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The Little MonsterReview - The Little Monster
Growing Up With ADHD
by Robert Jergen
ScarecrowEducation, 2004
Review by Ben Lovett
Jun 27th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 26)

I began reading The Little Monster after dinner on a recent evening, intending to finish the first few chapters and then turn to other projects, but the book moves so quickly that I couldn't stop reading, and I finished it that night. Robert Jergen is an engaging writer and, as an autobiographer should, he knows his subject very well. When he recounts anecdotes from his childhood revealing the extent of the impairment caused by his ADHD symptoms, and when he writes about how even today, as a university professor, his symptoms get him into trouble, his book makes for fascinating reading. However, readers should be warned that it is not always a reliable source of scientific information about ADHD.

Jergen begins with an introductory chapter, "The Power of ADHD," in which he describes general features of the disorder, including the three classes of symptoms (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity). Many of his points about the difficulty of diagnosing ADHD and the high incidence of misdiagnosis will be useful for readers. Unfortunately, he also claims in this chapter that "people with ADHD tend to be very smart or even cognitively gifted." This is a claim that he repeats elsewhere in the book, despite evidence to the contrary; although there are certainly people who have ADHD and a very high IQ, research has consistently shown that the average intelligence level is not higher in individuals with ADHD.

Several following chapters focus on Jergen's childhood and adolescence. One important theme in this section is the author's transition from a generally happy child to a frustrated and upset young man. In the early grades of elementary school, children with ADHD may have behavior problems, but they are unlikely to be particularly anxious or depressed. However, as teachers and other students respond poorly to them, they begin to develop symptoms of depression such as low self-esteem. This happens to Jergen, and although it is hard to be sympathetic when reading about to his severe misbehavior as a young child, his painful loneliness as an adolescent is easy to sympathize with.

Another theme in the section on Jergen's childhood is his poor sense of time, a quality that research has consistently associated with ADHD. Jergen lives in the present, forgets things easily, and does not think ahead to the consequences that may result from his actions. Although these are all qualities of normal children (when they are compared to adults), Jergen's degree of immaturity in this area was far more severe than that experienced by other children his age. The importance of this lack of time sense cannot be overstated—all planning behaviors, from the very short term to the very long term, require judgments about when things will happen, and rely on memory for when things happened in the past. The impaired sense of time keeps Jergen (and many others with ADHD) from planning, effectively reducing his will power to be able to do things.

As adults, individuals with ADHD are able to find less confining environments, but the standards for appropriate behavior are also higher. These two features of adulthood are illustrated well in Jergen's description of his life in college, graduate school, and beyond. He is able to choose classes that interest him, but some classes meet for three hours at a time, and he is unable to sit through them without leaving the room several times. As he begins romantic relationships, the same features are evident: he is free to live as he chooses, but finding women who will accept his lifestyle is another matter. He finds it very difficult to get a second date with anyone, in part because of his tendency to say whatever is on his mind, regardless of its appropriateness.

It is also only in adulthood, while taking a graduate class in special education, that Jergen was finally diagnosed with ADHD. An abnormal EEG and MRI scan, and a visit to a CHADD (an ADHD advocacy organization) support group meeting led him to the proper diagnosis. Like many individuals with ADHD, the diagnosis made a world of difference in the way that Jergen understood himself, made him feel less alone, and gave him hope for improvement. Unfortunately, very little improvement in his symptoms was ever realized, even though he was able to graduate with a Ph.D. in special education and go on to become a tenured professor.

The final chapters are devoted to Jergen's recommendations for people who have ADHD, based on his own strategies for getting through life. Unfortunately, many of his comments here are not based on research, and his status as a professor of special education may lead some readers to think of his recommendations as coming from an expert. For instance, although Jergen points out both advantages and disadvantages of medication for ADHD, it is irresponsible to comment offhandedly that "In fact, I have heard about cases where children have actually died from various medications for ADHD" without any documentation. He also says that alcohol helps him to concentrate, and that this is "not uncommon for people with ADHD," although there is no research to support this, and alcohol typically has the opposite effect of stimulant medications used for ADHD.

In sum, The Little Monster is a fine book for understanding Robert Jergen but should not be taken as an advice book regarding ADHD in general. Although Jergen's life story is itself a good introduction to the social consequences of ADHD, readers would do well to be skeptical of his confident comments about people with ADHD as a group. Especially problematic is his view that ADHD is a gift that confers high intelligence, creativity, and energy upon the bearer. Indeed, Jergen's own life, filled with pain and tragedy, is the best evidence against his romantic view of this serious neurological disorder.

 

© 2006 Ben Lovett

 

Ben Lovett is currently a doctoral candidate in the psychology department at Syracuse University, where his research interests include learning disabilities and ADHD. For more information, see his website: http://web.syr.edu/~bjlovett/


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