Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Why We Still Need Literature - The Experience of Children

We recently had the pleasure of discovering a wonderful article written by Dr. William B. Carey, Learning About Children from Literature (sorry, not free access).

Carey's article is directed at pediatricians, but just try substituting the word "parent" whenever "pediatrician" appears.

"Which tells us more about children, behavioral science or the general literature?...Now one can find presentationson the impact of physical characteristics and disabilities, family interactions, other social inflences, and temperamental predispositions in both literature and science. The difference in treatment is that science describees in abstractions the general principles of human nature, while literature synthesizes vivid, coherent illustrations science has not. The complete pediatrician needs both sources of information for a well-rounded knowledge of children and their development."

What behavioral science and the general clinical community is often guilty of, is classifying children on the basis of general categories, rather interpreting the real story of an individual child's life. A parent's and child's experiences are rich, nuanced, and always changing. No wonder the experience taking a child to an "ADHD" visit can feel a little dehumanizing.

Look at Carey's Excerpt from Woolf's To the Lighthouse: "But his son hated him. He hated him for coming up to them, for stopping and looking down on them; he hated him for interrupting them; he hated him for the exaltation and sublimity of his gestures; for the magnificence of his head; for his exactingness and egotism (for there he stood commanding them to attend to him); but most of all he hated the twant and twitter of his father's emotion which, vibrating round them, disturbed the perfect simplicity and good sense of his relations with his mother."

Now how would the DSM IV describe this? An Adjustment Disorder? How much does this tell you?

In this age of expertise and amazing medical science, parents and professionals would do well to keep a balanced view of difference sources of knowledge, their limitations, and respective views. We can learn a lot from reading beyond science and medical texts.

One final Carey pearl,"Modern textbook descriptions are obviously better at preparing the clinican for the common manifestations of the clinical problems and appropriate management strategies, but the literary examples are unsurpassed ingiving the clinican (or general reader) a sense of what the child actually experiences."

Learning About Children from Literature
Temperament and the Pediatrician
Teaching Parents About Infant Temperament
To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

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