Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Right-Brain Children in a Left-Brain World, or Left-Brain Children in a Right-Brain World?

Checking out my book's Amazon page, as I can't help doing from time to time, I've learned that Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World is "frequently bought together" with Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World.

From such a sales paradox, two obvious questions emerge:

1. Why?
2. Is the world in question Right-Brained or Left-Brained?

Re question 1, one possibility is that people are simply satisfying their curiosity--e.g., about how these two books could co-exist. Or about how things could have changed so dramatically in the dozen years between the publication of Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World and that of Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World. Or, if things haven't changed, about whether it's right-brained or left-brained children who are more at sea in today's world.

Another possibility is that the two books appeal to overlapping groups of readers. To explore this, I acquired a copy of Right-Brained Children and read it last night. My conclusion: yes, there is indeed some overlap--in fact, quite a bit.

Right-Brained Children is about children with ADD. Author Jeffrey Reed, who has been working with such children since well before the term "ADD" became a household label, has long considered his clients as quintessentially right-brained.

But Reed's definition of "right-brained" not only differs mine, but overlaps somewhat with my "left-brained." Traits that he calls "right-brain" and I call "left-brain" include:

>being good at puzzles and mazes
>shying away from hugs
>being better at thinking of ideas if working alone rather than in a group
>being a late bloomer
>at the extreme, being on the autistic spectrum

I don't disagree that these traits are associated with ADD. Some researchers, indeed, have hypothesized that there's an overlap between autistic spectrum disorders and ADD. Nor do I believe that all children on the autistic spectrum are what I call "left-brain."

However, while Reed is basing his terms on what little has been scientifically concluded about brain hemispheres and personality traits (not much!), I'm basing my terms exclusively on the everyday vernacular, which commonly associates "left-brain" with puzzle skill, introversion, and working best independently rather than in groups.

One problem with Reed's dichotomy is that it raises more questions than it answers about the autism-ADD connection. He claims that the typical child with ADD is:

...extremely sensitive to your moods and expressions, reading your body language tone of voice, and look in your eyes far better than do most people. He can tell the moment you walk in the door if you had a good or a bad day at the ofice. If you're happy, he'll pick up on your giddiness; if you're on edge, he's apt to act out and show anger as well.
But for children with autism, such empathy is an area of weakness--indeed, it is a core deficit of autism. Nor do the ADD children I know strike me as more empathetic than their peers. Is it really the case that most of them are unusually right-brained in their ability to empathize with others?

As to the question of whether the world is right or left-brained, stay tuned for an upcoming post.


Amy P said...

Have you ever read Deirdre Lovecky's Different Minds? It's on giftedness, ADHD and Asperger's. I'm blogging it (slowly) at Wendy at and I are splitting the chapters as part of a book club. Your book is my next blog project, but it's taking forever to work on Different Minds. I've read a number of books on Asperger's, but your book has a lot of ideas that I haven't seen elsewhere. I'm a big fan of your "Autism Diary" posts on the blog.

Katharine Beals said...

Thanks for the suggestion Amy! I was not familiar with the book. I've now read your and Wendy's very interesting posts on it, and boy, this does seem to be a complicated diagnosis--or set of diagnoses. Kind of like Asperger's/Autism! I look forward to reading more. I'm also excited to hear that my book is on your list, and look forward to reading your thoughts on that as well.