“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, then you should skip this post.
Before you go, though, take heart. Remember that the Internet is the Wild West for self-promoters and hucksters. It is not the real world—the world where serious people devote themselves 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. And, that is not going to change. We will only continue to refine our knowledge, as has been the course of this condition in the medical literature for centuries.
It has been a long time since the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame has named new inductees. And, it’s with a heavy heart that I do so now given the flurry of recent headlines.
ADHD skeptics come and go, each with their self-serving salespitch, but they become 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. There is wide and necessary acknowledgement that we don’t know everything, that the human brain is impossibly complex, but we know a great deal.
On the Internet, however, a different ethos prevails: Gaining web traffic and selling dubious books, services, and supplements by confusing the public about ADHD. These hucksters all claim to be “caring for the children,” but listen closely to what they really say and you will find that they unabashedly make unfounded statements that only worsen stigma and misinformation, all while burnishing their own lackluster image.
I believe there is much to lose if we let these people go unchallenged. You and I know these are fringe characters, but many other people do not know that. And that creates problems for everyone.
Recently, with the latest story on ADHD in The New York Times by Alan Schwarz and an outrageously titled book debuting called ADHD Does Not Exist, the floodgates gush open anew. This rogue physician and The New York Times seem to have given every two-bit website and hit-hungry “news organization” carte blanche to perform the neuroscientific equivalent of climate-change denial.
(Forgive me for not providing links, 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.)
In a future post, I will de-bunk Schwarz’s scurrilous and cherry-picked arguments. Right now, I’d like to welcome a few of this week’s standouts to the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame, all directly connected to the promotional machine behind ADHD Does Not Exist. These alleged news organizations stoop to new lows of Yellow Journalism.
As both a journalist and an ADHD expert, I’m astounded that some unknown neurologist in Illinois with virtually no prominence or history of publication is suddenly elevated to equal footing with a preponderance of medical evidence—and accorded worldwide coverage, with none of his statements checked or balanced. (Granted, none of these websites are generally considered reliable, but some still believe that The New York Times is reliable.) All it took was an outrageous book title: ADHD Does Not Exist. And the publicity machine of Harper Collins. The book has apparently already been translated into German and perhaps other languages. The publicity has appeared in the UK, Australia, Germany, and the U.S..
In addition to acting as lackeys for Harper Collins, 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.
First, there’s that bastion of science reporting, The New York Post,
and columnist Kyle Smith; he obviously writes from the press release and never questions 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.
Next, this Australian website picked up the Post’s meager column, substituting 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.” It’s 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. But bullies they are.
Yes, some children with ADHD are rambunctious and even 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 would allow a more deliberative editorial process.) And oh dear, she is also a “trained counsellor”—though surely not in mental health, because what kind of psychotherapist would approve of this awful piece and the photos?
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.
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.
And, 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?):
We always want to address challenges with the right diagnosis, and 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, those should be addressed. But make no mistake: Any physician who claims that ADHD is not a valid disorder is lying to you. And perhaps to himself.