When Sandra Arnau-Dewar's six-year son injures his right eye and is nearly blinded, she is confronted with a brutal truth. If she doesn't find a way to manage her son's hyperactive and accident-prone behavior, he could end up maimed or dead. Although she long suspected that he had ADHD, she resisted having him diagnosed because she didn't want him medicated. Now she has to decide which is worse--his continuing risky behavior--or the side-effects of his taking Ritalin.
Thus, begins her journey from stressed and bewildered parent to empowered advocate for a new name and understanding of ADHD. Although classified as a mental disorder, recent genetic studies show that ADHD behavior was an asset to early human ancestors, so these trait are adaptive. This confirms Arnau-Dewar's own observations—people with ADHD often excel at creative, out of the box thinking. In fact, scientists have nicknamed the DRD4 dopamine gene, common in those with ADHD, the novelty seeking gene because bearers often enjoy new experiences.
Despite the scientific theory underlying the book, this memoir offers an intensely personal view of how one family grappled with the challenges that ADHD presents. Full of honesty and heart, Desperately Seeking Novelty gives hope to those who have felt disrespected by the term, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The author advocates changing the name for ADHD because the present term includes the biased words "deficit" and "disorder."
After an introduction that feels more like a scientific paper, complete with nine footnotes, Arnau-Dewar shifts smoothly into memoir mode and expertly toggles back and forth between the 1950s and the 2010s, unflinchingly examining her nomadic childhood as the only child of a single mother. She also lays bare her family’s other mental health issues, including the suicides of both her parents. She pulls no punches about the difficulties of raising children with ADHD—her marriage was among the casualties—but painstakingly details the joys of “restless energy and exuberant curiosity,” “passion and optimism,” alongside the challenges of dealing with teachers, doctors, and sometimes self-destructive kids.
Woven into the recollections are a variety of references to scientific studies on ADHD. “Remember that natural selection occurs when a change (mutation) in the genetic code favors survival,” Arnau-Dewar writes, theorizing that hyperactivity, impulsivity, and aggression allowed humans to avoid predators. She does a masterful job of compiling studies to back up this hypothesis and suggests that the condition be called “executive function adaptation” to reduce stigma and recognize the positive aspects of ADHD mental wiring. Meticulously researched and skillfully written, Arnau-Dewar’s memoir does double duty as a brutally frank instructional guide for parents of children with ADHD.
Takeaway: Readers raising children with ADHD will greatly benefit from Arnau-Dewar’s blend of memoir and science.
Great for fans of Thom Hartmann’s Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception, Blake E.S. Taylor’s ADHD and Me.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A