Part 4: Systemic Deficiencies
ADD and Corporal Punishment
When I was in fifth grade I had been on Ritalin for a year or so after they had diagnosed me with ADD at the end of third grade. I was inattentive in class, couldn't communicate linearly when questioned, and didn't seem to notice that sometimes I had two different colored socks on. Though I went to a private school that had every advantage to nurture people due to it's small numbers and high tuition, my education and growth through a diagnosis like that was significantly at a disadvantage. My parents had no way of knowing how best to help me aside from what a general practitioner and teachers were telling them, and even the ADD specialist I went to for testing was a arbitrary process that held little relevance in our day to day lives after they confirmed I had what they thought I had and prescribed the pills.
As for my teachers, so many of the them I'll always remember as loving and sweet. I know that working with learning disabilities was not something this era of teacher was necessarily prepared for. One teacher seemed to be hip on kids expressing themselves in their own zany ways, because she was deemed one of the zanniest teachers at the school. Everyone wanted her for fifth grade because she went on special field trips and had a wardrobe to Narnia in her room with a light that you could read by. Miss Roper struck me as an untrustworthy person deep down almost as soon as I met her, but I remember also wanting to trust her so badly despite. She seemed to understand that sometimes I missed classes because I would go to radio commercials or plays and she let us write in a creative writing journal which I loved. All was working out.
But one day I remember she had stepped up to our car at pick up line and my mom pulled over into a parking spot and they were talking. Miss Roper left and my mom turned to me and asked me if I was lying at school. I said no. I remembered the times I had lied in the past - I had a fake robins eggs once in Kindergarten and told a classmate it was real and they believed me. I feel so much guilt about that to this day. I did not remember lying about anything to Miss Roper.
A day or two later Miss Roper pulled me aside in the hallway and told me to go call my mother. That I was going to have to get a spanking. This entire story is strange to type out as the way it played out was so wrong, though my nine year old self just had to comply. Besides that, my medication did make me foggy and reserved. Maybe I had lied? Maybe I deserved this situation? The fact that a student would be asked to call their parent and ask if they would like to spank me or if the teacher was okay to spank me is the most bizarre directive to give a child, but that is what happened. I went to the office and through welling tears called my mother. My mother said something like, "Well, whatever your teacher thinks is best." The next thing I remember I was told to wait in a small room. I waited. I don't remember much about that room except it was almost as small as a closet. I remember waiting and it being almost dark. The next thing I remember was Mrs. Roper reading me Bible verses about how liars go to hell. After that I went to another room. I remember being confused why I had to go to more than one rooms for all this. Another teacher was there drinking her coffee. There was a chair and a paddle and I was asked to bend over and I was paddled twice. Afterwards, Miss Roper told me it was okay to cry but I wouldn't let her see me cry so I asked to go to the bathroom and she said okay. I still don't know what I lied about or what I did to deserve that incident.
I may not even be telling this story further but for another time after the spanking where Miss Roper punished me in front of the entire class. She asked me what I was doing during a lesson and I said I was reading my book. I remember it was a history lesson and I was reading from the history section she was teaching from. She then asked me "Conly, what does your mother do to punish you?" This was such a terrifying question for me to answer because I had already been spanked by her once and I didn't want that to happen again. So I thought of something my mother often did which was pinch me. So I told Miss Roper that she pinched me. Next thing I knew, Miss Roper is pinching me in front of the entire class. I start to cry but try to cover it up with laughter. Miss Roper then had me drag my desk to her desk and sit there the rest of the day. A few of my friends from that class later remembered that moment as being extremely alarming and strange, never understanding it themselves.
As an adult, my ADD reveals itself as more of what I now frame as neuro-divergence than disability. Reading up on ADHD diagnosis and variables for this project, I can relate to what seems to be a maternal link in offspring diagnosis. In the 2014 article "Multilevel analysis of ADHD, anxiety and depression symptoms aggregation in families", the authors have the following to say:
Our results indicate that: (a) maternal clinical variables (ADHD, anxiety and depression) were correlated more with offspring variables than paternal ones; (b) maternal inattention (but not hyperactivity) was correlated with both inattention and hyperactivity in the offspring; (c) maternal anxiety was correlated with offspring inattention; on the other hand, maternal inattention was correlated with anxiety in the offspring." (Fortez et Al. 2014)
My mother's chronic depression, social anxieties, as well as inattention were factors in my childhood. Her journey was not an easy one growing up and then as a potentially unfulfilled young adult, her health started failing her with auto immune struggles that put her on medications of all kinds: depression, pain killers, speed, and sleep medications. These pills became her existence and still are. Her health deficiencies were subtly allowed to take over her narrative. I believe her to be a victim of the marketing ploys of pharmaceutical companies in the 80's and 90's and I believe my being put on medication was also directly correlated. That medication made the world a less safe place for me, in retrospect, than it ever served me.
Consider that while most Americans support spanking (about 70 percent), born-again Christians are more likely to support than non-born-again Christians (80 percent versus 65 percent), and Southerners are more likely to support it than people from other parts of the country. What’s more, support for spanking is strongly related to low levels of education, high levels of poverty, and high levels of environmental stress. (Bouie 2014)
Corporal Punishment is another piece to this puzzle which is absolutely related to my upbringing. Arkansas is listed as one of the top percentages of states that still allows corporal punishment in schools (Morones 2013). Below is a graph from a 2013 article "Corporal Punishment Persists in U.S. Schools"
In it's own way, I was punished for my disability. The fact that my autonomy of being a reliable witness of myself and the reasons behind my actions was disseminated by my diagnosis of being "unreliable, foggy, distracted, vacant" created a narrative that was ascribed to me before anything else. Born-again Christianity was a direct narration for the opportunity for a teacher to punish a child without concrete evidence or a clear communication of the reasons why. Children are innately sinful - yes God may show children "grace" and even Jesus taught his disciples to- but still the reality is our sinful nature is our heritage due to the original sin of Adam. What happened to me was a systemic reaction to ideologies embedded in fear and manipulation. As a therapist, I will seek to help neurological diverse individuals create ritual for themselves and their diversities in a society that more than not disables them. I hope to help people as they navigate this westernized predominate society in which the times have placed us and work alongside educators, parents, and children on the journey of creating a world where every voice is listened to.