Tell Australia’s ABC1 “No” to “Kids On Speed?”

When a so-called documentary maker in Australia entitles a show about ADHD “Kids on Speed?”, no one can possibly believe the goal is edification. The object is clearly sensationalism, money making, and fame-seeking on the backs of children who have enough problems. In short: It’s bullying behavior.

All Australians affected by ADHD should read this guest post from advocate Julie Appleton and, if you agree, contact the ABC with your protest; information below.

— Gina Pera

Greetings from Australia! Here, January and February are annually regarded by the media as “ADHD HUNTING SEASON.” That is when we get the most blatant biased, sensationalised headlines that cause nothing but heartache, frustration, and friction in families already struggling to deal with ADHD.

This year is no different.  We are hoping that you can spread this information far and wide and build up enough irate emails to the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) that they change the inflammatory title of this program: “Kids on Speed?”

The ADHD-stigmatizing promotion piece for the Australia Broadcasting Corp’s “Kids on Speed” (with the ? not yet added). In addition to perpetuating the myth that medication for ADHD is “speed,” note how it depicts children with ADHD. This is nothing short of childhood bullying—by grown-ups. Shame on you, Essential Media and Entertainment.  —Gina Pera

For the last 12 months Marc Radomsky (producer, director and writer) has been working on a three-part program (one hour each) called The ADHD Project.

Now it is scheduled to air from February 6 on ABC 1 under the title of “Kids on Speed?”  Radomsky seems to think that the question mark makes the title acceptable.  Yet, the title alone will cause arguments and disharmony in families already fraught with tension and anger. The title will create confusion and misinformation as the wider public jumps to conclusions, possibly without even watching the program. Radomsky says in the series’ producer statement: “Our point of difference being the question mark making this inflammatory statement a question.” So we can assume that he knows full well the trouble he is about to cause!

Screen Australia in their Essential e-newsletter says: “The investment from the national screen agency is $1m with the expectation to trigger $2.8m in production.”

The program follows 6 children across the 9 weeks of intervention. So the content may well be of interest but the title perpetuates the stigma and bias that abounds in the media. [Please see Gina’s notes below; stated content does not bode well for accuracy]. Because this program is restricted to just 6 children it is highly doubtful that it will in any way cause a shift in world thinking.

We ask that as many people as possible email the ABC 1 (see links below) and express their concern at the irresponsible title of the program and the harm that it could do, and request that at least the title be changed before it goes to air.

We hope that this united stance might bring about a change.  And that in future when the media runs hot with misinformation that we could all stand together and voice our disapproval.

Please click here to file your complaints about the show’s title and content. According to the network’s Code of Practice, it will be assessed by Audience & Consumer Affairs to determine if it should be investigated or dealt with in some other appropriate way. Audience & Consumer Affairs is independent of program making divisions within the ABC.

Thank you, Julie Appleton

ADDults with ADHD (NSW) Inc
www.adultadhd.org.au

Gina adds:  I have read about this program and find it deeply troubling.  To read the show’s synopsis, click here: To read the show’s statement, click here.  Below are some of the more problematic excerpts, followed by my response:

  • As rates of diagnosis appear to go through the roof, the biological cause remains a mystery. ADHD is also highly stigmatized through the controversial and wide-ranging use of stimulant medications, like Ritalin, to treat children as young as 5 or 6.

Pure sensationalism. We know a great deal about the biological cause; that’s how we know that medications work well for most people with ADHD. ADHD diagnosis rates are not “going through the roof”—in Australia or anywhere else. Diagnosis rates remain a small fraction of the population.

Judging from the amount of fan mail my book receives from Australian adults with late-diagnosis ADHD (who have a terrible time getting modern medications and are largely stuck with the old formulations such as Dexedrine), it’s high time these kids were being diagnosed. But look at how these alleged documentary makers claim that ADHD is stigmatized because of the medications, not because of vainglorious promoters such as them!

