By Dr. Bob Jacobs, August-September, 2002
There are plain and simple facts about the ADHD controversy that are based on common sense:
There would be no controversy about the existence of ADHD if science could prove that ADHD existed. There is no controversy about strep throat, or broken legs. The reality is that despite millions of dollars poured into research over several decades by drug companies hungry for “proof”, no one has been able to demonstrate what ADHD is or even that it exists. When I started working with children labeled “ADHD” 20 years ago we were told that “any day” now there would be an explanation of what “ADHD” was; any day there would be an objective test to see who “had it” and who didn’t. If that “any day” had arrived, we wouldn’t be having this controversy today. The bottom line for parents is this: there are two categories of professionals out there; the ones who will admit that no one has been able to prove the existence of ADHD, and the ones who are simply not telling the truth.
Since when is misbehaviour an “illness”? Parents have dealt with children misbehaving since the beginning of time, and learning from parents what is necessary to adapt to society is part of human development, part of “growing up”. Suddenly, we are being told that if our children are misbehaving they are “sick”. There are many common sense ways to prove how absurd this disease model is, but I will highlight two. First, many therapists, including me, have worked with children diagnosed as “ADHD” and found that often when changes were made by parents or by teachers, the symptoms stopped. How in the world can a child be “ill” if their “disease” is “cured” by changes in parenting methods? Second, most children are diagnosed as “ADHD” because they are having problems at school. Suppose that society changed schools 180 degrees; instead of valuing focused attention, conformity and compliance the schools valued creativity, spontaneity and activity? Then all the “sick” children would be “well”, and, I suppose, someone would tell us all the other children needed to be drugged.
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, because they misbehave?? Reasonable people can disagree on many topics, but it is insulting to the intelligence of parents to tell them that amphetamines, “speed”, are not dangerous drugs.
Children shouldn’t be “zombies”. Most professionals on both sides of this controversy acknowledge that there is a “zombie-effect” associated with children taking stimulant drugs. The drugs make children more docile and therefore less of a “problem” for parents and teachers, but at what cost? I became alarmed when children told me in my office they felt like they were “in a fog” or that they were trying to learn but were unable. I found out other therapists were getting similar reports from their child-clients. Who knows the extent to which we have dampened creativity, reduced spontaneity and inhibited learning by drugging so many thousands of children? The parent support groups love to point out that Michelangelo, Einstein and other historic figures had “ADHD”. If they had lived in 2002 they probably would have been drugged!
Supporters of the medical model, especially the drug companies, try to dazzle us with phrases like “basal ganglia” and “dopamine receptors”. We have to fight back with common sense. Parents have no reason to feel guilty, but they have every reason to feel powerful. Parents CAN make changes that will have dramatic effects on their children’s behaviour. Children have no reason to feel sick or impaired; they are responsible for their behaviour and they have the power to make changes. Giving amphetamines to little children because they don’t behave just doesn’t make sense. Let us stop the drugging, celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of EVERY child, and embrace the power we all have to control our own lives.