Conservatives are sure it is a sign of parental laziness.
Liberals are sure it is big business, in the form of drug companies,
conspiring to ensnare large numbers of American children. Observers of no
particular outlook are nonetheless likely to believe that ADHD is either a
fraud or an invention.
They are apt to believe this for several reasons: 1) because the
media have consistently misrepresented the facts about the disorder, and 2)
because so many trends of the past several decades make it seem implausible
that ADHD just burst onto the scene.
Why, reasonable people may ask, did this disorder suddenly
explode just when parents were becoming less involved with their kids'
lives, and when discipline and good order were abandoned by the schools?
Isn't this "disease" just an excuse for medicating high spirits and boyish
antics out of existence?
Christina Hoff-Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys"
initially thought so. But, a careful scholar, she looked into the matter and
discovered that clear evidence from neurology and psychiatry show that the
disorder is real, and that, untreated, quite serious. Nor is it new. It has
been identified for decades and successfully treated with medications for
more than 40 years.
Anyone who has seen a parent unable to discipline a mouthy child
in public is right to conclude that parental authority ain't what it used to
be -- but wrong to suppose that ADHD is a myth.
Admittedly, mental health experts don't help matters by changing
the names of disorders. ADHD used to be called "hyperactivity" (and bipolar
disorder used to be manic-depression, etc.). The name Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder virtually invites ridicule.
But hundreds of studies and years of clinical experience leave
no room for doubt that the disease is real and measurable. The American
Medical Association, the National Institutes of Mental Health, The American
Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Mental Health
Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the
American Psychological Association, and many other professional and
scientific groups recognize ADHD's validity.
Children with the disorder have significantly diminished
capacity to regulate their conduct, control their impulses and concentrate
on a single task. Many are socially inept because they lack the ability to
understand subtle social cues. They may or may not be hyperactive (if not,
they are called ADD), but in many cases they have associated problems --
typically language disorders and depression.
The syndrome has a strong genetic component, and twin studies
have shown that home environment makes no separate contribution to the
incidence of the illness (though, obviously, the environment can aggravate
or ameliorate the underlying disorder).
Among the myths circulated by the press is the notion that
medicating children with ADHD leads to drug abuse in adolescence. In fact,
as a consortium of leading doctors and academics recently emphasized, the
opposite is the case. Untreated, ADHD sufferers are more likely than the
general public to abuse illegal drugs. Those who receive treatment are less
likely to do so. Untreated, 50 percent to 70 percent of those with ADHD have
few or no friends, 70 percent to 80 percent underperform at work, and 40
percent to 50 percent engage in antisocial activities. They are also
significantly more likely than the average person to get pregnant while a
teen-ager, drive dangerously and have multiple car accidents, drop out of
school, and experience depression. (For more on media misrepresentations,
Medication, in concert with other therapies like behavior
modification, can produce dramatic results. Though the drugs do not work for
everyone, they do work -- at least to some extent -- for the vast majority.
Social skills groups, which target the ADHD child's difficulties with peers
and family members, have also produced encouraging outcomes.
The idea of ADHD as a myth fits our suspicions about
contemporary America -- excuse seeking, short-cut finding and
irresponsibility. But on closer examination, it turns out that the myth is a