My friend is hooked on Coronation Street; has been for years.
How could I help watching when she and her partner were glued in front of the telly on weekends when I was visiting? I couldn’t be rude, now could I?
The inevitable plot line
So, there we were one evening, me on the loveseat, her in her comfy chair, immersed in Episode 8439 (the show’s been running since 1960).
I’m noticing the over-the-top behavior of eight-year-old Max, son of Kylie and adopted son of husband David.
I know where this is going, I say aloud.
Sure enough, two episodes later, adoptive dad David has set up an appointment with the family doc, against mom Kylie’s wishes. Kylie doesn’t want the kid to have a label. (I’ve already labeled him. Too late, Kylie.)
As soon as I sensed ADHD would become a major plot line, I became anxious.
How would they handle it? Would they add to the substantial pile of crap and misinformation already out there?
What does it matter, you might ask? It’s just entertainment, right?
The program wields the awesome ability to fuel prejudice and stigma or to allay parents’ fears…
Right. But: it’s entertainment on a massive scale. Millions tune in, worldwide. The program wields the awesome ability to fuel prejudice and stigma or to allay parents’ fears and educate the masses. A noble undertaking, indeed, but surely not a soap’s mandate.
What they’ve got right (so far)
So far, so good.
Here’s a synopsis of what they’ve got right (so far):
– all the characters consistently refer to it as ADHD (the official clinical term)
– Kylie not wanting to take Max in for an assessment because she doesn’t want him labeled is a common response (and superficially at least, an understandable first reaction)
– Max is referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for assessment and diagnosis
– Family doc says ADHD is “not as serious as it sounds” when mom asks if it can be cured; says it’s just a name for some of the symptoms Max is exhibiting
– Doc says there are various treatments, including medication and behavioral and it’s good to get it under control as soon as possible for the sake of the child and the parents
– Mom asks what causes it, Doc says “some research suggests it’s genetic” and the key is to get Max the support he needs
– Dad’s attitude is great; when Max asks what’s wrong with him, the adoptive dad reassures him: “Nothing that we can’t make better.” Dad says at least they know what’s wrong now (yay, Dad!)
– Mom Kylie worries that she’s been a terrible mother, that it’s all her fault (a realistic portrayal of a possible reaction)
– Max’s grandmother (Gail) and great-grandmother (Audrey, also known as Gram) portray two common responses to the news: Gail says, “Well that explains a lot” while Gram says, “Well, if you ask me, that is just a fancy name for being naughty” (a common misconception)
– Dad David argues Gram Audrey’s point; Gram responds with another commonly held opinion, “David, these days it’s depression if you’re just a bit sad or it’s that dickslexia [sic] if you can’t spell.”
– Gram declares it’s “nothing serious” while mom Kylie overreacts, saying, “How can you say it’s nothing serious? He’s got a mental disorder.” Gail chimes in, “Just a mild one.” Again,a realistic portrayal of the ignorance about the possible impact of untreated ADHD and the benefits of early intervention and treatment
– Kylie concludes that she gave it to him; she may be right, but not because of her being a bad mom (more about that later).
What they got wrong
– The family physician mentions that some researchers think ADHD is caused by environmental factors like stress or diet (true, some suggest this; research suggests it’s a neurobiological disorder, first and foremost)
– Kylie later worries that she’s caused Max’s ADHD because of the stress at home of a new baby, then she thinks it’s what she’s been feeding him (David sets her straight: Max knows he’s loved, he’s surrounded by loving relatives, he eats what all the other kids eat)
– Kylie tells Audrey that Max is ill (it’s not an illness in my opinion; it’s a different kind of brain)
The plot will thicken
What will happen next?
Some of the drama we’ll see on the show will be realistic, given that many of us with ADHD are natural-born drama queens (otherwise known as emotionally hypersensitive), and mom has the Drama Queen chops, for sure.
I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction.
My predictions for the plotline
The fact that great-grandmum Audrey has had two out-of-wedlock kids by two different fathers (Gail, Kylie’s mom is one of them) suggests that ADHD impulsivity might be present in the matrilineal line.
Gail herself has been known to make poor romantic choices, but this may not be solely because she’s a character in a soap-opera; it may also be due to a lack of social skills leading to the misjudgment of potential suitors (again, a common ADHD trait in women who can be more gullible than their non-ADHD peers).
Kylie fits the classic profile of an impulsive, undiagnosed ADHD teen: at 19, Kylie gave birth to Max (statistics show up to nine times greater risk of an unplanned pregnancy in ADHD moms).
Birth dad left Kylie to raise Max as a single mom (perhaps he also had ADHD?), and due to her lack of coping skills, social services intervened and placed Max into foster care. Kylie’s lifestyle continues to be irresponsible and self-involved (she’s recently pulled Max out of school to go on vacation, even though in the UK there’s a fine for such behavior, which the family can ill afford). Again, this hints at a classic ADHD trait of being incapable of future planning and learning from past behaviors, as well as a need for instant gratification rather than the ability to postpone future rewards (these behaviors are associated with the brain’s executive functions).
So, taking everything into consideration, I predict that:
1 ) Max will be diagnosed with ADHD, hyperactive sub-type
2 ) Kylie will eventually be diagnosed also
3 ) Kylie and David will wrangle about whether or not to put Max on an ADHD medication (Kylie will be against; David for)
4 ) Gram will vehemently argue against ADHD medication for Max
5 ) Gail will be all for medication
6 ) I’ll keep watching to see what happens; but only in a professional capacity, of course
How do you feel about ADHD being portrayed yet again in mainstream entertainment? (It’s been mentioned in the film Julie & Julia and elsewhere).
What do you think of the way Coronation Street has handled the topic of childhood ADHD so far? Realistic? Not realistic?
What would you like to see happen next? What do you think will happen next?
I guess the only way to know if my predictions will come true is to continue to tune in. It’s not that I’m addicted to the show or anything – it’s in the name of science.
[If you live in Canada, you can watch the episodes free here.]