Biology influences each person’s experiences from the moment of birth. Girls and boys are treated differently simply based on their gender as evidenced in the language used when speaking to infants, clothing, and toys. In my family, my sister was blessed with two girls and I was blessed with two boys. When shopping for presents for my nieces I frequently lamented over the apparent indoctrination towards all things pink and girly, including baby dolls, Barbie’s, and dress up. On the other hand, the boys’ portion of the store is filled with learning toys, sports equipment, science, and puzzles. These experiences continue throughout childhood and adulthood. Girls are expected to be sweet and gentile, to play with dolls, and play house. When they do not conform to these stereotypes displaying interest in climbing trees, sports, science, or rough and tumble play, they are categorized as tomboys. Boys are even more socially pressured to maintain the status quo of expectations. Sensitivity, crying, or any signs of emotionality can result in physical and emotional bullying and/or exclusion from social groups. These differences are also reflected in academic arenas. Girls are stereotyped as being better at verbal and language skills, whereas boys are better at mathematical and spatial skills. However, research has demonstrated a strong relationship between toy preferences, spatial competencies, and childhood experiences using these skills such that because boys are repeatedly pushed towards toys and experiences requiring spatial aptitude whereas girls are not, boys necessarily perform better than girls on measurements of same (Voyer, Nolan, & Voyer, 2000).
Temperament is yet another determining factor that directly influences experiences. Friedman and Schustack (2012) refer to temperament as composed of activity, emotionality, sociability, and aggressive/impulsivity. The expression of each of these dimensions culminates in an individual’s behavioral experience, which may result in vastly different experiences on the behalf of the individual. For instance, my first-born son, Gabriel, has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with mild comorbidities and sensory processing disorder. During his infancy, he would have scored quite high on all dimensions except aggressiveness. He was and is very sensitive, and was a very happy infant, as long as he was kept to a routine (a common experience for children with ADHD), and we avoided excessively over stimulating scenarios such as loud noises, unexpected events, or too many people. This worked out well for us because I also have ADHD with sensory processing issues, which resulted in his being raised on my routine. In response to Gabriel’s activity level and good-naturedness, my husband and I were often tired, but rarely frustrated.
In sharp contrast, my second son, Danny, was born without ADHD, but also without a sunny disposition. I would estimate his infancy levels of activity as average, emotionality as highly demanding, low sociability, low impulsivity, and highly aggressive in demanding his way. He was actually very cautious and wary of strangers. Although he was less activity and less impulsive, his demanding emotional nature far outweighed the other dimensions. Danny was also a very poor sleeper. He was difficult, and although we maintained a similar routine to Gabriel, he was very adept at pushing everyone’s limits. In response to the variations between the two children, my husband and I were frequently exhausted and frustrated. We often traded off so that we could each get a break. In fact, my husband was much better with Danny than I when he was in one of his moods.
Clearly, these two children experienced different toddlerhoods because of their temperament, the realities of having more than one child, and the cumulative effect of fatigue and frustration.
As my older son aged, it became clear he had ADHD. One of my areas of interest is related to ADHD, the stigmatization experienced by those diagnosed with it, as well as potential treatments. There is a great deal of research indicating there is ongoing and widespread discrimination and stigmatization towards those diagnosed with ADHD, as well as their families (DosReis, Barksdale, Sherman, Maloney, & Charach, 2010), as well as other types of social problems resulting from behaviors demonstrated by children with ADHD (Kofler et al., 2011). There are many misunderstandings regarding the disorder, parenting those with ADHD, pharmacology as treatments, as well as other efficacious treatments. Sadly, these difficult social experiences often continue into adulthood (Canu, Newman, Morrow, & Pope, 2008).
Biological influences of ADHD can also alter experiences due to medications taken, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and comorbidities. For instance, when I do not sleep well my medication is far less effective which results in greater impulsivity and irritability from lack of rest. Additionally, many individuals with ADHD have accompanying comorbidities such as anxiety, aggression, or obsessive-compulsivity. Each of these issues, by themselves, can create interpersonal effects differing from those without them. Ideally, an individual with ADHD learns how to adapt their behavior in socially acceptable ways; however, this can often be difficult because many do not have the experiences and/or interventions necessary to learn how to adapt positively. In fact, the learning process itself differs greatly for an individual with ADHD due to their unique neural chemistry often making it much more difficult to associate rewards with behaviors due to deficits in executive functioning (Desman, Petermann, & Hampel, 2008).
Canu, W. H., Newman, M. L., Morrow, T. L., & Pope, D. L. W. (2008). Social appraisal of adult ADHD: stigma and influences of the beholder’s Big Five personality traits. Journal of attention disorders, 11(6), 700–10. doi:10.1177/1087054707305090
Desman, C., Petermann, F., & Hampel, P. (2008). Deficit in response inhibition in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): impact of motivation? Child neuropsychology : a journal on normal and abnormal development in childhood and adolescence, 14(6), 483–503. doi:10.1080/09297040701625831
DosReis, S., Barksdale, C. L., Sherman, A., Maloney, K., & Charach, A. (2010). Stigmatizing experiences of parents of children with a new diagnosis of ADHD. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 61(8), 811–6. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.61.8.811
Kofler, M. J., Rapport, M. D., Bolden, J., Sarver, D. E., Raiker, J. S., & Alderson, R. M. (2011). Working memory deficits and social problems in children with ADHD. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 39(6), 805–17. doi:10.1007/s10802-011-9492-8
Voyer, D., Nolan, C., & Voyer, S. (2000). The relation between experience and spatial performance in men and women. Sex Roles, 43(11), 891-915. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/225368662?accountid=14872