“ADHD makes a great excuse. The diagnosis can be an easy-to-reach-for crutch. Moreover, there’s an attractive element to an ADHD diagnosis, especially in adults. It can be exciting to think of oneself as involved in many things at once, rather than stuck in a boring rut.”
Richard Saul, MD, author of ADHD Does Not Exist
That’s the ticket! You think of your own or your loved one’s ADHD diagnosis as “exciting.”
If you’re depressed by sensationalistic headlines such as “ADHD Does Not Exist” or quack physicians marketing their unique ability to “find the root cause” of ADHD, please skip this post.
Before you go, though, take heart.
Remember: The Internet is the Wild West for self-promoters and hucksters. It is not the real world—the world where serious professionals devote themselves assiduously and compassionately to researching, treating patients, and developing helpful strategies for people with ADHD and their families.
The preponderance of medical and scientific evidence says that ADHD Does Exist. That is not going to change. We will only continue to refine our knowledge; that has been the course of this condition in the medical literature for centuries. But these hucksters do threaten to exacerbate stigma and perhaps even adversely affect public policy on these issues, including insurance coverage, medication availability, and the like. We must be vigilant.
It has been a long time since the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame has named new inductees. Given the flurry of recent headlines, it’s hard to keep up. Here is a sampling. I encourage everyone to speak out, even if it in a quick comment to a “news story” or in an Amazon review. You can make a difference.
Hucksters Self-Promote, Serious People Work With Little Fanfare
Make no mistake: ADHD skeptics come and go, each with their self-serving salespitch. But they are blurry blips on the radar screen of progress. Undeterred and even unaware of these ridiculous rogues, science keeps marching on.
There were far more ADHD-focused scientific papers published by this decade’s third year than were published in all of the 1990s, the so-called “Decade of the Brain.”
In labs, clinics, and research centers internationally, there is no “controversy” about ADHD. Yes, there is wide and necessary acknowledgement that we don’t know everything, that the human brain is impossibly complex. But there is also wide consensus that we know a great deal.
At last check there were 10,000+ published papers in the literature on ADHD, most of them peer-reviewed.
On the Internet, however, a different ethos prevails: Gaining web traffic and selling dubious books, services, and supplements by confusing the public about ADHD.
In other words, take a rogue neurologist who graduated medical school in 1961 and who is determined to turn ADHD treatment back to that time, add a high powered PR firm eager to make Harper Collins money on this sham of a book, and you have an international online sensation.
These hucksters all claim to be “protecting the children.” Don’t be fooled.
Listen closely to what they really say. You will find they unabashedly make unfounded statements that only worsen stigma and misinformation, such as that in the photo above. Moreover, they do this while burnishing their own lackluster image. These are not compassionate people. They are not thoughtful people.
We Risk Much by Not Challenging the Hucksters and Self-Promoters
Recently, with the latest story on ADHD in The New York Times by Alan Schwarz and the debut of this outrageously titled ADHD Does Not Exist, the floodgates gush open anew. This rogue physician and The New York Times gave every two-bit website and traffic-crazed “news organization” carte blanche to perform the neuroscientific equivalent of climate-change denial.
(Forgive me for not providing links below, only partial screen images; I refuse to “take the bait” and play into their obvious gambits to increase web traffic on the backs of people with ADHD.)
These alleged news organizations stoop to new lows of Yellow Journalism, and that’s why I’m inducting them into the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame.
As An ADHD Expert, Richard Saul Does Not Exist
As both a journalist and an ADHD expert, I’m astounded that Richard Saul, MD, a virtual unknown neurologist in Illinois with little prominence or history of publication, finds himself elevated to equal footing with a preponderance of medical evidence. Moreover, he’s enjoying worldwide coverage, with none of his statements checked or balanced. (Granted, none of these websites is generally considered reliable, but some still believe that The New York Times is reliable.)
But look at his “blog.” Does this read as though it emanates from someone with ADHD expertise—or really, psychiatric expertise at all? It’s rambling and repetitive. No substance. The same with his book.
The man graduated from medical school in 1961—fifty years ago—and apparently hasn’t felt the need to keep up. This was an era when doctors were still viewed by many as “gods”—infallible. Perhaps it went to his head?
Naive readers say, “Well, he’s not saying ADHD doesn’t exist; he’s saying it’s overdiagnosed.”
No, friends, it’s far worse than that.
Read this book carefully. If he had his way, he would take ADHD back to the prehistoric era. Back when ADHD itself was missed and the myriad fallout potentially surrounding it was focused on instead, seldom successfully: obesity, certain learning disabilities, auditory processing disorder, neurospatial dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sleep disorder, substance abuse.
