If you’re depressed by sensationalistic headlines such as “ADHD Does Not Exist” or rogue physicians such as Richard Saul marketing their unique ability to “find the root cause” of ADHD, please skip this post.
But before you go, take heart. And remember: The Internet is the Wild West for self-promoters and hucksters. It is not the real world. That is, the world where serious professionals devote themselves assiduously 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 will not change. We will only continue to refine our knowledge; that has been the course of this condition in the medical literature for centuries.
Self-serving ADHD skeptics come and go, each with their sensationalist sales pitch and blinkered bias. But they are blurry blips on the radar screen of progress. Science keeps marching on, undeterred and even unaware of these ridiculous rogues grandstanding online.
However short-lived each is, there seems to be a steady stream of these hucksters and charlatans. And they can still do a lot of damage. They exacerbate stigma. They also threaten 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. Today, I welcome several:
- Richard Saul, author of ADHD Does Not Exist. (The book’s publisher, Harper Collins, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News.)
- A fellow neurologist and early ADHD denier, Fred Baughman, Jr. author of The ADHD Fraud.
- Four “news” organizations.
I encourage everyone to speak out in response to any anti-ADHD book or article, even if only in a quick comment or an Amazon review. You can make a difference. Even if you don’t change anyone’s mind, you can provide courage and validation to those reading the article and comments and wondering….”Is this true? Should I not seek treatment for my or my child’s ADHD?”
Hucksters Self-Promote, Serious People Work
“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.”
Newsweek interviewed me for this article about ADHD Does Not Exist (“Richard Saul Says ADHD Does Not Exist. Not Everyone Agrees“):
The lack of controversy [about ADHD] among the experts is telling, but it’s an entirely different story online. Comments and debates can spiral out of control quickly, leading to the spread of misinformation. This has already started on blogs and websites covering the book release.
Some commenters claim ADHD can be “cured” by better parenting or that it’s not a disorder, just a lack of discipline.
It’s so important for the public to understand that on the Internet anyone can be an ‘expert,’ ” says Gina Pera, author of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? and an ADHD advocate. “The real experts in ADHD are busy researching, writing papers, and treating patients, so they don’t spend time on the Internet writing or commenting. Readers who limit themselves to websites, without knowing how to discern wheat from chaff, do themselves a great disservice.”
Public Denial Springs from Personal Denial?
Many people with ADHD will assume that these “ADHD Deniers” are hard-hearted neurotypicals who cannot appreciate their struggles.
Yet, over 20 years of closely observing the loudest deniers, I can tell you: Most of the “ADHD Deniers” also have ADHD.
Teachers and other might have suggested that their children be screened for ADHD, too. Given the genetic nature of ADHD, odds are good that this professional ADHD Denier has ADHD, too.
Between the low self-observation and narcissism that ADHD symptoms can confer and the opportunity to elevate their platform and become famous or rich, it’s apparently obvious to them: “I should go on an anti-ADHD campaign!”
Consider this from Saul’s 2019 obituary:
In his pediatric work, he encountered a number of children with what the younger Saul called “these complicated problems.”
That included two of the doctor’s own children, one so disruptive a teacher put him in a large cardboard box in the classroom and one who made regular trips to the principal’s office, often for firing spitballs.
Are Neurologists Qualified to Recognize and Treat ADHD?
The first rogue physician I encountered was Fred Baughman and his 2006 book, The ADHD Fraud? Like Saul, Baughman is also a neurologist.
(At the time, I did research his “back story” and found what seemed to be an ADHD connection to his son. I cannot find that link now, unfortunately. But I do see that he is considered a “medical expert” for a certain “religious” organization whose calling card is anti-psychiatry fear-mongering and money raising.)
With noted exceptions, neurology is not generally seen as the specialty qualified to diagnose or understand ADHD. That preferred specialty is generally considered psychiatry. And, in fact, there has been competition between the two specialties for years (italics mine, for emphasis, from The Wall Between Psychiatry and Neurology: Advances in Neuroscience Indicate It’s Time To Take It Down):
During the 20th century, however, a schism emerged as each of these fields went its separate way.
Neurologists focused on those brain disorders with cognitive and behavioural abnormalities that also presented with somatic signs—stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and so forth—while psychiatrists focused on those disorders of mood and thought associated with no, or minor, physical signs found in the neurological examination of the motor and sensory systems—schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders, and so on.
