Is your child an orchid or a dandelion?

    The title of this piece might sound flowery, but the underlying message is quite compelling.  In “The Science of Success” which appeared in the December 2009 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, David Dobbs pulled together some very interesting strands of research about vulnerability in children.


    Dobb’s essential thesis was that while our ‘dandelion’ children are likely to sprout up and flower just about anywhere, our ‘orchids’ are more fragile and need more careful tending in optimal environments.  Yet he maintains that new research is suggesting that it’s those very orchids who, in the right environment, can transform their vulnerabilities into impressive strenghts.


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    Dobbs offers delightfully understandable genetic research to back up his claims.  At the crux of it all is the contention that the continuation of seemingly dysfunctional and maladaptive (vulnerablility) genes can only be explained if there is some genetic upside to them as well.


    In the article, Dobbs touches upon many of the challenges we see in children and adults today… ADHD, depression, anxiety, anti-social behaviors.  He describes how children with ADHD in one study who had a ‘risk allelle’ (genetic predisposition) for externalizing behaviors significantly outdid their dandelion peers when the parents of both groups received video feedback and guidance.  Studies like this one are bolstering the orchid theory, or as Dobbs puts it, the idea that,”a genetic trait tremendously maladaptive in one situation can prove highly adaptive in another.”


    Most parents of children who struggle with ADHD or anxiety or mood disorders are also keenly aware of the substantial gifts that accompany them. Have you experienced this with your own orchid?  Or are you raising a dandelion?  One of each?  Does Dobb’s thesis mesh with your own experience, or does it offer a new lens with which to view your child’s vulnerabilities… and potential?


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