I am writing in response to an article you published on January 18th, 2017, entitled Renowned Harvard Psychologist Says ADHD Is Largely a Fraud. The article was based on an interview conducted with Jerome Kagan, who indeed, appears to be a highly esteemed psychologist.
I have been teaching students from around the world for 17 years, alongside providing learning support for those with a diagnosis of ADHD. In addition to this, I have been with my 45-year-old partner for 5 years.
He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 27 years old. At first, like some others, I had already formed a skewed opinion on this ‘condition’ due to years of reading heavily-biased views in certain areas of the press.
Views that seemed to have been formed in opposition to the rather over-zealous spate of prescribing the drug Ritalin to almost, it seemed any child who showed signs of being disruptive or hyperactive. In other words, in the back of my mind, I didn’t really think it existed.
However, through years of living with someone who has displayed such overt ‘symptoms’ which have caused him varying degrees of distress over time and which he clearly has no control over, I have been left with the overriding impression that this ‘thing’ – whatever the label – is a real ‘thing’ that cannot just be simply controlled with good parenting, or a clean diet or professional teachers.
It is, by its very nature, part of someone’s DNA make up to such an extent that they cannot switch it on or off whenever the occasion calls for.
Although Professor Kagan clearly has a point, that in certain countries (USA springs to mind as the obvious example), Ritalin is given out like candy. Indeed, the argument that pharmaceutical companies pedal this drug in such an irresponsible way is one that, from everything I have read, cannot be denied.
There seems to have been a worrying trend, over the past 2 decades, to somehow convince fraught/burn out parents and schools who do not know how to handle disruptive kids, that this little pill will solve all their parental/pedagogical problems.
But in order to flog the drug a condition needs to be ‘invented’ so that drug companies can legitimize the supply of what is essentially liquid speed to children.
…but…this is where the argument and the widespread reporting of it becomes a dangerous one.
Yes, there may be millions of individuals around the globe who are misdiagnosed with ADHD (due to the reasons given above) but…THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE CONDITION DOES NOT EXIST!
Thankfully, technology has advanced to the point whereby brain scans are able to show what an ADHD brain looks like, compared to a non-ADHD one.
As I said, when you live with someone who has ADHD, when you see young people with this condition it is almost impossible to ignore. A child who is lazy in the classroom or disruptive when a particular subject starts being discussed is just that.
A child who was born with a neurodiverse brain and simply cannot process incoming information in the way that someone with a neuro-typical brain can, behaves like that most of the time. If they had a choice to change, trust me, they would make that choice within a heartbeat.
My partner suffered greatly, being a child in 1970s Britain, at a time when even dyslexia didn’t really exist – you were just ‘thick’. He knew for a long time that, despite being hugely intelligent, he just couldn’t function in the same way that other kids could.
He remembers telling his mum when he was about 10 years old – “One day there will be a name for this thing I have.” Sadly, it took another 17 years before he received that identification. I still struggle on a daily basis to get him to respond to me when I am sitting in front of him and I call his name 2 or 3 times.
I have lost count of the number of times he has flooded our ceiling by forgetting that the bath was running or that he has had to repeat out loud several times a question I have asked him, such as “How was your meeting?” in order to process the incoming information. IT-IS-REAL.
The reason my heart sank when I read your article is that, as I understand, your magazine is aimed at young, enquiring minds. This is a sentiment that needs to be applauded and I have spent much of my 17 years in the teaching profession trying to awaken the curiosity of youngsters.
However, the idea that ADHD is something to be dismissed altogether not only serves to solidify an already heavily biased (and hopefully old-fashioned argument) in the public mind but also perhaps irreversibly damages the self-esteem of a young person who may indeed have ADHD (for real) and may be left questioning that they are just not controlled enough, or strong enough to get through their distressing symptoms.
It is hoped that the world has moved on from such attitudes and that we are becoming a more supportive and open-minded society.
Prescribing drugs to young people certainly raises many ethical and moral questions, but disregarding a medically-researched condition as an ‘invention’ is equally concerning.
Suzanne is a teacher and learning support tutor for students with learning differences (including ADHD). She is also a teacher trainer who regularly speaks at conferences about supporting students with ADHD and other learning differences. She is passionate about promoting positive and inclusive learning for all and hopes to raise awareness of the many strengths of neuro-diverse learners as well as challenge some of the myths surrounding ADHD.