  • “KIDS ON SPEED?” is a hybrid of observational documentary, factual intervention and social experiment. Clinical Psychologist Professor Mark Dadds will put 4 families with children suspected of having ADHD, through a cutting edge evidence based 9 week intervention program he’s developed. In this short time, Dadds claims he can improve behaviour by training parents to become assistant therapists. …. Mark Dadds and his team of experts also have skin in the game. They are putting their reputations on the line, seeking a new best practice gold standard to treat 5 extremely difficult cases of suspected ADHD where all other clinicians have previously failed. And they have just 9 weeks to deliver tangible results.

A “factual intervention”?  In short, the stated storyline has no basis in fact and is 100 percent self-serving. This psychologist, unknown for having  ADHD expertise, seems to be playing the cowboy in developing and promoting his own “behavior” program training parents to become assistant therapists, all so medication can be avoided.

Never mind that this is not how evidence-based strategies are developed; they require evidence—the kind provided by careful studies and replicated by other researchers. This kind of nonsense belongs more in an infomercial than on ABC1.

  • Through the intimate personal perspectives and interwoven experiential journeys of the families in the intervention programme, “KIDS ON SPEED ?” debunks the pervading myths revealing the complexities, trials, tribulations and daily dilemmas of those branded with, and living under the little understood catch-all label of ADHD.

Pure marketing double-speak. This crew is contributing to ADHD-related myths, not clarifying them, with a cobbled-together dog’s breakfast of innuendo, experimentation, vainglory, and sensationalism.

I hope a documentary maker seeks $1M funding for “Why Grown-ups Bully Kids with ADHD: A Story of Ignorance, avarice, and personal ambition.”

Gina Pera

13 thoughts on “Tell Australia’s ABC1 “No” to “Kids On Speed?””

  1. Here is Professor Mark Dadd’s publication list for the last 7 years. He’s been in the game for much longer than that.

    http://www.psy.unsw.edu.au/contacts-people/academic-staff/professor-mark-dadds

    He has been awarded millions of dollars in competitive (peer reviewed) funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and his current study encompasses more than 900 families, a large percentage of whom have children with some form of ADHD. This is internationally significant research whatever way you look at it. You can’t dismiss him as an “virtually unknown psychologist”. His work on eye contact and behaviour disorders is particularly significant. I just think its irresponsible to make such criticisms about someone who has a remarkable track record at an international level. The evidence is clearly on the contrary.

    Have you watched the documentary, or just the trailer? The grabs in the trailer are sensationalist and more to do with how the network sold the series. They do not reflect the views of the practitioners. Documentary makers are not experts in the subjects of their documantaries. They present a narrative based on interviews and observations. This is an observational documentary.

    The documentary does not suggest that ADHD is caused by bad parenting. In fact it explicitly states the opposite in the final episode.

    In respect of this media story from the university

    http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science/expert-insight-adhd

    and specifically the quote

    ‘A biological explanation for ADHD remains a mystery. “It is a diagnosis without a cause,” says Professor Dadds. “But it is possible to get help without just using the medication’

    How is this misleading or unhelpful? It is true. The precise etiology of ADHD is unknown and remains a series of theories and guesses. Whilst it seems to have inherited aspects, no one is sure of the precise biological cause. The best they can offer is some under activity in the pre-frontal cortex. Sometimes this can be measured via EEGs, but the use of EEG is not recommended for diagnosis as the science is not comprehensively proven. The diagnosis is made on the basis of behavioural markers (identified from a series of questions), not biological markers. It is also true that parent assisted therapy has a very strong evidence base that it works (see his 900 family study for starters).

    Could you elaborate on what part of this statement is not true?

    The real question around medication is not whether it is appropriate for severe symptoms, but the question as to whether it is the only approach in all cases. There are also real problems around over-diagnosis, especially in cases where childhood development does not fit a textbook curve (around emotional regulation and social skills). The very best scientific evidence suggests that psychological and behaviour support strategies are important in the effective treatment of ADHD. You seem to want to make this a binary – ie its the drugs or the psychs. None of the experts in this series suggest this, in fact they suggest that the two are important tools and the approach needs to be tailored on a case by case basis.

    Schools and many paediatricians seem to think that medication is the only answer, when in fact it is part of the picture in some cases, not the whole picture.

    1. I agree that my wording could have been better; what I meant is that Dadds is virtually unknown in the field of ADHD. (I will adjust the wording.) ADHD-specific knowledge is important when creating a documentary on ADHD, and there are many true experts from which to choose.

