Myths Debunking Myths

 Thought it would be "nice", by way of reintroduction, to post the "seven myths of ADD" (the title, perhaps, a spin off of the seven deadly sins?) one at a time. This was too much of a temptation, given how I am keen on dissecting the language of the  disease-mongerers within our culture, and their acolytes (there are seemingly endless possibilities to this language critique, as such respective language games are apparently the sine qua non of psychiatric discourse and praxis.) These portmanteau responses have been pretty much the stock offered the public for the past couple of decades, or so. However, the factitious science, in its present recycled form, still serves well in  propagandizing and wooing the public.


The apparent mix of the public and private spheres of "everyday" life, certainly in respect to the reach of the Therapeutic state, has seen to it that nothing escapes the scrutiny of a thoroughgoing medical presence in our culture. The putative disorder of ADD has become the coin of the realm in labeling the "willful" and "disruptive". For the adult who persists in his faith of psychiatric labeling, there are any number of means for one to have confirmed what one already has assumed. Whether it is the child who is  (therapeutically) taken in hand, or, the adult who seeks absolution and excuse, (mis)behavior cannot be a disease; that is not what diseases are! However, as many fail to appreciate, psych labels are morally prescriptive, and the language of exclusion informs the mainstay of the psychiatric enterprise.


ADHD has been recognized as a legitimate diagnosis by major medical, psychological, and educational organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education. The American Psychiatric Society recognizes ADHD as a medical disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - the official mental health "bible" used by psychologists and psychiatrists.



First off, it is interest to note the juxtaposition of the word "legitimate" with "diagnosis". If one is to look up the former term, one is confronted with a rich choice of definitions to choose from; all of which, in one way or other, defer to a degree of consensus or agreement. There is also the reference of "legitimate" as legally defined: as in legal sanction. 

Legitimacy, simultaneously connoting legality and veracity, makes for fewer questions from the casual observer. However, such semantic hairsplitting is really moot, as it is really consensus that is the operant term in matters diagnostic and therapeutic, certainly as it obtains in the child and adult client-patient. 

 Any such appeal to skepticism, and debate over such, is but deflected by the deployment of quasi-scientific, as well as the pseudo-scientific jargon, specific to the behavioral specialist. The result is as predictable as it is certain; the duel function of such linguistic doublespeak is effected: the layperson is stupefyed; and, at present, the Mental health practioner is shielded by law and state, as any other licensed medical technician . But if such diagnostic criteria is seemingly cut and dried, then why the insistence on such redundancy as  "legitimate diagnosis"?




Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (also known as attention-deficit disorder) is biologically based. Research shows that it's a result of an imbalance of chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, within the brain. Its primary symptoms are inattention, impulsiveness, and, sometimes, hyperactivity.

This was more or less the standard line given to parents, when in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States witnessed a veritable mushrooming of MBD (ADD's old moniker). There is no clinical assay to show the presence of ADD, and, as already noted, diagnosis of ADD is arrived at through consensus: This is arguably an "approach" with a steep price to pay, for no conceivable ends, and to justify what so many children are subjected to.



 Myth #2: Children who are given special accommodations because of their ADHD are getting an unfair advantage

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that public schools address the special needs of all children with disabilities, including children with ADHD. Special accommodations, such as extra time on tests, simply level the playing field so that kids with ADHD can learn as successfully as their non-ADHD classmates.

Myth #3: Children with ADHD eventually outgrow their condition

More than 70 percent of the individuals who have ADHD in childhood continue to have it in adolescence. Up to 50 percent will continue to have it in adulthood.

Although it's been estimated that 6 percent of the adult population has ADHD, the majority of those adults remain undiagnosed, and only one in four of them seek treatment. Yet, without help, adults with ADHD are highly vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. They often experience career difficulties, legal and financial problems, and troubled personal relationships.


