New Perspective on ADHD?

For quite a few years there have been people ready to at least hint that all might not be healthy around the issue of ADHD. Concerns have arisen about how the condition came in to existence, was recognised formally, how the pharmaceutical industry mad it a point to emphasise that this was a condition meriting long term treatment with powerful medicines and how it came to be diagnosed so readily that in some parts of the US one in eight children have had this label put on them.

When i talk about those who hinted that all was not well, one prominent person who immediately comes to mind is Dr Ken Robinson. For a long time he’s been questioning whether all is well, though prefacing most of his comments with a statement that he’s not qualified to say that ADHD doesn’t exist. People like robinson have to be very careful indeed. many have taken on the vested interests of the pharmaceutical industry and found that they paid a heavy price. For someone like him, discovering that routes to get his messages out about the needs for change in education would be a price too high to pay.

So, it struck me very forcefully when i saw that someone very prominent in the psychology field has now broken ranks and dared to come out and say just that – he doesn’t believe ADHD exists!

Power of Positivity – Harvard Psychologist Reveals ADHD Doesn’t Really Exist
(Click on the link above to read the article)

As you read the article, it’s very clear that Kagan isn’t just making a point about ADHD alone, but about the general pattern of over-diagnosis in the mental health profession that is having a devastating effect on too many people’s lives. Not every symptom is a reason for a diagnosis. He advocates for more time to be spent investigating causes.

In a school environment, I have often seen that it’s way too easy for the professional child carers to look for a simple diagnosis that can be dealt with when that’s what all the parties concerned are looking for. The parents want an answer for why their child is how they are (and why they’re different to other children) and the educators often want the child to comply more with norms so that educating in the classroom is made more consistent). In these circumstances, to explore causes means to unpick and expose all sorts of issues about the family, how they live, the patterns of their days and their interpersonal relationships, their communication, their routines (or lack of), their habits, their diet. Often, this is not what sits comfortably with the parents – with all the implications that they might have to take some responsibility for what’s happening with their child. Inadvertently, or otherwise, their actions may be at the root of their child’s problems. And who wants to be the professional taking parents down that route when the alternative is to tell them their child has a condition, common in their environment, and that it can be dealt with with an appropriate pharmacological solution.

We see in the article that Kagan has already come under attack for daring to speak out, and has been forced on to the defensive. The power of big pharma and entrenched attitudes are powerful indeed. His request that ‘we search a little deeper’ before diagnosing children is a perfectly reasonable one. However, I’m left feeling that as it’s not in the best interests of those concerned – the parents or the professionals, it’s not likely to change any time soon.

School Entry Age and ADHD

Medical News Today – School Entry Age May Impact Risk Of ADHD Diagnosis

There are few things scarier for a parent of an early years school pupil than when they are called up by their child’s school to come and discuss behavioural issues and the suggestion is made to get them reviewed by a clinical specialist. and even worse when that leads to a diagnosis and medication for ADHD. Sadly, this has been the plight of an ever growing number of children, particularly in the US.

I think all should find the data shared in this article quite startling and food for contemplation and introspection. What it suggests, pretty strongly is that in many cases, especially concerning younger children these diagnoses are coming about for little more reason than the fact of which month the child was born in, especially if it is a boy.

This has to be added to all the other evidence (for example, see Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’) about the impact on children because of the continued arbitrary way that is educators we choose to divide them up simplistically according to there birth date throughout the education world. As time goes on, there is less and less justification for this, and more and more reasons why we should be showing the courage to explore alternatives for how classes are formed and how decisions are made about who is schooled alongside who.

When children are under the age of 8 or 9 their development is so erratic, but also in the development phases so rapid that differences of just a few months can make a big difference. Children are likely to intuitively feel those differences, but not necessarily understand them. In such circumstances, there is a strong chance that they will act out in certain ways when they feel that somehow they’re not matching up to expectations and the experiences of the rest of their class. To think that this could ultimately lead to misdiagnosis and children being wrongly drugged is quite shocking.


As time goes on, the evidence about sleep’s importance seems to be to be so compelling and overwhelming that it must be treated as a public health issue.

At the same time that scientists are coming up with more and more evidence about the harm done by lack of good quality sleep (for all age groups, sometimes in different ways) we see more and more evidence that ever more distracted people are sleeping less and less.

If parents understood that the quality and quantity of the sleep their child gets could play a bigger part in their life success than their choice of school, how much homework they do, how good they are at taking exams etc. – wouldn’t they take it more seriously.

In schools, you can sometimes see the evidence of those children who are operating from a position of sleep deprivation. Parents and children also need to understand that it’s not a simplistic thing where you can make up the deficit at the weekends!

Here’s an article that shares research on the potentially devastating impact of sleep deficit for children, where it’s caused by snoring, sleep apnea or other similar disorders;

Reuters US Article – Kids Who Snore May Have Poorer Grades

That a child could have their academic achievements harmed by this is bad enough. However, I fear that this is one of the significant contributory factors in many diagnoses of ADHD, as well as potentially causing other psychological problems in childhood. Worse, I worry for children who are in sleep deficit for perfectly solvable reasons such as poor disciplines and routines in the home, inappropriate family lifestyle choices etc.

