With the dramatic and alarming increase in diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and corresponding growth in the number of prescriptions designed to treat it, more and more questions are being raised. These questions are not only about the medications themselves – which increasingly are proving to have serious and even deadly side effects – but about whether or not ADHD is even a disorder.

These questions come in the wake of numerous reports of children being treated with Concerta (methylphenidate) who display erratic behavior and even commit suicide. The link between Concerta and suicide in young people is the cause of action in a growing number of lawsuits. And now, a new book is exploring the question of whether or not prescription drugs like Concerta have been oversold to the public, but also the possibility that society has been sold a proverbial“bill of goods”on the whole issue of ADHD.

The book, authored by New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz, is entitled ADHD Nation. As the title suggests, the book explores origins of the ADHD diagnosis. Most importantly, Schwarz points out the lack of pathology and the highly subjective nature of ADHD. There are no medical tests for this condition, nor is it revealed by CT scans. The “diagnosis”of ADHD is based solely on the opinion of the physician, based on “symptoms”listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Among these“symptoms”are difficulty organizing tasks, inappropriate physical behavior such as running, fidgeting and various tics, inability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time and other behaviors. But, as Schwarz points out, virtually every person on earth has exhibited such behaviors at one time or another. And because there is no strict pathology, because such diagnoses are made based on highly subjective considerations, large pharmaceutical corporations such has Janssen have been given carte blanche to come up with such “treatments” and market them to frustrated parents looking for an easy, convenient way to handle their child’s behavior.

What is interesting is what kind of children tend to be diagnosed with ADHD. Primarily, the children most likely to be labeled with this condition are the youngest ones in the classroom who are non-white. While Schwarz acknowledges that ADHD does in fact exist, he believes that treatment should not be confined to pharmaceutical solutions.

He is not alone. Several years ago, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner developed his theory of multiple intelligences, suggesting that children have different learning styles. For example, some relate more to visual input (“picture smart,” or spatial intelligence), while others require a “hands on” approach (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence). One of Gardner’s intelligences was the “naturalist.” Some have suggested that ADHD is really a form of naturalist intelligence – a skill set and awareness that serves hunter-gatherers quite well, but is less useful in a post-industrial society. Until recently, there was even a school for children with ADHD that focused on providing them with opportunities to learn by working with their tendencies rather than against them.

Unfortunately, as one clinician quoted in Schwarz’s book points out,“We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” Modifying the kid has proven quite profitable for Big Pharma – but very costly for the children being subject to such modification.

SHARE
K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.