My own school experience tells of a much different take on the "accommodation" argument. The first salient thing to note about the above, is the use of spurious statistical references. I find that, along with other statistically arrived-at findings, there is no means testing to be had, when comparing apples with oranges. In the case of the above half-backed statistics, how does a child's world of cares and concerns match with those of the adult's? After all, the statistics are not measuring disease, per se, they (the number crunching) are purporting to measure the incommensurable: the child's and the adult's respective spheres of moral conduct. I would be altogether more convinced if such statistical manipulations concerned themselves more so with medicine, than that of  moral prescription, passed off as a medicine! On this discussion of the strategic use of the flim-flam science, as proof of "cause in effect" for so many putative disorders (and so-called symptomology), I direct the reader to peruse the respective chapter from W.C. Lewontin's (et. al.) "Not in our Genes": There are liars, bigger liars, and then, there are the statisticians.)




ADHD are highly vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. They often experience career difficulties, legal and financial problems, and troubled personal relationships.


Without references to more spurious statistics, I wonder if these so-called co-morbid "vulnerabilities" are any different for the ADD person than the non-disordered person? This thorough medicalizing of everyday life certainly calls for more treatment, and follow ups!




Myth #4: ADHD affects only boys

Girls are just as likely to have ADHD as are boys, and gender makes no difference in the symptoms caused by the disorder. But because this myth persists, boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls.



"...And [one's] gender makes no difference in the symptoms". This smuggles in an issue that has been one of many "peripheral" issues of the profession for some time, but, as always, the questions begged are always deftly skirted and shrugged off.

 Why should gender differences, or more precisely, difference between the sexes, be considered in a discussion ostensibly concerning itself with the purely medical? To be fair, the male and female of our species do show differential "risks" to many diseases. Such difference can be based on physiological, anatomical, and other medically (scientifically) verifiable tests and assays. Not so with ADD!

Coming full circle, what then informs those differences in those so-called diagnoses of ADD, between boys and girls? I do not care to be too long winded on any one answer. However, suffice it to say, I feel that given the political and social climate at present, certainly as it pertains to being "PC", I'm sure that those who have fought long and hard for gender equity, can now add another feather in their caps. 

Shifting our attention from this one tree among many (gender and ADHD), one finds that the forest or, in its proper metaphorical context, our culture's attitudes (and those norms and values so informing such) about assigned gender roles and so-called differences, remain unaltered and fairly stable (status quo). 

The mental health profession's insistence that brain differences between the sexes do play a major part in more boys than girls being medicated for ADHD, is, in the very least, strongly suggestive of medicine serving a social and moral ends.

 it is important to note, that by way of challenging the entrenched instititutional pronouncements of those behavioral scientists informing the public on ADD, to date, scant research has been proffered. Those researchers who question the claims of any real ameliorative effect for the student-and for his classmates and the shared learning environment- are likely to meet sharp resistence from their coevals, and to be rebuked. 

 A balanced account of the research will show there to be no reliable and valid means test that measures the "ameliorative effect": fellow classmates and teacher being clearly  benefitted when treatment of the ADD child is carried through. The prevailent contention, that the "untreated" ADD child is most disruptive of both classmates' learning, and of the teacher's instructional "effectiveness", is not borne out by  balanced account of all the available research. Still, the programmatic course, in treating the "disruptive" child, has not changed for decades. The reasons for staying the course, cynically enough, has a lot more to do with practical reasons than it does for medical and scientifically valid ones. I dare think that compassion figures any more importantly!  





Myth #5: ADHD is the result of bad parenting

When a child with ADHD blurts things out or gets out of his seat in class, it's not because he hasn't been taught that these behaviors are wrong. It's because he cannot control his impulses. The problem is rooted in brain chemistry, not discipline. In fact, overly strict parenting - which may involve punishing a child for things he can't control - can actually make ADHD symptoms worse.  


Again, it is interesting to note how one word, strategically placed alongside another, can engender an apparent truth. The juxtaposition of bad (parenting), with ADD, is one such case. 

Whether one chooses one moral circumstance (bad parenting, for example), over another, say, the disordered brain (individual), the same effect obtains. Our culture, and its schools, have at their disposal, in the form of the codified-and reifyied-disorder label, a means of deflecting attention from those more pressing social and moral determinants of (mis)conduct. The presence of a plethora of other (codified) putative mental disorders (illness), make for a streamlined therapeutizing of human conduct; and medicine, specifically behavioral has all but dispensed with the moral and the social. The medical rubric informing the present paradigm of the individual as part of the whole, can best be summed up by the following: By altering the individual (brain), one will alter the social. This Paternalistic-collectivist informed paradigm should be most unsettling to any person who cherishes individualism and self-determination. I do, however, see the slippery slope as engendered by the "right to treatment" law, and how such informs the therapeutic prerogative of its practitioners. It (the letter of the law and its spirit) is clearly an oxymoron. Many on this site fail to see how those laws ostensibly there to facilitate treatment of the so-called mentally ill, essentially run counter-and are clearly inimical- to the notion of individual civil liberties which the United States Constitution guarantees. I urge the reader to examine this latter contention!)



