The fact that my annoyingly competitive 9-year-old behavior would likely be labeled as ADHD these days is something I find disturbing. Would I have been put on Ritalin for wanting to be first in line?
This brings me to the orchid hypothesis of ADHD as elucidated in this Atlantic article:
Though this hypothesis is new to modern biological psychiatry, it can be found in folk wisdom, as the University of Arizona developmental psychologist Bruce Ellis and the University of British Columbia developmental pediatrician W. Thomas Boyce pointed out last year in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. The Swedes, Ellis and Boyce noted in an essay titled “Biological Sensitivity to Context,” have long spoken of “dandelion” children. These dandelion children—equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes—do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.My kid is obsessed with Batman and Owlman (Batman's evil twin from a parallel Earth), to the point where we had to purchase two Batman masks and paint one grey (actually silver, don't say anything).
At first glance, this idea, which I’ll call the orchid hypothesis, may seem a simple amendment to the vulnerability hypothesis. It merely adds that environment and experience can steer a person up instead of down. Yet it’s actually a completely new way to think about genetics and human behavior. Risk becomes possibility; vulnerability becomes plasticity and responsiveness. It’s one of those simple ideas with big, spreading implications. Gene variants generally considered misfortunes (poor Jim, he got the “bad” gene) can instead now be understood as highly leveraged evolutionary bets, with both high risks and high potential rewards: gambles that help create a diversified-portfolio approach to survival, with selection favoring parents who happen to invest in both dandelions and orchids.
Liam was extremely happy to have an Owlman and Batman mask--his obsession was abated, but it makes me wonder how easily this obsessive energy could be channeled in the wrong direction or simply be dissipated in bad behavior. How much is there to the dandelion/orchid dichotomy?
I kind of hate to use the word orchid to describe my kid, who is anything but a hothouse flower but the idea that certain genes make one more vulnerable or more successful depending on one's upbringing is an interesting one. And I don't think any of this is antithetical to the notion that diet could play a huge factor in ADHD. Dandelions might also be better at thriving on crappy diets than orchids.