Please skip this post if you’re depressed by sensationalistic headlines such as “ADHD Does Not Exist”. Just keep moving if you’re exasperated by rogue physicians such as Richard Saul marketing their unique ability to “find the root cause” of ADHD.
But before you go, though, take heart. And remember: The Internet is the Wild West for self-promoters and hucksters. In the real world, 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 over centuries clearly shows that ADHD Does Exist. That will not change. We will only continue to refine our knowledge.
Self-serving ADHD skeptics come and go. Each has their sensationalist sales pitch and blinkered bias. Science keeps marching on, undeterred and even unaware of these rogues grandstanding online.
However short-lived each salvo is, though, these charlatans seem endless — and can wield endless damage. They exacerbate stigma. They threaten public policy on these issues, including insurance coverage, medication availability, and the like. We must be vigilant. And call them out.
ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame
It has been a long time since the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame 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?”
Saul: ADHD Diagnosis is “Attractive” and “Exciting”
“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! Your or your loved one’s ADHD diagnosis is irresistible!
Newsweek interviewed me for this article (“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.”
Thank goodness, the public largely remained unfooled by the media onslaught—rolling out with multiple translations worldwide. I’ve never hired a PR firm nor run an ad. Readers find my book through word of mouth, reviews, this blog, my presentations, or their mental healthcare professional. Yet, today, Saul’s book ranks at #1,260,820 in Books. You Me ADD, published in 2008? Best Sellers Rank: #20,769 in Books.
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” have ADHD.
Teachers and other might have suggested that their children be screened for ADHD, too, such as Saul’s children. Given the genetic nature of ADHD, odds are good that this professional ADHD Denier has ADHD, too. I guess this falls into the camp of “the best defense is a good offense.”
And offensive they are in their self-serving myopia.
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.
Neurologists As ADHD Experts? Not Typically
The first rogue physician I encountered was Fred Baughman and his 2006 book, The ADHD Fraud? Like Saul, Baughman is 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.
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. The human brain is impossibly complex. But there is a strong medical consensus.
At last check, there were 10,000+ published papers in the literature on ADHD, most of them peer-reviewed. The first three years of this decade saw far more ADHD-focused scientific papers published than 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 fringe neurologist —in this case, Saul — who graduated medical school in 1961 and who seems 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.)
They 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. I refuse to give them the web traffic they desperately seek.)
These alleged news organizations harken to the old days of Yellow Journalism. That’s why I’m inducting them into the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame.
As An ADHD Expert, Richard Saul Does Not Exist
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 to—or above— the preponderance of medical evidence. From thousands of scientists.
He’s enjoying worldwide coverage — with none of his claims checked or countered. He confuses the myriad potential symptoms of ADHD for dozens of separate conditions. Dopamine affects so many different aspects of physiology — sleep, vision, gastric motility, hearing, to name a few. But instead of displaying a grasp of this, he cites — for example with vision problems — material from the eyeglass chain store Lenscrafters! Seriously. Read it.
He points to obesity, learning disabilities, auditory processing disorder, neurospatial dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, visual impairments, sleep disorder, substance abuse, and more as separate conditions—despite the common neurophysiology shared with ADHD in general.
The man graduated from medical school in 1961—fifty years ago—but 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?
The Problem Is Clear-Cut
Some people will say, “Well, he’s not saying ADHD doesn’t exist; he’s saying it’s overdiagnosed.”
No, friends, it’s far worse than that. Don’t take my word for it. Read this book carefully. Read. The. Title!
Saul seems to love nothing better than taking people with ADHD back to his childhood, when few recognized ADHD and consequences through the lifespan were painful.
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, and controversy sells.
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 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. Sun Myong 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.
Richard Saul’s Error-Ridden Website
The image below is 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. [Update: His website has since been removed.]
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: A physician who claims that ADHD is not a valid disorder is lying to you—and maybe to himself.