Professional interventions, such as drug therapy, psychotherapy, and behavior modification therapy, are usually required



The not-so-subtle shift, over the past several decades (becoming more pronounced after the end of World War II), from a more or less moral understanding of human conduct and differentiation (common sense view), to that of presently labeling many matters of  "deviance" as  disordered, is what I would say makes perfectly good Therapeutic sense. Certainly, as the state and the therapeutic establishment have come to mutually benefit-and empower-each other, I don't think there would be too much disagreement. The Therapeutic state has come to insinuate itself in the moral and social makeup of a culture in which health has come to be the new state religion. 




MYTH #6: Children who take ADHD medication are more likely to abuse drugs when they become teenagers.


I think it best, by way of personal anecdote, to respond in kind to Myth #6. I was "diagnosed" in 1968 with ADD (MBD), when I was in the first grade. For some four years, I was on ritalin. To say that my first five years of school was unpleasant, would be an understatement. However, I did manage to go from K-12, not once drunk or drugged, except for those four years when I was poisoned to conform-and to be a docile body. Who is being benefitted when a child is medicated in class? Certainly given the programmatic nature, and the pedagogical aims, of the formative years of grade school, I think the anwer is self-evident.


 Having untreated ADHD increases the risk that an individual will abuse drugs or alcohol. Appropriate treatment reduces this risk.



Drug use, as the quasi-science of behavioral medicine would have it, is to be understood and "treated" in the accepted medical fashion. Free will and choice cannot coexist in such a disease monger model of drug use. Any desire to alter one's consciousness (mood), whether one seeks to escape existential pain or, to enhance positive affect, is immaterial- and heresy- to the religion of health! What then is the real risk? The drugs or the individual?

The present conception of drug use as  being a disease state, not unlike physical disease, has justified all manner of legal and therapeutic coercions, aimed at treating the diseased self. The upshot to all this is that in treating for drug abuse issues, and those countless other disorders and illnesses, our culture maintains the fallacious notion that there are good drugs and bad drugs (what of the child who must take one drug to counter the effects of another?) 

  The ingestion of a drug, is in itself not inherently a moral issue, and choosing to alter one's mood (affect) or consciousness, does not a disease state make! However, assuming the latter to be "true" has made for a bloated drug treatment infracstructure, and the continued course of scapegoating those, whose choice of drug (and its means of ingestion) is not ceremonially and ritualistically assimilated into the "prevailing" culture .


The medications used to treat ADHD have been proven safe and effective over more than 50 years of use. These drugs don't cure ADHD, but they are highly effective at easing symptoms of the disorder. The drugs do not turn kids into addicts or "zombies."



The first sentence, which claims that ADHD drugs (plural, keep this in mind) have been shown to be efficacious and safe for the past fifty years, is a spurious remark on two accounts. First, the number of medications that are now at the disposal of physicians to "treat" ADHD, no small thanks to the culture that informs our zeal to treat deviance, are too numerous for me to count and name.

 Moreover, the spurious connection between childhood diagnosis, fifty years ago, and the drugs then available for such treatment, with that which is now present in ADD treatment (and advocacy!), is just one of many examples of the respective profession glossing over the facts.

 I challenge the reader to find any appreciable number of studies on ADD, conducted fifty years ago or earlier- if such is even traceable. How might the race for space, in the 1960s, between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S., and the push for the sciences in these respective nations such engendered, have, in any way, influenced how the behavioral sciences began to look at those who "deviated from the mean": this normalizing of behavior.


As for the pharmacodynamic qualities of most ADD drugs, supposedly turning its takers into "Zombies", suffice it to say, that there have been no reliable and verifiable cross-studies that show  the "ADDer's" brain to behave any differently than the "non-ADDer" to a given drug (in the case of one particular critical study, that of ritalin.)

