’. ‘The historic sources at arrangement’ are thought to be able to ‘include specific information’, but it turns out that ‘this situation’ is not ‘includ[ed]’. I read that ‘this situation’ can be seen as ‘the interpretation of Zappel-Philipp as a hyperactive and impulsive boy with ADHD’. Meanwhile, the narration knows what ‘reflections’ are in relation to ‘the concept of ADHD’. But, at this stage, it is something other than ‘the concept of ADHD’ that is known as ‘reflections’ framed in ‘arrangement’, which can, then, be regarded as ‘historic sources’.The historic sources at arrangement do not include specific information with regard to this situation, nor reflections concerning the concept of ADHD. Heinrich Hoffmann [sic] clinical descriptions were destroyed during the fire in the archives of Frankfurt am Main in 1945.
The narration of ‘he’ knows that there has to be a ‘gift’ to be ‘found’ for pleas[ing] the ‘son’, and the result of ‘[f]inding’ ‘gift’ is known as ‘no’. There is then a shift from [f]inding ‘no gift’ to ‘had the idea’ in which no other idea is known to be relevant to ‘creating children’s stories illustrated with colored drawings’. And this is ‘the idea’ that has not been ‘had’ before but could ‘had’ ‘suddenly’ to be in line with what is meant by the claim to both ‘a spontaneous manner’ and ‘little reflection on their content’. Here, ‘had the idea’ is known to be different from [f]inding a ‘gift’ but that it could ‘please’ ‘him’ as well. And this is the way ‘stories’ are claimed as belonging to ‘children’ but being ‘creat[ed]’ by those who are not ‘children’ themselves. The narration of the ‘idea’ of ‘he’ claims a certainty of knowledge about ‘children’s stories’ in which ‘children’ are ‘creat[ed]’ as ‘misbehaved’. I read ‘whose actions’ could be regarded as being in relation to ‘misbehaved’ ‘children’ in which even though ‘actions’ are known to be different from ‘misbehaved’: these ‘actions’ are known to ‘lead to’ ‘very negative’ ‘repercussions’ with which the idea of ‘subsequently’ is constructed as certain. So the narration knows the ‘very negative’ ‘repercussions’ will be ‘led’ by ‘actions’ in relation to ‘creat[ed]’ ‘children’ in the ‘stories’ before this very notion of ‘lead to’ happens and be ‘subsequently’ ‘pleas[ing]’ the ‘son’. Not only are ‘children’ constituted as ‘misbehave[rs]’, but also, the ‘son’ is framed to be someone who would be ‘please[d]’ by seeing ‘children’ with the ‘very negative repercussions’ in the ‘stories’.Finding no gift that would please him (Heinrich Hoffmann’s son Carl Philipp), he suddenly had the idea of creating children’s stories illustrated with colored drawings about children who misbehaved and whose actions subsequently lead to very negative repercussions. He worked on this project, which fulfilled some inner need, during his free time in a spontaneous manner, with little reflection on their content.
According to the narration, there has to be ‘the context’ for ‘the creation of the characters [sic] Struwwelpeter’ in which this ‘context’ is known to have ‘information’ that can be ‘precise’ and/or not. And it claims the lack of knowledge about ‘precise information’ ‘on the context of the creation’, which implies there can and should be ‘precise information’ ‘give[n]’ by ‘Hoffmann’. There is something being ‘mentioned’ to different extents ‘in his autobiography’. ‘[M]entioned’ here is known as ‘briefly’, compared with other things being ‘mentioned’. In this way, the claim to ‘gave’ is constituted on the ground of presuming that ‘information’ regarding ‘the context of the creation’ should be ‘mentioned’ ‘in his autobiography’. And why ‘information’ is defined as not ‘precise’ is because the narration knows ‘information on the context of the creation of the characters [sic] Struwwelpeter’ is ‘mentioned’ ‘briefly’ ‘in his autobiography’. Specifically, the ideas about “invented” “stories” are ‘mentioned’ ‘in his autobiography’: what “stories” are “invented from scratch” is also known by the narration. But “stories” here which could be read as being in relation to ‘Struwwelpeter’ are claimed as being “not” “invented from scratch”; the narration knows where “these stories” “are” “from” instead of ‘invent[ing]’ them “from scratch”. There is no certainty about whether “one” “or” “the other these stories”: it is possible for either to “grew up in a fertile soil”. This is “a” “fertile soil”—not ‘the’—which implies there is other “soil” that could have “these stories” to “grew up” as long as “soil” is known to be “fertile”, even though “stories” and “soil” are known to differ from each other. In addition, I read “these stories” of “one” or “the other” are not the same as “these stories” being claimed as “not invented from scratch” since this is a past of a known “grew up” in relation to the idea of “fertile” that is constituted in the present perspective which claims the certain knowledge of what is “from scratch” and what is not within the retrospection. In this way, “stories” are constructed to be “fertile” prior to the very act of “invented”. At the same time, by making a claim to “grew up”, the “stories” regarding ‘Struwwelpeter’ are based on but not the same as “these stories” known before.While Hoffmann gave no precise information on the context of the creation of the characters [sic] Struwwelpeter, he mentioned briefly in his autobiography: ‘‘These stories are not invented from scratch, one or the other these stories grew up in a fertile soil.’’ We presume that privacy and respect for personal life were the reasons for the lack of precision about the child—or the children—who gave him the idea for this and others [sic] stories.