For certain disorders, conflicting theories emerged about their aetiology and pathogenesis, at times engendering negative attitudes among workers in one or the other field, including derision and incivility. In academic medical centres, separate departments were formed in neurology and psychiatry that had little interest in collaboration in research, teaching, or patient care.
There Is No “Controversy” About ADHD
In labs, clinics, and research centers internationally, there is no “controversy” about ADHD. Yes, there is wide and necessary acknowledgment that we don’t know everything, that the human brain is impossibly complex. But there is also a 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. There were far more ADHD-focused scientific papers published in this decade’s first three years than were published in all of the 1990s, the so-called “Decade of the Brain.”
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 —in this case, Saul—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 money for Harper Collins on this sham of a book, and you have an international online sensation. (“Fox News” owner Rupert Murdoch also owns Harper Collins, through his News Corporation. Before it was even published in the U.S., there were foreign translations shipping.)
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 the quotation from Saul above. Moreover, they do this while burnishing their own lackluster image. These are not compassionate people. They are not even smart or up-to-date physicians.
We Risk Much by Staying Mum
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 highly limited physician, Saul, and, Schwarz, a sports reporter at 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.
(Thank you for understanding why I am not providing links to the stories below, only partial screen images. I refuse to play their nasty game—gaining 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: Richard Saul, MD, is a virtual unknown neurologist in Illinois with little prominence and no history of publication. Yet, with this broadside, he finds himself elevated to equal footing with a preponderance of medical evidence. Next stop: the lucrative speaker’s circuit.
Moreover, he’s enjoying worldwide coverage, at least in the clickbait-o-sphere. Yet, none of his statements are checked or balanced.
Check out his “blog.” Does it 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. [Update: Since this original posting, that page has been removed from his website.]
The man graduated from medical school in 1961—fifty years ago—but apparently hasn’t felt the need to keep up. This was an era when doctors were still viewed by many as “gods”—infallible. Not to be questioned. 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. Read the title!
If Saul had his way, he would take ADHD back to the prehistoric era. That is, back to when ADHD itself was missed. Instead, the focus was on all the fallout from ADHD: obesity, learning disabilities, auditory processing disorder, neurospatial dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, visual impairments, 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.. 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.
New ADHD Hall of Shame Media Honorees
Now for the new Hall of Shame Honorees among the media that picked up the ADHD Does Not Exist Story—and ran with it. I include the photos depicting their idea of children with ADHD.
1. The New York Post
Columnist Kyle Smith writes from the press release. He fails to question the legitimacy of Saul’s opinion. He doesn’t pick up on the fact that Saul primarily talks about misdiagnoses and not ADHD itself. (Note: Saul’s idea of misdiagnoses might in fact be accurate diagnoses but ADHD manifesting in ways he does not understand, such as with Central Auditory Processing disorder.)
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. The fact is, many of my friends with ADHD forget to take the medication; they certainly don’t abuse it.
What’s more: The majority of research findings on ADHD and addiction show that children treated for ADHD are less likely to abuse substances later in life.
2. Tom Sawyer Meets Linda Blair in The Exorcist
Next, this Australian website picked up the Post’s meager column. But it substituted an even more offensive photo. This is all too common, and it shows that neither the editors nor the graphic designers share a clue about ADHD.
ADHD is not about “children behaving badly”—or, for that matter, held in demonic possession.
ADHD is 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. Issuing such calls are marginal figures, such as developmental pediatrician Larry Diller (a favored source of The New York Times’ Alan Schwarz, who could use a lesson in vetting sources and selecting 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.
- Deputy Editor Lisa Muxworthy has reportedly been a journalist for more than 16 years, with experience reporting on politics, health and general news.
- 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, er Mail
The UK’s Daily Mail did a slightly better job by at least talking to a few reputable sources.
Still, the paper 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, below. (If you are unfamiliar with this plutocratic cult leader: The Strange Life of Reverend Sun Myong Moon)
If you can’t see that illustration, here is a larger version.
What is especially ludicrous is that Washington Times’ article from Cheryl K. Chumley? 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.
Richard Saul’s Error-Ridden Website
The image below is from the website of Richard Saul, author of ADHD Does Not Exist. [Update: His website has since been removed.]
Yes, even in this barebones website, Saul did not notice that medicine is misspelled. Was he not paying attention, or is accuracy simply unimportant to him in all things? What has he been missing in the children he allegedly treats?
We always want to address challenges with the right diagnosis. That requires parents being 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.