A critical response to the A Current Affair segment “ADHD Epidemic?” aired Wednesday 06/07/11.

Printscreen of ACA grey lineA critical response to the A Current Affair segment “ADHD Epidemic?” aired Wednesday 06/07/11.  

Along with several clear reporting biases such as giving only the protagonist, Professor Michael Kohn, and not the antagonist Dr. Bob Jacobs, the opportunity to reply to the comments of the other, the segment “ADHD Epidemic?” conveniently missed out several key areas of information. One such area is the highly dangerous quality and damaging side-effects of the drugs used to treat ADHD.   

Stimulant drugs are very dangerous. You don’t have to be a medical doctor or Ph.D. to know that amphetamines are dangerous drugs. They are sold and traded on the streets, and the government classifies them in the most dangerous category for prescription drugs. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is very similar in its chemical structure to cocaine. Recently, two U.S. children died from taking Ritalin at recommended doses. Many well-respected medical professionals have expressed concern about long-term damage to the heart and deficits in growth associated with taking stimulants. And we are prescribing these drugs to toddlers from as young as 18 months, because they misbehave?

Jack, the young boy who featured on A Current Affair’s ADHD segment proclaimed to the prefer taking the drug rather than not. It is understandable that a proportion of children will have this preference, probably owing to receiving more positive feedback from parents and teachers due to their new docile ‘temperament’. Even so, Dr. Bob and other clinicians find that most children who come to them on Ritalin or previously on Ritalin say they don’t like to way the drugs make them feel. Children have reported feeling ‘like they were “in a fog”’ or that “It was like trying to run but being underwater”. Children have also repeatedly said they don’t feel like themselves, or that they feel sluggish.  … This has been called the “zombie effect”. April, who commented on the A Current Affair segment said “I was medicated for 8yrs of my childhood, the effects are still causing negative physical and mental health issues”.

Along with the physical dangers of the drugs used to ‘treat’ ADHD, the diagnosis causes profound harm to society. Children learn that they are not responsible for their own behaviour and instead attribute it to their ‘illness’. Children learn that the way to solve problems is by taking a drug. And finally, children learn that they are inherently ‘flawed’; and you can imagine the effect on their self-esteem.

Mother Kelly, featured on A Current Affair described her son’s diagnosis with ADHD as relieving. “It was a relief because we could actually put our finger on what was wrong”. This is a common expression and is part of the reason for this continuing ‘epidemic’. “When a child is misbehaving, and they can be identified as “sick” and drugged into compliance, the parents no longer have to feel guilty or inadequate, the teachers no longer have to struggle with constant problems in the classroom, the physician has an ongoing customer and the drug company has branded another cash cow. Everyone is happy, except for the child. The child is blamed within the family as the source of the problems, stigmatized and disempowered by the diagnosis, and has to suffer the powerful short-term side effects and possibly the scary long-term side effects of the medication.” Dr. Bob wrote in his book Perfect Parents, Perfect Children.

Kelly said she had tried parenting classes, and diet changes without successfully changing her son’s behaviour and that drugs were the only thing that ‘worked’. A parent recently contacted The Parenting Centre with a similar scenario, but instead found Dr. Bob Jacobs’ parenting philosophy to be the answer. Emma said she had been struggling with her son’s behaviour since he was 4 years old. “I have spoken to so many people for tips and advice. I have tried many parenting techniques, spoken to the school councillor, taken the Positive Parenting program, removed all food additives and have been seeing a child psychologist for a year now.” she said. Emma found that the one thing which helped her was adopting Dr. Bob Jacobs parenting philosophy. She said that after reading Dr. Bob Jacobs book Perfect Parents Perfect Children “…everything seemed to fall into place”. This is not an isolated case; many parents and children have found adopting new parenting approaches to be more effective than ADHD drugs.

Therefore Professor Michael Kohns’ attack of Dr. Bob in the A Current Affair segment is hardly fair. Professor Kohn said in response to Dr. Bob’s comments that being an antagonist to ADHD and its medical treatment is ‘easy and not helpful’. Dr. Bob Jacobs has received frequent positive feedback from clients thanking him for the positive impact his parenting philosophy has had on their family. After seeing Dr. Bob about her early adolescent son mother Jenny expressed her gratitude: “Thank you so so much, you make a difference in people lives and it brings joy and happiness in so many places”.

Dr Kohn’s ‘research evidence’ for the existence of ADHD, featured on A Current Affair consisted of unexplained ‘brain scan’ research, claiming that children with ADHD developed more slowly. This research was critically analyzed by Martin Whitely, author of Speed Up & Sit Still: The Controversies of ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment: “Amongst numerous methodological flaws these studies compared ‘non ADHD brains’ that have never been medicated, to ‘ADHD brains’ that have been atrophied by previous exposure to psycho-stimulants.”. In short, research supporting a physical basis for the diagnosis of ADHD is not sound. 

Dr Kohn also said “There is a clear distinction between bad behaviour and the diagnosis of ADHD.” Well there may be a distinction between bad behaviour and the diagnosis of ADHD but there certainly is no distinction between ADHD and ordinary childhood behaviour. The Youth Affairs Network of Queensland reminds us that there is absolutely no objective test to determine if someone does or does not qualify for the diagnosis, so it is completely arbitrary and subjective. When you consider some of the shocking criteria: “makes careless mistakes in schoolwork”, “often loses things”, “is often ‘on the go'” it becomes clear that virtually any child could qualify for this diagnosis.

Today Tonight also delivered a segment on ADHD on the same evening as A Current Affair. They cited the figures for ADHD worldwide. They showed that even developed countries have hugely varying statistics, with Brazil claiming a huge 18% of children having ADHD, as opposed to Australia’s 2.4%. This is evidence that ADHD is a cultural construction. 

Changes in the child’s environment eliminating symptoms provides further evidence that ADHD is not a physical/true condition and at least does not require medical treatment. Many therapists, including Dr. Bob, have worked with children diagnosed as “ADHD” and found that often when changes were made by parents or by teachers, the symptoms stopped.