 The conclusion to be drawn on this factitiousness of pharmaceutical drug efficacy vis a vis ADD "symptoms", is thus aptly rendered void, if not suspect ( I urge the reader to refer to L.C. Lewontin's "Not in our genes".)

 Incontrovertibly, is that in western culture, the U.S. in particular,  there is an unquestioning, almost sheeplike acceptance (credulity), by the rank and file, that the government has the knowledge and expertise to inform us on issues of "ceremonial chemistry";  that certain drugs are safe and okay, while others, are unceremoniously-although certainly, systematically-proscribed. The one exception to this arbitrary dichotomy being the reintroduction of medical marijuana into the pharmacopeoia, a legal precondition that assures  strict control of a plant by the state and its therapeutic agents. Only in the peculiarity that is America's cultural baggage (and sustaining myths), does one find such a dovetailing of state and medicine: This is what Thomas Szasz delineates as the Therapeutic state. And health is its religion.  


Myth #7: People who have ADHD are stupid or lazy - they never amount to anything

People with ADHD are of above-average intelligence, recent studies show. They certainly aren't lazy. In fact, many well-known, high-achieving individuals from the past are thought to have had ADHD, including Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, George Bernard Shaw, and Salvador Dali. The list of high-achieving ADDers in business today includes top executives, such as David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, and Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko's.



 Again, I have already dialated at some length on this before. However, this appeal to notariety, and to celebrity, is not an altogether new tool in psychiatry's bag of tricks. The appeal to hagiographies and psychohistories. One such case of psychiatric and psychoanalytic lore becoming the "stuff of legends", can be found in Sigmund Freud's cynical, psychoanalytic take on Michelangelo's "latent" homosexuality, being an explanation for the artist's troubled genius, and his (Michelangelo's) various "projections") 


 The appeal to, and reference of, those great figures in history, as being "like me", is scientific wishful thinking, and fatuous, at that. No matter the vast ocean of space and time, no great writer, scientist, or statesman is beyond the scope of medical fairy tale.

The insistence on medical protocol tendency to lump the individual into a group of symptoms, and to call that, ipso facto, a diagnosed disorder, is no less fatuous an undertaking.

On this further reading of tea leaves, I do get the general impression that much effort has been wasted by our institutions, and its technicians, on "damage control" or, more accurately, its self-serving justifications for staying the course, on so many "therapeutic" fronts.

 It does seem very disingenuous, indeed,  to emphasize those supposed singularly positive traits and ascriptions of the child  ly positive ascriptions, the child with while at the same time, insisting that the negative attributes (individual) needs treating.

 There is no desire to alter the public's perceptions on any number of disorders and, moreover, there is no real desire to remove the stigma attached to those respective disorders, no matter the lip service claiming otherwise.

 The degree to which professional and personal prestige and ambitions inform any current dialogue, certainly within any discussion over ADHD, cannot be overstated. And, cynically enough, disease mongering, far from streamlining and reifying, has come to be our culture's bane: when so much of our (humanity's) moral nature comes to be regarded as medical! This, I might interject, is perhaps the price any modern civilization must pay for material and scientific progress (Read Ludwig Bertalanffy's "The psychopathology of Scientism" in the published work of Schoeck and Higgins, entitled, "Scientism and values".)




deanne65 deanne65
46-50, M
3 Responses Feb 27, 2010

I have adhd.. could not read the entire post, it was way too long and difficult.

There is no way I could read and comprehend that. I found myself scrolling through it - looking for key words - like always. Anybody with ADHD read this entire post?????

Wow. You know, I totally believe every up&down mood you can have when your ADHD. You really<br />
say a Lot!! I hear you, ya know they say we the afflicted are usually quite intelligent, You are for sure. <br />
I worry because I felt like I was reading something my son would have undertaken. I Know he's AD and he refuses to acknowledge it. He's Brilliant. it scares me, but he also can drive you crazy explaining the whys and wherefores of Everything.And Everybody.<br />
Now that I read this I see I'm doing the same thing. Do you think too much? I do. I just joined the group this morning so it will be hard to khow I'm saying what I do, I want you to know that you are very familiar, even though I just read your story. BCBoomer58