It's been a while since I've written about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I took the summer off and was enjoying a better start to the school year for my daughter with ADHD who entered second grade last week when I came across this unfortunate article which got me back to the keyboard in a red hot flash.
How dare the author suggest that ADHD isn't a real disorder and how dare the Huffington Post print such blasphemy?
Here is the first sentence of the article:
"Here in North America, we often think of ADHD as biological. However, that is not the view elsewhere in the world nor is it supported by science."
That is a completely false and damaging statement from a so-called 'leading authority' on parenting for various prominent Canadian media outlets and should not have been allowed to go to print. It's akin to saying mental disorders don't exist, that it's all in your head, that ADHD is a result of bad parenting or that red is actually the colour blue.
The author, a family therapist treating kids with ADHD no less, goes on to write that she helps children "co-operate instead of disturb".
This is so disturbing to me as a parent of a child with ADHD working tirelessly to eliminate misinformation and stigma. When inaccurate articles like this one by Alyson Schafer are allowed to be printed and distributed via social media, I fear for the future of proper treatment for children suffering from ADHD.
But don't take my word for it.
Let's let science do the talking.
"We cannot overemphasize the point that, as a matter of science, the notion that ADHD does not exist is simply wrong," declare 86 of the most prominent independent psychiatric doctors and researchers from around the world. "To publish stories that ADHD is a fictitious disorder or merely a conflict between today's Huckleberry Finns and their caregivers is tantamount to declaring the earth flat, the laws of gravity debatable, and the periodic table in chemistry a fraud."
The International Consensus Statement on ADHD, published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review in June 2002, starts off with the following:
"We, the undersigned consortium of international scientists, are deeply concerned about the periodic inaccurate portrayal of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in media reports."
Scientists then, felt the need to release a statement in order to deal with reports in the media that cast ADHD as a "sporting event with evenly matched competitors".
"In fact, there is no such disagreement," say the scientists, "at least no more so than there is over whether smoking causes cancer, for example, or whether a virus causes HIV/AIDS."
And this was fourteen years ago.
To come across a neighbour or a friend questioning the validity of ADHD today is one thing. Coming across a teacher or a principal lacking knowledge about ADHD today is concerning. But to encounter an article in a prominent publication written by a therapist treating children with ADHD being shared on social media in today's day and age from a so-called expert that dumbs down the etiology of ADHD to a child's own "internal belief system" and the "pampering and coddling" of parents is more than insulting.
It's downright dangerous.
The statement says studies show ADHD sufferers are "far more likely" than others to drop out of school (32-40%), to complete college (5-10%), to have few or no friends (5-70%), to underperform at work (70-80%), and to engage in antisocial activities (40-50%).
And in a previous article, I wrote about how girls with inattentive ADHD are being missed until later years and even adulthood increasing their chances of developing depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems.
The debate was over a long time ago, if there ever even was a debate to begin with. Scottish physician, Sir Arthur Crichton may have been the first to write about ADHD in medical literature in 1798 which he called, "the fidgets".
"In this disease of attention," writes Crichton, "every impression seems to agitate the person, and gives him or her an unnatural degree of mental restlessness. People walking up and down the room, a slight noise, in the same, the mowing a, the shutting a door suddenly, a flight excess of heat or of cold, to much light or to little light, all destroy constant attention in such patients."
Crichton also recommended that patients exhibiting 'the fidgets" be given special educational intervention: "Every public teacher must have observed that there are many to whom the dryness and difficulties of the Latin and Greek grammars are so disgusting that neither the terrors of the rod, nor the indulgence of any kind in treaty can cause them to give their attention to them."
That was over 200 years ago.
Fast forward to the 21st century where studies reveal that ADHD is linked to abnormalities in the frontal lobe, basal ganglia, and cerebellum regions of the brain.
In an article in Time magazine, ADHD psychiatrist Edward Hallowell explains that these areas of the brain regulate impulsivity, attention, the ability to resist distractions, rein in emotions, think before acting, awareness of time, motivation and motion. A 2007 study revealed the brains of children with ADHD are delayed by about three years.