The narration of ‘Cavanna’ claims that ‘the French translation’ can be ‘intuitively’ relevant to ‘an ADHD boy’ who is known to have ‘observable behavior’ framed within ‘the open question’. In other words, ‘an’ ‘ADHD boy’, as one of many possible known ‘ADHD boy[s]’, is claimed to have ‘behavior’ which could be ‘observable’. But this very idea of ‘observable’ is ‘the’ ‘question’ known to be ‘open’ to the narration. The narration also knows about ‘a “devil in the flesh”’ which is translated from ‘the French translation’ as ‘the metaphor’. And, this ‘metaphor’ is being use[d] ‘intuitively’ by ‘Cavanna’ to ‘describe’ something in relation to ‘child’s control capabilities’. Therefore, ‘a “devil in the flesh”’ is known to be different from the ‘child’ but could be use[d] as ‘the metaphor’ ‘intuitively’ to ‘describe’ this ‘child’. To be more specific, ‘child’ is known to have ‘the inner movement’ and ‘control capabilities’ to different extents, respectively. When ‘the inner movement’ is constituted as ‘go[ing]’ ‘beyond’ the ‘control capabilities’, the ‘child’ is, then, being describe[d] as ‘a “devil in the flesh”’ in the name of ‘metaphor’, which is known as ‘intuitive’. And this very idea of ‘intuiti[on]’ is constructed on the basis of the translation of ‘the French translation’. This is how the ideas of ‘intuitively’, ‘metaphor’, and ‘translation’ are mobilized in the service of ‘describing’ ‘the inner movement’ and ‘control capacities’ of ‘the child’.Alongside the open question regarding observable behavior of an ADHD boy, the French translation by Cavanna intuitively uses the metaphor of a ‘‘devil in the flesh’’ to describe the inner movement that goes beyond the child’s control capabilities. This metaphor provides an opening to the inner experience of these children and is an incarnation of the lack of self-control of the body, which is a major feature of this syndrome. This image of a ‘‘devil in the flesh’’ also corresponds with ADHD questionnaires [sic] criteria such as ‘‘seems always ‘under tension’, ‘as if he worked on batteries’.’’ The Zappel-Philipp’s story could represent a historic reference source of the development of the concept of ADHD, but this hypothesis remains speculative.
In other words, the organization of diagnostic categories such as ADHD is shaped by the biopolitical pressures in terms of understandings of what desirable and productive individuals are seen to be in the service of neo-liberal consumer capitalism, where the capacity of workers to comply with the strictures of the working place demands conformity to standards which extend beyond those working places into the very inner lives of those who have no choice but to participate in these systems. Contemporary diagnosticians may usefully keep these issues in mind whilst determining the ways these various factors feed into their differential diagnoses for ADHD and other childhood developmental diagnoses. As the views on ADHD and its treatments are already shifting, it may be that in time other diagnostic categories and treatment options will come to take their place (at least in part), as indeed happened in the past in terms of the diagnoses which ADHD itself replaced.once again, the intellectual instrument, the type of calculation or form of rationality that made possible the self-limitation of governmental reason was not the law. What is it, starting from the middle of the eighteenth century? Obviously, it is political economy.
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Conflicts of Interest
The statistics about ADHD are obtained from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html (accessed on 14 October 2022).
Discussed prior to the quotation here in Hammerness’s ‘historical overview’: ‘When thinking about the complex nature of the human brain and the basic differences between people […] it makes intuitive sense that there would also be differences in individuals’ abilities to pay attention, to think and act, at the most basic level. It makes sense that there have always been people who cannot pay attention to a task as long as others or who could not sit still as well as others’.
Mentioned in the quotation before my reading of the poem as ‘just as we see in children who are diagnosed with ADHD these days […]’.
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Hou, X. Constructing the ADHD Child in Historical Children’s Literature. Humanities 2023, 12, 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010003
Hou X. Constructing the ADHD Child in Historical Children’s Literature. Humanities. 2023; 12(1):3. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010003Chicago/Turabian Style
Hou, Xiaoyu. 2023. "Constructing the ADHD Child in Historical Children’s Literature" Humanities 12, no. 1: 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/h12010003