I was about 22 when I started working in newsrooms, and before that my office mate was a chain-smoking former World War II fighter pilot who kept a flask in his desk drawer. I’m no stranger to foul language and have been known to throw it around with the best of them—even outside the heat of deadline.
“Mom dropped an F-bomb today.” I’m not proud of it, but I admit it. I’ve been tattled on more than once. But when the curses are flowing from the mouth of my 12-year-old son it all seems so different, like the screeching of nails on a chalkboard.
Years ago Joe’s therapist told me to accept that swearing was a common element of ADHD and suggested implementing the rule that foul language at home would be tolerated but that outside the home it was taboo. We adopted that outlook, and for the most part it worked.
But I’m learning there’s a difference between an 8-year-old blurting an occasional curse word and an adolescent who’s not even aware of how often swears roll off his tongue. And while I’m not sure, I suspect using foul language is more common—and cool— among a middle school population than it was in elementary school, meaning the “outside the home” rule has been eroded, possibly nonexistent as evidenced by Joe’s repeated swearing in front of his grandparents during a visit last month.
As I’ve pondered how to deal with this increasingly bothersome issue, I’ve tried to get a better understanding of why ADHD kids are more prone to such language. And as is the case with many other aspects of this neurological disorder, I understand the reasoning but have a harder time accepting the reality.
Studies show that curse words are processed differently by the brain than other words. Most language is broken down into component parts and processed in the left brain’s language center in the cerebral cortex, but swear words are not broken down—and they are not processed in the thinking cortex. People in general, the studies show, process curses in the right brain as whole units (meaning no help is needed from the language center) in the basal ganglia, a deep brain area associated with emotion and impulse control.
Now here’s the ADHD connection. Brain mapping shows people with ADHD have smaller basal ganglia areas than people without the condition. The part of my son’s brain responsible for controlling impulses and emotion is smaller, and therefore has less capacity for regulating them. It stands to reason that since cursing is processed in the basal ganglia, there is less capacity for controlling that, too.
I’m still trying to formulate an updated plan. I’ve taken to nonchalantly calling Joe’s attention to the fact that he’s used a curse word and calmly asking him to cut back. So far he’s responded positively, generally with a casual apology. Yet I worry about what this issue will look like in another couple of years, and how I will handle it.
The whole thing is enough to make me want to let loose with an ear-stinging rant, but in the interest of setting a good example, I’ll draw on my basal ganglia and control the impulse.
Related posts: adhd symptoms, General ADHD, middle school, parenting/FAMILY, Tammy Murphy, Tammy Time