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Are We Medicating Away Creativity?

One may argue that convergent thinking is emphasized in the instructional approach of our standardized school system. How many of us have heard the story of the teacher who stressed that the answer was correct but the way the student arrived at the answer was incorrect because he did not follow the set instructions. In business, this characteristic would be praised. Imagine finding a new, cheaper way to deliver your services?

Convergent thinking emphasizes finding a single solution to a problem, whereas divergent thinking, which is associated with creative thinking, emphasizes the need to find alternative, unique, yet equally relevant solutions to a stated problem. Remember when we were asked to brainstorm topics in school? For most, it was a problem. But not so much for Johnny, who, despite his impulsive nature, always came up with new ways to see the world.

Impulsivity in a regluated environment is not a good combination. As it is with ADHD. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Although ADHD is found to be related to an increase in behavioral and academic problems, there is evidence that suggests that people with ADHD may be more creative than people without the disorder. In one study that looked at the relationship between subclinical ADHD symptoms and divergent thinking, the authors found that ADHD symptoms in general were associated with higher self-reported creative behavioral tendencies and more publicly recognized creative achievements in their daily life. Moreover, these subclinical ADHD symptoms were associated with higher divergent thinking tendenices and with a more original, but less practical, reconstruction of complex problems.

I'll be the first to say that one study doesn't make reality, but it does point us in a direction that suggests we as practitioners pay greater attention to other losses besides the loss of impulsivity. Anecdotally, parents observe that aspects of their children's personality change or are suppressed along with the identified problem. Comments such as "he's like a zombie now" or "His humor is gone" is not uncommon among the 75% of children who respond to psychostimulants. The issue in question, then, is whether convergent thinking in sufficiently improved to justify the suppression of divergent thinking. It goes back to whether the medication is serving the greater good for the child, in addition to making the lives of adults much easier.

If the goal is to promote divergent thinking, then programs and approaches need to be firmly adopted, so as to make psychostimulant medication less imperative to use frequently. Russell Barkley provides, in his many publications for the general public, outlines to help with structure a child's day, which will help reign in too much tangential focus and thinking, but will allow for exploration of other solutions and experiences that promote divergence. Mentorship is another method for helping structure a child's experiences. A good mentor will point the child's attention in various directions, and bring in the components together to create meaning, which will show the child ways he/she can reign in his/her own thinking. My own research with incarcerated Mexican American youth suggested that original thinking is important to compliment a strong sense of family.

The purpose of this post is to promote attention to the losses that psychiatric medication can have on a child's unique contribution to the world, and to give them as much importance in their preservation as the elimination of MILD neurodevelopmental issues.

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