The Harvard psychologist, Jerome Kagan, sees ADHD as more of an invented condition than a serious illness. Further, he thinks it was invented for “money-making reasons” by the pharmaceutical industry and pro-ADHD researchers. He believes the drastic increase in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has more to do with “fuzzy diagnostic practices” and relabeling. Fifty years ago, a 7-year-old child who was bored and disruptive in class was seen as “lazy.” Today he is seen as suffering from ADHD.
Every child who’s not doing well in school is sent to see a pediatrician, and the pediatrician says: “It’s ADHD; here’s Ritalin.” In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million kids don’t have an abnormal dopamine metabolism. The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors, they’ll make the corresponding diagnosis.
In his interview with Spiegel Online, Kagan went on to say that the inflated diagnosis of ADHD and other so-called childhood mental health disorders means more money for the pharmaceutical industry, psychiatrists and the people doing research. “We’re up against an enormously powerful alliance: pharmaceutical companies that are making billions, and a profession that is self-interested.” As he said, he’s not the only psychologist who is saying this.
Parenting expert and family psychologist, John Rosemond, agrees with Kagan. In 2009 he co-authored The Diseasing of American’s Children where they argued that ADHD and other childhood behavior disorders “were inventions of the psychological-psychiatric-pharmaceutical industry.” They went further than Kagan in saying that ADHD does not exist; that it is a fiction. In his April 9, 2017 article, “ADHD Simply Does Not Exist,” Rosemond referred to Kagan’s declaration on ADHD, noting that he and other psychologists studied Kagan’s books and research papers on children and child development when they were in graduate school. In The Diseasing America’s Children, Rosemond said:
Science depends on verifiable, objective evidence and experimental results that can be replicated by other scientists. Where ADHD is concerned, neither verifiable, objective evidence nor replicable experimental results exist to support the claims of the ADHD establishment.”
Rosemond and his co-author, Bose Ravenel, believe that childhood behavior disorders like ADHD are manifestations of “dysfunctions of discipline and lifestyle” endemic to modern family culture. Once these problems are identified, they can be easily corrected. And once corrected, the errant behavior “usually recovers to a state of normalcy within a relatively short period of time.” They believe children do not need a psychologist when they misbehave, they need discipline—“firm, calm and loving discipline.”
In Debunking ADHD, educational psychologist Michael Corrigan said ADHD is a negative label that does not exist. “Not unlike the many wonderful stories about unicorns, fairies, and leprechauns, the diagnosis of ADHD is a brilliant work of fiction.” He noted that many of the common childhood behaviors (or supposed symptoms) associated with ADHD are also used to identify giftedness in children. When these behaviors are harnessed and focused, they can help children become “incredibly creative, insightful, and successful individuals in adulthood.” If children don’t learn to harness the power of the behaviors ADHD and giftedness have in common, “such behaviors when displayed might seem annoying and immature.” He said:
My biggest reason for writing this book is my desire to show you that the practice of medicating children for acting like children in the name of ADHD is, in two words, wrong and dangerous. Despite the grandiose claims of the mega-pharmaceutical companies selling ADHD drugs to concerned parents, prescribing pills to young children trying to learn how to become young adults is just a quick fix void of any long-term benefits.
Corrigan described eating lunch with a group of children who had just taken their ADHD medication at school. They were now supposedly “good to go” (sufficiently medicated) for an afternoon of learning. It was the longest lunch period he had ever experienced. “Comparing the kids at my table to others in the cafeteria, and slowly watching these playful, creative, energetic, and funny children go from kids being kids to near expressionless robot-like entities, made me sick to my stomach.”
The total number of children on ADHD medication “skyrocketed” from 1.5 million in 1995 to 3.5 million in 2011. “Sales of prescription stimulants quintupled from 2005 to 2015.” The rising rate of ADHD diagnosis has been described as “an unreal epidemic” and a “national disaster of dangerous proportions” by well-known professionals like Allen Frances and Keith Conners. Frances was the chair of the DSM-IV. Conners, now an emeritus professor of medical psychology at Duke University, “spent much of his career in legitimizing the diagnosis of ADHD.”
Allen Frances was one of four authors of an article in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being, “ADHD: A Critical Update for Educational Professionals.” When the DSM-IV was published in 1994, the prevalence of ADHD was estimated to be 3%. Since then, parent-reported ADHD diagnosis increased to 7.8% in 2003; 9.5% in 2007; and to 11% in 2011. Nearly one in five high school boys had been diagnosed with ADHD and around 13.3% of 11-year-old boys were medicated for ADHD.