      And no, I’m not making the issue binary: all meds or all parenting (or all therapy). And you can find no evidence of my claiming such. I am asking that when “documentary” makers set out to create a show about ADHD that they seek informed participants, provide evidence-based care, and shun sensationalistic titles and marketing so as not to worsen an already bad situation for the ADHD community in Australia. It suffers enough from under-service and public ignorance as it is.

      Gina

  2. Sorry – one last comment. I too am upset and angered by the attitude that ADHD is a parenting issue. It is not. But I think you are completely misinterpreting the issue here.

    1) ADHD is not caused by bad parenting

    2) ADHD symptoms (and more specifically ODD) can be alleviated in the majority of cases by a highly structured and rigorous approach to managing child behaviour in the home. This structured approach is not regular parenting, but well beyond that so that it has a therapeutic effect on the child. It is not ‘good parenting’, it is parenting targeted specifically towards children who have severe difficulty managing their own behaviour.

    These two statements are not contradictory.

    1. Hi there,

      I’m not sure which issue you find I am misinterpreting.

      I would agree with you on both your points. As to the structured supports, that is one reason why I am an advocate for treating the adult parent’s ADHD before treating the child. Because Adult ADHD is associated with ineffective parenting skills and inability to remember and implement the supports helpful to children with ADHD.

      Still, there is a problem with “treating” childhood ADHd solely with supports: Those children grow up, and the world is not going to support them the way their parents did. I’ve seen children who enjoyed such supports grow into young adults, sent off to college and suddenly expected to hit the ground running. Often, they fail. Same with “real life” — employers and spouses cannot be expected to provide an inordinate amount of support.

      For theses reasons, I see that in many cases medication helps the child to internalize and create their own supports age-appropriately. Plus, they meet developmental milestones that might be missed without medication.

      Best,
      g

  3. “This virtually unknown psychologist with no ADHD expertise seems to be playing the cowboy in developing and promoting his own “behavior” program training parents to become assistant therapists, all so medication can be avoided”

    This is a pretty outrageous statement. Professor Mark Dadds is internationally known as a leading researcher in child behaviour. His clinic at UNSW is unique in Australia, perhaps the world and he has a huge list of peer reviewed scientific publications in top international journals. As far as psychologists go, they don’t come any more highly geared than Mark Dadds.

    If you knew about his program, you may well change your views on ADHD treatement entirely. Dadds is not against medication in all cases. He explicitly states it is part of the picture. His point is that parent training can achieve as much as medication.

    You know what? As a parent of a child with severe ADHD, I have done the program. It was absolutely remarkable. The effect of that program was far more significant than any medication we tried, and we tried a few. Please do some research before making dismissive and unfair assessments of one of the best researchers in the field.

    1. Hi social…

      I appreciate your perspective, but I stand by my statements. I have done my research, well and thoroughly.

      It is slipshod at best and cynical at worst for the “documentary” producers to feature a clinician with no ADHD expertise. However expert Dadds might be in other areas, the preponderance of published literature makes clear that ADHD in children, teens, or adults calls for evidence-based strategies.

      To advertise the idea, as this program did, that it’s “bad parenting” that causes ADHD is disingenous and dangerous. “Bad parenting” might result in a child’s “bad behavior,” and so of course parents should be helped to do better. But ADHD is not caused by bad parenting. His unfounded statements among the promotional interviews are not helpful:

      http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science/expert-insight-adhd

      A biological explanation for ADHD remains a mystery. “It is a diagnosis without a cause,” says Professor Dadds. “But it is possible to get help without just using the medication.”

      That article also points to the profound bias among the “documentary” producers at ABC:

      Series producer, Mark Radomsky, says the program is neither for nor against medication. “We are seeking to uncover and clarify the controversy, and we support our experts in the appropriate use of medication in instances where it is deemed a last resort.”

      Who is this Ramdomsky, with such credits as Honey, I Killed the Kids to his name to decide when and if medication should be used in alleviating ADHD symtoms? Why should it be a “last resort”? Why should children and their parents be meant to suffer through often highly treatable physical symptoms of ADHD, contenting themselves with exhausting and incomplete “parenting strategies,” when medication might give them better access to brain function and help them meet instead of miss key developmental milestones? This is a dangerous, dangerous bias, one that has no place in a “documentary” on a topic involving brain science.