It’s time we all started taking sleep far more seriously.

Big Pharma and ADHD

If a doctor diagnosed your child as having a particular ‘illness’ and handed you a prescription for powerful medication to treat it, you wouldn’t be happy, of course. Then, you start to do a bit of research amongst other parents of your child’s school and find that nearly one in ten of the children in his/ her class have received the same diagnosis – now you’re resigned to your fate. Also, its tempting to go along as once you start to give the medication your child’s so much easier to deal with, so much ‘nicer’, less demanding of your time and energy.

Then, you see an article like this. Whilst that ‘one in ten’ may be normal where you live, in another country less than one in two hundred children is receiving the same diagnosis (and that same powerful medication).

The Spirit Science – ADHD Does Not Exist: Why French Children Don’t Have ADHD

This is controversial and understandably, if you read this article and scroll down to the comments you’ll see it’s got massive reaction with all sides of the arguments expressed.

My reading of the article, getting past the provocative headline is that ADHD might or might not exist as a diagnosable psychological condition. However, it is sure that something is going very wrong when the system is drawing simplistic conclusions based on a child’s behaviour to justify use of such powerful drugs on children. What the article describes in France is a much more delayed inclination to put the label on the child. Instead, there, before a diagnosis there is real effort to get to the roots of what’s going on in the child’s life to disturb them, to cause them to act out.

Have doctors become so squeamish about asking parents questions they might not like? Questions about sleep, home routines, the home atmosphere, diet, food and disciplines. No doubt some parents would find such questioning intrusive, especially if they’re not as effective in their personal and home disciplines as they wish. However, a child’s needs overrides a bit of parental awkwardness in my book.

In the US, the schools have pushed the agenda of ADHD because the factory model, focused on targets, data and results (common core curriculum etc) finds an energetic kid an inconvenience. My understanding of the French schools and education is that it’s much more accepting of children as children.

For those who read this post I wrote on the blog in January this year, you know I have a sceptical view of Big Pharma and their motives. It would be hard not to believe that they have played a part in this fiasco.

Cheated By Psychiatry – Blog Post

In India and UAE the frequency of diagnosis and medication of children is also rising. This shouldn’t matter just to the parents affected, but to all who care about children. For those of us in education, our motivation should always be to see medication as the very last resort. These are very powerful medications and I, for one, believe children are more important than peace, quiet and “discipline” in our school corridors!

Cheated by Psychiatry

Of all the books I read during 2014, probably none had a bigger impact on me than “Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good” by James Davies.

Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good, James Davies – Amazon with Reviews

I came across the book by accident. It was during our summer visit to England. My son and I were in London and took a day to visit the Science Museum. At the end of the day, shortly before the museum closed we drifted in to the souvenir shop. As is my inclination, I drifted towards the book shelves and found this tucked away on the top shelf. The front aroused my attention enough that I bought it (even though I had promised I wouldn’t load my luggage with any more books!!)

It reached the top of thew pile to be read back home only about 6 weeks later. Once i started to read it I was hooked right to the end. For anyone of a nervous disposition when it comes to the issue of ‘faith in the world we live in’, this is a very disturbing book. It follows the trail of evidence that points to one of the world’s biggest cons.

Few people today really believe that the pharmaceutical industry is full of saints. One doesn’t need to look any further than the poisoning of ground water in Gujarat, India from pharmaceutical manufacturers (Yes, Mr Modi welcomed them with open arms and treated this as ‘the price of progress’.) or the exploitative ways the medical reps bestow gifts, holidays and stays in 5 star hotels on those doctors willing to be bought!

So, should we really be so surprised that the evidence presented by Davies amounts to the completely unscientific creation of a multi-billion dollar industry for medicines for spurious ‘created’ mental illnesses designed by committees of self-interested practitioners?

As I read the book, my thoughts turned to the millions of children around the world living a drugged existence after they have been labeled with the diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. As Dr ken Robinson pointed out – they’re all paying attention to something, just not necessarily what their teachers or other carers want them to be paying attention to! The rush to medicate and to then claim success on the basis of the muted docility of the child worries me. Far too often there has been little attempt to address issues that may be happening at the level of the family that have shaped what’s happening with the child, creation of simple daily disciplines, sleep, diet, aggression and even physical abuse issues. Then we see what goes on in many of our schools – I’m not sure i could sit still through the hours and hours of interminable lecturing and time-waste these young children are subjected to. I think there’s a strong chance that if I was a child today, someone would at least try to put the ADHD tag on me!

Davies talks to many senior professionals in the fields of psychiatry and psychology. One of his skills is clearly the ability to build the sorts of levels of rapport with these people that lead them to be very open and candid. One would have loved to be a fly on the wall when some of them realised just how much they had revealed about the dirty secrets of their profession.

