Humans often characterize anything that deviates from what they are comfortable with as a “disorder.” While there are true “disorders” such as osteogenesis imperfecta which do impair the ability to function, this “attention deficit disorder” often does not except in an inappropriate environment. There is the theory known as “Hunter vs. Farmer” which I have read about online, and I believe it is much the same as my parrot-child theory. Much of what I have written here I have read about in different psychology and pet care manuals, and formulated my theory as how to best treat a ‘parrot-child.’
I have many of the symptoms of this ‘disorder’ including the need for novelty and the tendency to hunt for long periods of time for what I am looking for. For instance, if I want to find a good freeware music program, I will hunt for hours until I either find it or eventually give up. I also need lots of stimulation or I will get bored easily. Attention Deficit is simply a low threshold for boredom. Some people have low tolerance for pain, others for noise or smells, so it would make sense that a trait for low boredom tolerance exists.
Parrots are known for their inability to handle boredom very well, and in the wild that is what keeps them alive. Domesticated parrots, including cockatiels and budgies, will chew on wood, paper, or anything else they can get their beaks on. They do that for many reasons: to hunt food, gather nesting materials, dig nests, and keep their beaks sharp and in shape. In the parrot’s natural environment, food is not kept in little cups, and neither is water(which is why it is best, in my mind, to give parrots honey or veggie sticks instead of cups of seeds.) The bird has to hunt for food and nesting materials. This is where the need for novelty is put to use: if the parrot is hunting, it will keep on looking until it is ‘distracted’ by a certain shape, color, or scent. Those stimuli can send different messages to the bird’s brain, and have to be interpreted quickly into ‘food/water,’ ‘nesting material,’ ‘mate,’ or ‘danger.’
This theory came to me when I was watching a youtube video titled “ZOEY THE MOLUCCAN COCKATOO HAS A.D.D. DISORDER (CRAZY BIRD) .” Parrots and especially cockatoos are extremely demanding socially and physically. If bored they will pull out their feathers and even mutilate themselves(though the causes may also be improper diet and body chemistry) or scream and bite for attention.
In general, this environment is inappropriate for both parrots and people with ADD. In the classroom, children are subjected to a teaching style similar to placing them in highchairs and spoon-feeding them information. If a child’s mind wanders too much and/or he becomes rowdy and disrupts the class, then the solution is often to put him on Ritalin, and take away TV and videogames. My mother often talks about ADD and says that children with ADD are ‘enthralled by tv/videogames’ but they can’t concentrate on assignments. Taking away the novelties the children need, however, can make their boredom worse. That and giving them drugs may akin to trying to make a cockatoo act like a canary.
My theory is that children with ADD could work well by watching visuals related to their subjects. Even cartoons can be turned into lessons of animation – finding ‘tweens’ and learning about classic animators like Tex Avery, and the shortcuts some studios often used to limit animation budgets. Color theory can also be taught through that, as can rotoscoping(tracing over live footage for scenery or characters.) I loved watching nature, science, and history shows on the instructional and public television channels as a child; this can be used in oral and written tests, and as supplements for textbooks. Another approach would be to largely eliminate the lecture or split it up so the individual parts can be digested more easily, and to treat looking through textbooks like a treasure hunt. For the parrot-child, school should be less about memorization and more about discovering(though wrong answers should still be labeled wrong, to encourage improvement.)
Another problem is acting out and disrupting others. I have theorized that just like with parrots, children with ADD need to get this energy out of their systems. Often, ignoring such behavior as long as it does not cause anybody any harm can extinguish it since the reward(attention) is taken away. This can also be done when a child is whining for something he or she wants, or protesting a punishment. Excessive negative reinforcement can often make the undesired behavior worse and destroy your child’s trust in you, as it can with a parrot. Striking, yelling, or increasing the punishment in response to the protests can make it worse and stress the child out, while simply tuning the child out(it will be hard at first until the behavior is extinguished) can often encourage a child to calm down. Intervene only if the child is harming himself, others, or other peoples’ property; if he destroys his own stuff, that can serve as a lesson to control his anger and impulses.
Yelling can be part of how a parrot-minded child relates to others; parrots communicate by screaming and making loud noise, because for them, quiet means danger. Often, if a parent yells at a parrot-minded child, the child will yell back unless he is afraid of being struck. He may be frightened and act submissive, but that is only to stop the parent from threatening him. It will not change his behavior when you are not watching. Calmly delivering consequences without belittling the child is better than going on a tirade while simultaneously spanking the child. The goal is to make a child respect you as the ‘alpha’ or ‘boss,’ not fear or distrust you. A swat on the back-side or hand is sometimes appropriate but should not be overused just to keep the child under your thumb – that can lead either to rebellion or overdependence. Lead, but don’t bully, and instead of just punishing bad behavior, encourage good behavior through attention.
An example from my childhood:
As a child, I was often grounded, and when the punishment was increased with every protest, or even at the slightest infraction, it stressed me out and my behavior worsened. It often took me a long time to calm down, and even then I was very frustrated. I theorize that it would have been easier to accept my punishments if they did not add that extra negative reinforcement. Generally I responded better to being spoken to calmly, and being told what the penalty for the infraction would be.
Parrot-minded children may also mistakenly think they have been trapped or lied to when they simply did not know about the rule that they had inadvertently broken. Calmly warning once and then giving a simple, dispassionate response to any infractions, works better than yelling and screaming. Mark out the boundaries and make them clear, and if they are violated, follow through with the penalty – and ignore his whining and pleading. Wait until he calms down, then hug him and let him know you are doing this for his own good.
Like parrots, especially cockatoos, parrot-children often need lots of help with certain activities, including finding a job or even going through the motions of graduating. It is similar to a young cockatoo asking to be fed even though it has demonstrated the ability to feed itself. Refusing to feed the young adult cockatoo will lead it to stop eating and start crying. Cockatoos(especially the goffins), according to the owner of the Hornbeam Aviary, need to be fed if they are moved to a new home or owner, or a big change happens in their life, to assure them that they will be cared for in their time of need.
This way, you can better understand your parrot-child and lessen the need for Ritalin and other drugs.
Onepedia, “Hunter vs. Farmer Theory.” Onepedia.com.
jonmisie, “Zoey the moluccan cockatoo has A.D.D. Disorder (Crazy Bird).” Youtube.com.
Jim and Katy McElroy, “Goffins Cockatoo, cacatua goffini.” Hornbeam Aviary.