Teachers and other school personnel are often the first to suggest a child might be “ADHD.” Research suggested teachers felt insecure about dealing with behavioral problems and hesitated to accept responsibility for students with special needs. Frances and his coauthors described six scientifically grounded issues that educational professionals should be aware of when they are confronted with inattention and hyperactivity in the classroom.
First: birth order matters. Several studies have shown “That relative age is a significant determinant of ADHD diagnosis and treatment.” The youngest children in the classroom are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and receive medication. They suggest teachers take the child’s relative age into account when judging the child’s behavior. “Seeing ADHD as the cause of inattention and hyperactivity is in fact a logical fallacy as it is circular.”
Second, there is no single cause of ADHD. “There are no measurable biological markers or objective tests to establish the presence or absence of ADHD (or any other given DSM syndrome).” ADHD is a description of behavior and is based on “criteria that are sensitive to subjectivity and cognitive biases.” Multiple factors have been associated with ADHD, without necessarily implying causality. Those factors include: divorce, poverty, parenting styles, lone parenthood, sexual abuse, lack of sleep, artificial food additives, mobile phone use and growing up in areas with low solar intensity. “All these factors and more may play a role when a particular child exhibits impairing hyperactive and inattentive behaviours, and there is no conclusive cause of ADHD.”
Third, most children exhibiting “ADHD behavior” have normal-looking brains. Studies that do show small differences in terms of brain anatomy do not apply to all children diagnosed with ADHD. Individual differences refer to slower anatomical development. “They do not reveal any innate defect as is illustrated by the fact that many people with an unusual anatomy or physiology do not experience ADHD related problems.” Also, the test subjects in many brain-related studies are rigorously screened and don’t represent all individuals diagnosed with ADHD.
The samples do not comprise an accurate representation of their respective populations, meaning an average child with a diagnosis of ADHD and an average “normal” child. This problem is particularly urgent since the DSM 5 has lowered the age of onset criterion, as well as the impairment criterion compared to the previous version, the DSM-IV. Alongside the lowered threshold, the potential to generalize earlier research findings has lowered as well.
Fourth, the claims of ADHD being inherited may be overestimated. The claims vary widely and are subject to debate because of methodological issues used in calculating the heritability coefficient in twin, familial and adoption studies. There is significant difficulty separating genetic influences from environmental ones, such as poverty, parenting styles and divorce, in these studies. “In genetic association studies that really analyse genetic material and that are more powerful when separating the influence of genetics from other etiologic sources, associated genes show only very small effects.” When combined, they explain less than 10% of variance.
This means they occur only slightly more often in diagnosed individuals than in controls, and they do not explain nor predict ADHD behaviours. For educational professionals, this is important to consider as an ADHD label might give a false sense of security with regard to the alleged (genetic) cause of a child’s behaviour and the preferred cure (medication).
Fifth, medication does not benefit most children in the long run. Follow up studies of the long-term effects of the MTA (Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) study showed a convergence of outcomes over time between medicated and non-medicated children. Other studies also report either no long-term benefits, or even worse benefits. “While medication may help a small group of children in the long run, most will not benefit from long-term pharmaceutical treatment.”
The sixth and final issue that educational professionals should be aware of when confronted with inattention and hyperactivity in the classroom is the reality that a diagnosis can be harmful to children. A CDC MMWR Report indicated only 13.8% had severe ADHD, with 86.2% having mild (46.7% or moderate (39.5%) ADHD. The authors pointed out a DSM diagnosis opened the door for additional reimbursement to the school for treatment and school services, perhaps promoting a search for pathology in relatively mild cases. “The question is whether in these mild cases the merits of a confirmed diagnosis—such as acknowledgement of problems and access to help—outweigh possible demerits.” Some known disadvantages of a diagnosis are: lower teacher and parent expectations that turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, prejudice and stigmatization of diagnosed children, a more passive role towards problems, difficulties getting life and disability insurances later on in life, and others.
The Allen Frances article linked above was the most accepting of ADHD as a legitimate “neuro-developmental disorder.” Yet it cautioned there was no single cause for ADHD, medications to “treat” ADHD did not have long-term benefits, and there was a problem with its over diagnosis. Jerome Kagan thought 90% children were wrongly diagnosed with ADHD because of “fuzzy diagnostic practices and relabeling.” Michael Corrigan, John Rosemond and questioned the validity of ADHD as a neuro-developmental disorder. Corrigan said it pathologized normal childhood behavior; and medicating these children was wrong and evil. It’s time to demolish the ADHD treatment empire.
Additional articles on ADHD can be found on this website here: “National ADHD Epidemic,” “Misleading Info on ADHD,” “Tip of the ADHD Iceberg,” and “Is ADHD Simply a Case of the Fidgets?” You can also read a longer paper: “ADHD: An Imbalance of Fire Over Water of a Case of the Fidgets?”