Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dysfunction or Superpower?

Yesterday morning I began writing about a time when my daughter Joy and I traveled together to Asia. I ended up rambling into our shared experience of OCD and how each of us struggled with and learned to manage it.

After I posted, I kept thinking about the idea that what we see as dysfunction is simply a matter of perspective. If the dominant perspective calls it, "dysfunction", then dysfunction it is. However, without that perspective, dysfunction is simply, "different" or perhaps, "difficult".

As I considered that, I drifted to the idea of superheros. A superhero begins life as a typical, everyday Jane. One day like any other, something happens that triggers a latent capability that she never knew she had, a capability so powerful that it scares the bejeezus out of her. At first, she assumes that she simply imagined it, but she doubts the assumption. As it becomes clear that something did happen, she assumes something's wrong with her, but she doesn't know with whom she can share; people will think she's crazy. So she denies her power or tries to forget about it, but she can't. The power within her calls out to her.

He googles his power trying to find anything that will explain it to him. He attempts to use his power, to test it, to see if it's real, but he can't control it. He can't make it come and go at will. When it does come, it won't obey him; he can't make it stop. He flies into buildings or drops from the sky. He burns holes in the kitchen wall. He teleports to Paris, Texas rather than Paris, France. He accidentally dumps his sleeping dad from his recliner while attempting to levitate him across the living room.

The power is compelling, but it's also scary. She comes to see it as a curse. She decides to move on, to fit in, to try and live a normal life.

Another catalytic event and the power emerges, this time in front of witnesses. There's no turning back. It's either embrace the power and learn to manage it, or continue seeing it as a curse and try to eradicate it.

How is that so different from a child with ADHD or OCD or autism? A child with ADHD (or just ADD) is capable of processing significantly more sensory stimuli than one one without it. In the absence of those stimuli, he manufactures them either externally (acting out or being "hyper") or internally (daydreaming or fretting). Superpower or dysfunction?

A child with autism may be so sensitive to one realm of sensory stimuli that she can recall every detail of anything she's ever seen, or heard, or felt. However, her extreme sensitivity makes her wince or scream, when the stimuli are too strong. Superpower or dysfunction?

I'm oversimplifying, but I believe there is merit in the perspective that views these so-called dysfunctions as superpowers. Sure, they're powers that need to be managed and integrated, powers that can cause some undesired side-effects along the way, but powers nonetheless.

Just a perspective.

Happy Saturday,

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