Before it was published, the book had already been translated into German and perhaps other languages. The publicity has appeared in the UK, Australia, Germany, and the U.S.. (By the way, Harper Collins is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the mastermind of Fox News.) They knew they had a “controversial” product.
In addition to acting as lackeys for Harper Collins—jumping on the red meat thrown to them—the following “news outlets” showed very poor judgment in their photo illustrations. If I had the graphic designers’ names, I would welcome them into the Hall of Shame along with the editors and columnists below.
1. That Bastion of Science Reporting, The New York Post
Columnist Kyle Smith obviously writes from the press release, never questioning the legitimacy of Saul’s opinion or the fact that Saul primarily talks about misdiagnoses and not ADHD itself. (Note: Saul’s idea of misdiagnoses might in fact be accurate diagnoses. I explain more about that here.)
The Post’s Smith also freely throws in his own ill-formed opinions:
Patients show up at the clinic with their own ADHD diagnoses these days, simply because ADHD is in the air all around us — and because they want to score some delightful drugs like Adderall or Ritalin, or because their parents want an easy way to get them to sit down and shut up.
Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants, though, and the more you take them the more you develop a tolerance for them, which can lead to a dangerous addiction spiral.
Substance abuse has long cast a long shadow with the human species. The fact that some people abuse stimulants does not argue against the legitimacy of ADHD and the medications used to treat it. Heck, many of my friends with ADHD forget to take the medication; they certainly don’t abuse it.
2. Tom Sawyer Meets Linda Blair in The Exorcist, Down Under
Next, this Australian website picked up the Post’s meager column. But it substituted an even more offensive photo, showing that neither the editors nor the graphic designers share a clue about ADHD. It’s not about “children behaving badly”—or, for that matter, held in demonic possession.
ADHD about children and adults who have a valid neurocognitive condition that affects self-regulation. These children have enough problems with bullies; they don’t need more bullying from the media or from the neurologist who claims to have their best interests at heart.
Yes, some children with ADHD are rambunctious and even dangerously aggressive. But many are shy and conflict-averse.
Perpetuating this myth that ADHD is a “behavior” disorder caused by lax parenting leads to barbaric calls for “treating ADHD” with corporal punishment, such as by other marginal figures as developmental pediatrician Larry Diller (a favored source of The New York Times’ Schwarz, who could use a lesson in vetting sources and talking to bona fide experts).
Interestingly enough, this news.com.au website prominently touts its editorial decision-makers’ expertise. So, you’d think there would have been more deliberation behind running this piece.
After all, Deputy Editor Lisa Muxworthy has reportedly been a journalist for more than 16 years, with experience reporting on politics, health and general news. And News Editor Kate de Brito, who the site says has been a reporter, columnist, and feature writer for more than 20 years, “loves working online for the speed, variety and reader feedback.” (Maybe a little less speed and a little more deliberative editorial process would be a good idea.) And oh dear, she is also a “trained counsellor”—though surely not in mental health. What kind of psychotherapist would approve of this awful piece and the photos?
3. UK’s Daily Fail
The UK’s Daily Mail did a slightly better job by at least talking to a few reputable sources. But the paper still qualifies as a full-fledged Hall of Shame honoree by running this headline…and these photos.
4. Rev. Moon’s Washington Times
Finally and perhaps predictably, The Washington Times makes a mockery of reporting by running this:
If you can’t see that illustration, here is a larger version.
What’s especially ludicrous about the Washington Times’ contribution from Cheryl K. Chumley is that it continually cites The New York Post, as if it were a real piece of reporting and not a re-hash of a press release embellished with the columnist’s uninformed opinions.
Now more than ever, vetting news sources and experts is critically important. These headlines represent only a small slice of what is happening not only in ADHD coverage but every other topic of importance.
And, with that, I welcome all these complicit characters to the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame. May they some day take a science course, learn about ADHD, and learn how to report the news.
Richard Saul’s Error-Ridden Website
May parents everywhere not be taken in by charlatans who advertise on their websites this kind of myth about ADHD, from the website of Richard Saul, author of ADHD Does Not Exist. Yes, even in this barebones website, Saul did not notice that medicine is misspelled; were you not paying attention, Richard, or is accuracy simply unimportant to you in all things? What are you missing in the children you allegedly treat?):
We always want to address challenges with the right diagnosis. That takes parents who are pro-active in reading and learning so they can pursue the best care for their child. If food sensitivities are causing a child’s cognitive problems, for example, those should be addressed. If troubles at home between the parents are creating stress and anxiety, don’t scapegoat the child for responding with anxiety.
But make no mistake: Any physician who claims that ADHD is not a valid disorder is lying to you. And perhaps to himself.