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. Without one shred of evidence.
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 this ridiculous 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 and medication availability. I believe we must be vigilant. And call them out.
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. Even if you don’t change anyone’s mind, you provide courage and validation to those reading along and wondering….”Is this true? Should I not seek treatment for my or my child’s ADHD?”
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
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 unswayed by the media onslaught—the book rolling out with multiple translations worldwide.
By contrast, I’ve never hired a PR firm nor run an ad. Nor have I accepted pharmaceutical industry support of any kind.
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. How about You Me ADD, published in 2008? Best Sellers Rank: #20,769 in Books.
Public Denial Springs from Personal Denial?
Many people with ADHD assume that these “ADHD Deniers” are hard-hearted neuro-typicals who cannot appreciate their struggles. Yet, over 20 years of closely observing the loudest deniers, I can tell you this: Most of the “ADHD Deniers” lean more definitely toward ADHD.
Invariably, the deniers state this themselves, in one way or another. For example, they claim that if ADHD had “been around when I was a child, I would have been diagnosed and drugged!” They claim that their children’s teachers suggested that and ADHD screening. With outrage, Saul claims this was true for his own children.
Given the genetic nature of ADHD, odds are good that the 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 (Dr. Richard Saul, Chicago physician who took controversial stance on ADHD, dies at 83):
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.
Consider this telling remark from his son in the Chicago Tribune
Jason Saul said his father’s aim was to shift the focus to helping children by identifying and treating symptoms and away from simply assigning the label ADHD to a range of problems.
“You put them on Ritalin or you punish them,” Jason Saul said of some approaches, “because they don’t fit the mold.”
Neurologists As ADHD Experts? Not Typically
The first rogue anti-ADHD physician I encountered was Fred Baughman. His 2006 book is The ADHD Fraud? Like Saul, Baughman is a neurologist.
(Side note: At the time, I researched his “back story” and found an apparent ADHD connection to his son. I cannot find that link now, unfortunately. But I do see that Baughman is considered a “medical expert” for
a certain “religious” organization whose calling card is anti-psychiatry fear-mongering.)
With noted exceptions, neurology is not generally seen as the specialty qualified to diagnose or understand ADHD. That preferred specialty is generally considered psychiatry.
In fact, the two specialties have been competing for years. Consider this excerpt 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.
To Be Clear: 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:
- Recruit a fringe neurologist —in this case, Saul — who graduated medical school in 1961.
- Make sure this neurologist 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.
The result: An international online gravy train for Saul, Rupert Murdoch’s Harper Collins, and all the newspapers that publish traffic-boosting clickbait promoting the book.
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. They are not credible.
As An ADHD Expert, Richard Saul Does Not Exist
Let’s be clear: Richard Saul, MD, is a virtually unknown neurologist. No national or even regional prominence. No publications. Yet, with this broadside, the media elevates him to expert status. A high-priced PR firm can do that for you.
He’s enjoying worldwide coverage. None of his claims are 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. That’s not citation. That’s an ad.
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. He wants to take us backward, to the realm of misdiagnoses that kept people with ADHD stuck.
Saul reportedly was graduated from medical school in 1961—fifty years ago. This was an era when doctors were still viewed by many as “gods”. Infallible. Not to be questioned.
The Problem Is Clear-Cut
Some people will say, “Well, he’s not saying ADHD doesn’t exist; he’s saying it’s over-diagnosed.”
No, friends, it’s far worse than that. Don’t take my word for it. Read this book carefully. Read. The. Title!
Saul attempts to take us all back to his childhood—perhaps the 1940s—when few recognized ADHD and consequences through the lifespan were painful. When little boys had ants in their pants. When misbehaving boys without means were sent to juvenile hall.
Harper Collins had big plans for this book. Even before it was published, ADHD Does Not Exist had been translated into German and other languages. The PR machine went full tilt on media in the UK, Australia, Germany, and the U.S.. They knew they had a “controversial” product. Controversy sells.
In addition to acting as copycat lackeys for Harper Collins, the following “news outlets” showed horrible judgment in their photo illustrations. Is there any doubt as to exactly how they view ADHD?
New ADHD Hall of Shame Media Honorees
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.
Her are the new ADHD 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.)
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
This Australian website picked up the Post’s rag-tag column. But it substituted an even more offensive photo.
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 and highly variable 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. In either case, they deserve understanding and proper help, not bullying.
Perpetuating this myth that ADHD is a “behavior” problem caused by lax parenting leads to barbaric calls for “treating ADHD” with corporal punishment. That’s what pediatrician Larry Diller did here in this U.S. News and World Report column: A Spanking Might Beat Ritalin
Interestingly enough, this news.com.au website prominently touts its editorial decision-makers’ expertise:
- 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 predictably, The Washington Times makes a mockery of reporting. (If you are unfamiliar with its plutocratic cult leader-publisher: 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 cites The New York Post’s column. None of it is reporting. It’s knee-jerk opinion, re-hashing the book’s press release. A transparent competition for web traffic with hot keywords.
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.