Ergo, when a child with ADHD is throwing a tantrum, is over-emotional, super fidgety, inattentive, hyperactive, forgetful, distracted, having difficulty focusing on school work, moves all the time, can't sit still, talks excessively, can't participate in circle time, is able to write a word one minute but can't the next, talks out of turn, interrupts, acts 'silly', can't follow rules, has frequent hands-on episodes with other children, is defiant, can't wait her turn, is easily overwhelmed, can't settle down, is fearless and takes risks, has problems with transitions, appears to be immature, can't read others' cues, and may have difficulty making or keeping friends -- this 'bad behaviour' is a result of a neurodevelopment disorder and nothing else.
I've experienced this first hand with my seven year old daughter and it's taken me three years to get the message through to teachers and staff. I think it's easier to understand once you present them with the science and tell them about the areas of the brain that are causing the behaviours. Then you start to see their eyes light up and begin to comprehend that ADHD is very real and that steps need to be taken to accommodate a child with ADHD, not discipline the ADHD out of them.
Last year, my daughter's teacher didn't get it and I arrived one day close to the end of the school year where she was forcing her to copy a sentence from the board. My daughter was in the fetal position throwing a tantrum on the floor saying she couldn't do it anymore, that it was too hard, that her brain hurt and that she needed to rest. But the teacher insisted she had done it earlier, and even the day before, so there was no reason why she couldn't do it now and proceeded to rip up the assignment in front of her and throw in the garbage saying my daughter wouldn't be able to have the coveted cupcakes the school was selling the next day.
I remained calm, grabbed hold of the pencil, scribbled on a sheet of paper and held it up for the teacher to see.
"This is what my daugher's brain is doing right now," I said. "It doesn't matter that she could do it a day ago or an hour ago. Right now, her brain is jumbled and she can't focus so the best thing to do when this happens is let her take a break, go to the sensory room with the Educational Assistant (EA) and revisit it maybe later or another day."
Her teacher either refused to understand or just couldn't see past my daughter's behaviour enough to realize she was dealing with a brain issue, not a behavioural one.
So this year, after my daughter had a meltdown on the second day of school, instead of scribbling on a piece of paper, I had a meeting with her teacher and brought her the science and I don't know if it's because her new teacher is more open and willing to understand what ADHD is or the fact that what I see so far is a truly amazing and caring individual, but we had a really great outcome and have developed a plan going forward about what to do when my daughter is in sensory-overload and unable to focus at any given point in the day.
This is in addition to other accommodations we've worked on getting the past three years including replacing her chair with an exercise ball, wearing 'chewlery' around her neck to bite on, having fidget toys, allowing her to stand when she needs to, allowing her to stay at her desk and draw during circle time, and three breaks a day with an EA.
And there might be more. Because of her difficulties with staying focused while writing, we're going to see whether typing on a keyboard would better help her to synthesize her thoughts. We take it day by day and wait and wait on numerous wait lists.
Thankfully, in addition to the hardships, I won't have to be arguing with staff about whether ADHD is real or not.
No, there isn't a blood test for ADHD, but neither is there one for depression and anxiety so why don't we see articles debating the validity of those disorders? Why is there so much disbelief and misunderstanding surrounding ADHD? Some might say it's because of the increase of diagnoses over the years but whether there are misdiagnoses or not, it doesn't mean ADHD doesn't exist.
Articles like Alyson's aren't helping.
Especially with such error-filled statements on children with ADHD such as this one which makes me want to pull my hair out: "This appears to be inattention, but when they find something to do that they like, they have all the attention in the world. It is not an inability to focus, but rather a refusal to focus on what adults would like them to focus on."
Let's finally give the last word to science, shall we?
"ADHD should be depicted in the media as realistically and accurately as it is depicted in science," declares the statement, "as a valid disorder having varied and substantial adverse impact on those who may suffer from it through no fault of their own or their parents and teachers."
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