Living with Children: ADHD and false narratives


A major American newspaper recently published a letter from a gentleman who, apparently speaking from personal experience, claimed that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a real disease and then extolled the benefits of the stimulant medications typically prescribed when the diagnosis is made. Effectively, said gentleman parroted the false narrative peddled by Big Pharma and Big Mental Health; meaning, he is mistaken.

First and foremost, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not “real” in the same sense as leukemia or diabetes. The latter can be objectively verified and measured. Not so with ADHD. It is a concept, nothing more. No test will reliably identify it. The diagnostic criteria are entirely subjective. Therefore, a person diagnosed as “having” ADHD does not “have” more than a diagnosis.

Practitioners and spokespersons for BP and BMH often refer to the “ADHD gene,” a theoretical entity that supposedly causes either “brain differences” or a “biochemical imbalance.”

With apologies to individuals who have swallowed and are emotionally invested in these canards, no body of credible, replicated science has established a cause-effect relationship between any biological variable and the behaviors associated with an ADHD diagnosis.

Oh, the powers that be talk about such cause-and-effect very convincingly, obviously, but they cannot produce consistent (if any) hard evidence. The same is true of all psychiatric diagnoses, by the way. Yes, even bipolar disorder. Again, my apologies to those who need them.

The ADHD establishment, people with impressive capital letters after their names, claims that certain test results are associated with the behaviors in question. So?

The pertinent issue is whether these tests qualify as science, and the answer is they do not. Having administered them, I assure the reader that they are largely superfluous to the diagnosis and are given, in large part, to create the illusion that something scientific is being done to arrive at it.

That brings us to the thorniest issue of all: ADHD medications. It is a fact that the pharmaceuticals in question have not reliably outperformed placebos in controlled clinical trials. They are, in other words, no better than placebos. Nonetheless, it must be noted that concerning psychiatric diagnoses, placebos often “work.” The so-called “placebo effect” has been verified beyond question.

Furthermore, ADHD drugs do not produce the paradoxical effect of “slowing people down.” As central nervous system stimulants, they increase attention span (they do so for most folks who take them) and the simple truth is that when someone pays attention to a single task for a reasonable period of time, their activity level will be lower than when their attention is all over the map.

All that being said, the behaviors that define a diagnosis of ADHD — short attention span and its cascade — are indisputable. Given decades of research failing to definitively identify a biological cause, the most likely explanation lies with a combination of environment and maleness.

People so diagnosed, and especially parents of ADHD children, tend to have a knee-jerk PAR (pronounced agitation response) to that suggestion. Therefore, falsehoods rule.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond:, Copyright 2023, John K. Rosemond]