Old-school parenting expert John Rosemond takes on the newfangled neurological diagnosis “Sensory Processing Disorder” in this week’s column. Rosemond, who is generally against the trend to turn every little behavioral inconvenience into an acronymed medical condition, reports on a child who was officially diagnosed with this disorder because, in part, she didn’t like her underpants. The good doctor instead diagnosed a case of ‘defiance’, and prescribed a fuss- and distraction-free bedroom environment in which the child was required to stay until she was dressed in whatever she wanted to wear.
Two weeks later, I received the following email from Mom: ‘The very first morning, (daughter) reminded us to remove her sleep toys so she could get dressed. She then put on underwear and clothes and came out for breakfast. She has done this with no tantrums or requests for help since we began two weeks ago.’
At this writing, it’s been five weeks since this little girl complained of her clothes not feeling right.
Like Rosemond, I am neither qualified nor prepared to pronounce definitively on the existence of a neurological disorder in sensory processing. Just as I have only personal observation, anecdata and cherry-picked social-psychological theory with which to doubt the neurological foundations of many cases of ‘attention deficit disorder’. It is my general impression that all but the extreme fringes of the survivable human input-output spectrum respond adequately to well-modulated social interaction (that’s what they’re built for, after all) and learned behavior. I do however think that there’s a certain practical value to the current trend of medical diagnoses, since they offer access to some very powerful social experiences.
In any event, what struck me about the little girl’s story was how familiar it was. Distraction-proofing the work environment, putting her in charge of her own process, while creating performance accountability, is exactly how I finally got my dissertation done after several years of fairly creative stalling. It’s also how I get stacks of student papers graded nowadays.
This is also a pretty good model for education and other independent or independentable performances, I think, which means that in a roundabout way I am agreeing with much of what John Doyle says in his current series of posts on educational reform, e.g. “Stop Paying Professors to Teach.”