by Ruth Hughes, PhD
A week ago the New York Times published an article by Alan Sroufe, "Ritalin Gone Wrong," that questions the need for medication in the treatment of ADHD. Even worse, the author claims that parents and environmental stressors are the major causative factor in ADHD. A firestorm of reaction, both positive and negative, has uncovered some deep rifts in our public understanding of ADHD. There are those who are jumping on the bandwagon and decrying families that think a pill is all that is necessary to help a child with problems. (I don’t know any families like this, but I’m sure there must be one somewhere.) And there is the ADHD scientific and advocacy community, who are appalled that information so flawed would appear in the New York Times.
While there is much to be upset about in these claims (and I have been very upset!), there are several assertions that are worth recognizing. There are bad parents in the world, people who do not have the skills, the resources, or the will to be good parents. And the impact on their children, who may or may not have ADHD, is usually negative. Helping these children is one of the major challenges of our society.
I also agree that pills alone rarely are sufficient treatment for ADHD. As the mother of a now-adult son with ADHD, it took a lot more than medication to help him become a productive adult. CHADD always encourages a combination of treatment, parent training and support, school support, and behavioral interventions for any child with ADHD. Medication can help a child focus and be more amenable to learning, but the skills and external supports also need to be put in place.
What is most troubling (and enraging) about this article is that we are back in the dark ages, blaming parents, particularly mothers, for a child’s ADHD. In the article’s most egregious example the author, Alan Sroufe, claims that along with other stressors, ADHD is caused by “patterns of parental intrusiveness that involve stimulation for which the baby is not prepared. For example, a 6-month-old baby is playing, and the parent picks it up quickly from behind and plunges it in the bath. Or a 3-year-old is becoming frustrated in solving a problem, and a parent taunts or ridicules. Such practices excessively stimulate and also compromise the child’s developing capacity for self-regulation.” Excuse me! Does Dr. Sroufe or anyone with a fundamental knowledge of ADHD really believe such nonsense? There is no scientific basis for his claim of “parental intrusiveness” as a factor in the development of ADHD. He is espousing theories that are now decades old and have long since been debunked and surpassed by our research on this disorder.
What is most disturbing, though, is how many people want to believe that it is Mom’s fault. Not so long ago we blamed depression, autism, schizophrenia, and many other mental disorders on parenting. We now know that there are genetic and neurological causes for these disorders just as we know there are genetic and neurological factors in ADHD. Only if we confront this stigmatization and discrimination whenever we see it or hear it, will it disappear once and for all from our culture. Every one of us must confront these beliefs, if we are to set this to rest once and for all. Speak up and speak out. Do not let these beliefs continue to flourish.
CHADD and a number of other ADHD experts responded to the Times article, pointing out the inaccuracies and errors, and countering the claims made by Dr. Sroufe. While they take many different approaches to confronting these issues, all provide great information.
CHADD’s Letter to the Editor of the New York Times
Dr. Edward Hallowell, Response to NY Times Piece “Ritalin Gone Wrong”
Dr. Harold Koplewicz, “Righting the Record on Ritalin”
Time Magazine Columnist Judith Warner, “ADHD: Is Stigma Back in Style?”
In addition, Dr. Max Wiznitzer from CHADD’s Professional Advisory Board has submitted an article to the New York Times as a counter to the article by Dr. Sroufe. We are waiting to hear if it will be published, but will share with all of you in the near future.
Ruth Hughes, PhD, is the CEO of CHADD.