The writer does a particularly good job of making accessible for non-experts the evidence that blows apart many myths surrounding mental illness that have shaped the views of the public to the point where the vast majority of people are willing to accept the lies based on those myths fed to them by the industry. maybe the biggest of these is the ‘chemical imbalance’ nature of mental illness, that they have long claimed can be cured or at least controlled by the administration of powerful drugs.

Understandably, Davies has had his share of detractors and those who have tried to tear down his arguments or to accuse him of faults. One of the most invidious of these I came across online was the article by Andrew Solomon. He accuses Davies of many things, not least being smug and insensitive about human suffering. At first this surprised me as it wasn’t a sentiment i took away from the book. In fact, Davies appeared very sensitive to the harm being caused to people by drugs with awful side effects that may not even be achieving anything positive beyond placebo effects.

Here is Solomon’s piece: Andrew Solomon – Smug About Suffering

If you read this, piece don’t stop where Solomon ends, but scroll down to Davies’ rebuttal in which …. voila ….. he reveals Solomon’s undisclosed potential conflict of interest. Well, well – seemingly just more of what he highlighted in the book.

Here’s a more balanced review of the book: Salty Current – Review of Cracked

This book shocked me, but told me much that I’m glad I know and i wish a lot more people knew. It may have left me a tad more cynical about the world we live in, a bit more cautious about trying to identify who are the good guys and who are the bad. However, I have no regrets on that score. Ignorance is, on occasions like this, certainly not bliss.

(Finally, my thanks for the Science Museum shop for being enlightened enough to stock this book!)

Insanity over ADHD

This requires little comment really, other than to say that for the sake of the next generation i wish educators would stop permitting such nonsense to be perpetrated on innocent children. It almost amounts to a human rights issue!

“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal – if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk – that’s pathological, instead of just childhood.”
DR. JEROME GROOPMAN, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, on the dramatic rise in the number of children diagnosed with, and given medication for, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Can Neurofeedback Clinically Prove Itself?

Here’s an article that sets out the current balance of views on the validity of Neurofeedback as a valid treatment for autism, ADHD and other conditions. Plainly, before anyone can really be sure of the veracity there’s going to need to be considerably more research, including studies over time to determine whether the purported improvements last:

New York Times article on Neurofeedback

Much of the doubt seems to stem from the speed with which some of those marketing Neurofeedback have been ready to make extravagant claims for it before they have real proof. Nevertheless, it’s going to be fascinating to follow this over coming months.

In the meantime, I found myself thinking whilst reading this piece that if these people are right and the wiring of the brain can essentially be rearranged through an electronic feedback mechanism, then doesn’t that increase the likelihood that it can also be achieved through continuous, determined self-talk or self-feedback. Maybe, after all these years we’ll get some proof that the ‘positive thinking’ gurus were right all the time – that we really can choose how we feel, and as a result increase our likelihood of success. The great news if that proves to be true – it’s all FREE!!

Screen Time – More Evidence

Whilst the research behind this piece appears to need more work to understand the results, it indicates a clear correlation and relationship between ‘screen time’ and attention problems in children.

Instinctively, this is something I have long believed and has been behind my understanding with my own son right since he was little for a finite amount of screen time per day (1 hour on week days, 1 1/2 hours at weekends).

Yahoo Article on Screen Time

Encouraging ADHD Research

Here’s some potentially good news where children are being diagnosed ADHD. In my book anything that reduces the amount of drugs being given to children. the better.

BBC Article

Sleep Deprivation Effects on Children

If there is one thing that has continually disturbed me since i came to India, it’s how late children go to bed. I couldn’t understand it when i was in a restaurant at 10.00pm at night and would see so many children still running around. As time has gone on I’ve come to know the full extent. Let’s not even talk about the number of children getting up and going to school (after their late nights) without eating any breakfast!

There is an increasing amount known these days about sleep deprivation and none of it is good. And, i’m not even just talking about the older students who perpetuate the silliness of their parents’ generation – somehow fooling themselves that staying up until some ungodly hour staring at a book is a great way to prepare for an examination the next day. The fact that we were stoopid enough to do it in our time does not mean it should be continued – each generation is supposed to learn something from the mistakes of their elders!!

My concern is probably more with the small children, little children who are simply not sleeping long enough and are therefore going through the early part of their lives in a severely sleep deprived state. There appears to be a strong connection scientifically proven between sleep deprivation and ADHD, where the two have the propensity to worsen each other (see articles below)

ASCD Article
Web4Health Article
Psych Central Article

Now, when we know all of this why would so many otherwise caring, devoted parents who want their children to excel in life consciously put their children at risk in this way? This is, I guess, a plea for more family discipline for the sake of our children. I’d love to hear more children tell me about regular bedtime routines that start early enough, include real quality time interacting with one or both parents, reviewing the day in a quiet peaceful manner, reading a story and off to sleep at a good time.

Sweet dreams, children ….. for a brighter future !!!!

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