      And if, as you say, this is Dadds’ bias as well (“His point is that parent training can achieve as much as medication”), then it is his own personal theory, not backed up by evidence. The fact that he runs a clinic should create some question about his impartiality.

      Moreover, reports I’ve received about the documentary content indicate that the parents were not screened for ADHD, yet we know that Adult ADHD can negatively affect parenting effectiveness. Research underway right now, following a promising pilot study, is examining the effect of treating the mothers who themselves have ADHD before treating their children who have ADHD.

      I’ve checked Dadds’ publications, the ones he considers important enough to post on his university webpage, and none of them involve ADHD: http://www.psy.unsw.edu.au/contacts-people/academic-staff/professor-mark-dadds

      One paper recently examines the nature of one type of stimulant side effect: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24425798
      The rest seem primarily focused on oxytocin and conduct disorder.

      If you have found Dadd’s program “remarkable,” I’m glad for you. Anecdotes, however, do not make evidence-based treatment.

      However useful the actual documentary might be, its advertising and marketing was shameful and did much to muddy the issue among people who will likely never watch the documentary.

      Best,
      Gina

  4. Who are you lot trying to kid? It is essential that we ordinary people out there see what happens in these situations. Don’t hide the truth with all your holier than thou claptrap. Check-book journalism. Piffle!
    We need to see this stuff to gain a better understanding of what really goes on with these kids and families. It’s shocking and it’s there. Stop carrying on as if we shouldn’t see the truth of it all.

    1. I’m not seeing your point, Mairs. Who is hiding the truth? Certainly not the established channels of researching ADHD, and certainly not the millions of children and adults with ADHD who have felt misunderstood all their lives and have found the diagnosis and treatment the first thing that has made sense in their lives.

      Perhaps you think that a sensationalistic skewing of the issue will provide you “better understanding.” I’m not sure how that could happen, given that only six children are featured (six children who might or might not actually have ADHD), a psychologist with no ADHD expertise is featured, and the very title twists the truth. The stimulant medication for ADHD is not “speed.”

      Some people fall for the trap of conspiracy theories, that the “real truth” is hidden from them and that only headlines that claim to present “the real truth” are valid. Some of those people find it stimulating to participate in conspiracy theories. It might be better if they found their stimulation in healthier, less intellectually destructive ways.

  5. Well said, MB. It’s “checkbook journalism” at its worst, worst because the ostensible claim is that it’s saving the children from the horrible diagnosis of ADHD and being “drugged with amphetamines.”

    SIX children, two of which are from the same family! And the “expert” has absolutely no grounding in ADHD expertise.

    Fortunately, my magna cum laude degree in print journalism (Mass Communications) required a significant roster of science courses. So, I do not share the anti-science bent that so many “journalists” have today.

    My scientist-husband and I watched the old Paul Muni film about Louis Pasteur. The “germ skeptics” remind me of the “ADHD skeptics” — hidebound in old ideas and refusing to see new ones. No matter the cost to human life.

    Thank goodness that real scientists and real medical/therapeutic experts in ADHD ignore the media sensation; they keep doing their work, forging ahead. But the impact of such “info-tainment” on public policy cannot be underestimated. We must remain vigilant.

    best,
    g

  6. G,
    Thanks so much for this remarkable update on the industry of gossip. Perhaps they could remake is as a soap opera?

    I’m filing a complaint and hope everyone who reads this follows your helpful link to attack non-science.
    cp

    1. You’re right, Chuck: The industry of gossip! Lots of money and fame in the offing!

      Thanks for filing a complaint.

      Gina

  7. For those of us who work with kids that have ADHD – and adults, for that matter – this story is a heart-tugging continuation of the never-ending drumbeat of ADHD myths and inaccuracies. But your point almost made my heart stop for a minute. It IS bullying. It’s not science, it’s treating the whole population of kids with ADHD the same way in the larger media world that they are treated on the smaller playgrounds of their daily lives.

    Thanks, Gina.

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