Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Indigo Children - a reality or ASD/ADHD or just bad parenting?!

This post is on a subject I have recently given considerable thought to.

I've struggled with son number 2 for most of his 8 years. He does have a variety of diagnoses to his name including Autism and ADHD and I invariably notice similar traits all too easily in others, and in my other children also. That is not to say any of the other three would deserve similar diagnoses but since the Autism Spectrum is just that - a spectrum -  many of us share some of the aspects which combine to warrant a full blown diagnosis in those more profoundly affected.

What I also notice in my younger two in particular is how sensitive, aware and opinionated they are. They are old for their years in so many ways, bright and able yet certainly less socially adept than my eldest was at 4. They are intuitive and impatient with those less so, have their own agenda and can be alarmingly vocal about it. This is not an immaturity  typical of a child two years younger, exhibiting tantrums borne of communication difficulties. And unlike the child on the Autism Spectrum, who shares many characteristics with the so called "Indigo Children" my twins can tell you exactly what they need and want, communicate their feelings in great detail and are acutely aware of others' feelings also. They are far more self assured than I was at their age for sure, yet I have parented them in the same way as their older siblings!

I read The Indigo Children recently having been kindly sent a copy. To be perfectly honest, I'm more a science-based kind of girl, preferring Dawkins and Schrodinger to crystals and New Age theories. I prefer to view the world in all its complexity through the concepts of science rather and have absolutely no time for auras, the paranormal or synesthesia  which is how Wikipedia prefers to classify the Indigo concept. But the books I have read on Indigo Children are slightly unsettling - because the certainly do describe familiar traits which I see in my children. 

Many children labelled indigo by their parents are diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tober and Carroll's book The Indigo Children linked the concept with diagnosis of ADHD. Their book makes the case that the children are a new stage of evolution rather than children with a medical diagnosis, and that they require special treatment rather than medications. This I can understand, some prefer to consider a "problem" as a desirable variant of "normal" . Certainly the number of children receiving a diagnosis of ADHD and/or Autism is on the increase and discussion of this generally accepted fact is frequently in the news and professionals are keen to determine whether this is better recognition of both conditions or an increase in their manifestation/occurrence which would be somewhat disturbing. Advocates of the concept of the "Indigo" child would respond that this is due to a surge of "old souls" (old before their time - self assured, confident, opinionated, not reincarnated) born since the 1970s who are misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

But I don't see ADHD in my younger two, some ASD traits yes but none more than your average 4 year old with a brother on the spectrum and I really don't feel comfortable with the "Indigo" label. Which leaves little else other than parenting style. As an historian with a keen interest in social history and in particular the social history of children I know the place of children in society has been revolutionised. From the early modern idea of children as essential, unavoidable and lower status providers to the family economy to the Victorian opinion that well-off children should be "seen and not heard" and poorer children were an economic resource or an inconvenience the lot of the child in history has - on the whole - been secondary to that of their parents and other adults. Many children never saw their first birthday, let alone their fifth and whilst loved and cherished by their mothers rarely attracted the fawning over we see today.

I see it everywhere, through the advertising of children's toys and luxuries, the play schemes and activities and in the attitude of many parents who live their lives through and for their children. I'm as guilty as the next in becoming caught up in the desire to give my children a good start, hoping for if not the best certainly a desirable close second in the many choices we make for them. I've resisted the rooms full of toys though, the luxury parties and excessive wardrobes of clothes but my four don't do badly! But I do expect respect and good behaviour from them and will not tolerate demands and tantrums. Yet despite our attitude at home the rapid elevation in society of children to a status far above that of their parents (at times) is infectious and has to have contributed in some way to the behaviour issues so many of us see so often today. The way we are encouraged to leap on every little issue, meet every single need at every level and don't even get me started on the concept of "safeguarding" which has legitimised society-wide interference which further devalues parents. 

