A new book by Dr Richard Saul claims that ADHD, as a “condition” does not exist. He claims that whilst the symptoms are real, there are a number of underlying reasons for them and that these are ignored in the rush to label children with ADHD and then put them on drugs.
The drugs (mostly amphetamine derivatives) do change behaviour. It is important to remember the fact that giving a child (or adult) a mind-altering substance will alter their mind. But this does not mean that they had a “condition” to start with.
Not surprisingly this has again ignited debate.
Around one in ten Australian children (mainly boys) have been diagnosed with ADHD and the numbers grow each year. In the USA 20% of teenage boys have been diagnosed.
Yet in Europe diagnosis rates are very low.
Last year it was reported that the maker of an ADHD drug wanted to increase sales in Europe. The first requirement was to “get the disorder acknowledged and then diagnosed”.
Essentially the big hurdle for companies wanting to get sales for ADHD drugs was convincing people that the condition exists!
Mary Barker, president of the Brussels based European Brain Council told Bloomberg “Parents are loathed to get their child labeled. Children are easy or difficult, that’s the diagnosis in society”.
And that in five words sums up the whole issue-children are either easy or difficult. You will notice that it is not “children are either healthy or diseased” or “normal or have a condition”.
In the USA and Australia ADHD has been effectively sold to doctor’s, parents and educators. The story of this selling is brilliantly described in this NY Time piece.
When one considers the ease with which ADHD can be diagnosed it is a wonder anyone is normal anymore. Included in the criteria are such gems as:
1) “Often fidgets or is restless”
2) Is often “on the go”
3) Is often “excessively loud” during play
4) Dislikes homework
5) Finds it difficult to resist temptations
So a kid who screams and won’t say no to an ice cream has a disorder!
And any adult who struggled in school or does not like their job can also be diagnosed.
We already know that in the USA some doctors prescribe the medications as performance enhancers to children who are not doing well at school or where the schooling is not that great. We also know that these drugs are sold in high school and universities as a boost before exams
Let me be crystal clear on this. Taking amphetamine like drugs can improve concentration. In much he same way taking steroids can improve athletic performance. The “problem” for athletes is that not running fast enough has not been labeled as an illness, yet.
So we monitor athletes for up to ten years after Olympic wins in the name of fairness and not using drugs. Yet we smile upon the same thing happening in schools.
The best thing about this new book is that it will stir up further debate. We can expect the usual po-faced academics to say the book is “dangerous”. We can also expect those whose concentration has been improved by using drugs to feel angry. This is understandable.
However the fact that taking a mind-altering drug alters your mind does not mean you had an illness. Even the fact that you may “fit in” better to a society that no longer caters to diversity does not mean you had a condition.
Some people run faster than others. Some are better scholars than others. Some are better musicians. Rather than seeking to label and drug every child who doesn’t fit the current narrow definition of childhood, we need to better cater to the genuine diversity of needs that children have.
And it is not as if we don’t have a model to follow. What I am advocating is pretty much the way they do it in Europe – much to the chagrin of parts of the pharmaceutical industry and its medical fellow travellers.