The pendulum seems to have swung too far the other way, precipitating a child-dominant culture which has nurtured and encouraged the Indigo type. I actually think the Indigo personality is a reality (I suspect I have two borderline Indigos here!) but I honestly believe this is a product of the social changes we have seen since our economic circumstances have enabled a radical remodelling of our children's role in society. Parents have been under fire for too long, for ignoring their child's needs at their own expense when a little balance would satisfy everyone's basic needs. Indigos are only here to stay if we perpetuate the necessary environment for them to flourish in. There is a HUGE difference between a smart, opinionated kid with an advanced awareness of their place in society and a child with ADHD and/or ASD and confusing the two does a huge disservice to the latter group. Indigos are a product of the social changes in recent decades in my opinion and different (rather than bad (or good)) parenting and a clear reminder of the direction we find the world heading in.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Social Networking & Facebook v Twitter?

My eldest son recently joined the ranks of Facebook users and has alarmed us with the speed in which he became addicted to it. This was in fact a completely harmless addiction to the application "Farmville" (rather than the immediate embracing of virtual human interaction to our great relie) but nonetheless got me thinking.

I have used Facebook for years- before that I frequented a couple of parenting forums which I still occasionally use now. Before our second child was born Ihad barely discovered the internet but post-natal depression, a complicated baby and a move to a new area left me isolated and lonely. I craved interaction of any kind but had little confidence to break in to the local parenting circuits.
Even once better integrated I felt drawn to online communication, a "fast-food" and "safe" alternative to making the effort to go out and socialize. Somehow with less on offer ( no visibility for a start, make-up, clothes etc don't matter online!) there was less to lose but surprisingly a lot to gain. Over the past 8 years I have made many online friends, several of whom I have gone on to meet up with, some on a regular basis. I found the opportunity to gradually get to know others in this way helped me meet people I have a lot in common with but whom I might never have met in real life.

Of course online forums facilitate the meeting of like minds- and in my case provided me with much-needed support when dealing with severe reflux with our twins. So valuable have I found such sites that I went on to support others myself. One site in particular has achieved what a non-virtual organization could not- worldwide membership, sponsorship and funding through rapid promotion and campaigning. The power of social networking online is phenomenal. My friend and her s Facebook campaign at Christmas got "Rage at the Machine" to No.1 and raised £100 000 for Shelter.

But back to the question posed in the title. Facebook or Twitter? For me, the former held great appeal as a "one stop shop" online. Keep up with everyone in one place. Quickly. An even quicker fix for socializing..... and yet that is precisely the problem. We don" t all live in one big community where everyone knows one another. Our daily lives involve many groups of people, some overlap, but even when they do it is likely to be in the manner of a Venn Diagram rather an a complete overlay. We rarely say te same things, share the same information, same mannerisms etc with everyone we know. A status update on Facebook though, unless you take time and effort to change preferences, each time will go to everyone on your friend list every time. And that's not all. The popularity and ubiquitous nature of Facebook in youth culture is redefining not only the WAY our children interact but WHOM they interact with. Children as young as 8 are using Facebook and I wonder how many parents realize that through "friends of friends" their children have a window into the world of much, much older children- and adults. We try and protect out children from so much and yet it is all so "innocently" available online.

For me, Facebook has become too intrusive, too open, too all-encompassing. It's a fantastic platform through which to keep in touch with friends from all walks of life- but that's how I think I want my life to stay - partitioned, at least to an extent. One of my friends today pointed out it was scary having her dad on Facebook - how many want their parents of any age having that level of knowledge of our personal lives? Actually though, i think having your children on there focusses the mind far far more!!

There is a lot to be said for a little anonymity, and less can definitely be more. I for one forget too easily the wide audience a simple status update has which can precipitate confusion and upset all too easily! I like the brief, simple concept of Twitter, and find myself drawn to it more and more. Maybe it is a comment on my life now more than anything, the fact that there is less need for in-depth online interaction than in the past but I firmly believe that our social lives whether based on age, life stage or location are there for a reason and the potential consequences of forgetting, or ignoring that alarm me.
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