Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New York Times Bashes ADHD Once Again

One could easily come to the conclusion that someone on the New York Times Opinion Pages staff has had a very negative experience with ADHD and is on a crusade to blame parents. Just weeks after printing a highly misleading article, “Ritalin Gone Wrong” by Alan Sroufe, the front page of the Opinion section now has a philosophical essay by playwright Hanif Kureishi titled “The Art of Distraction.” Once again someone who has no expertise in ADHD is making highly misleading statements about ADHD and Ritalin.
Don’t get me wrong—I am not pushing medication. CHADD strongly recommends that the decision to choose medication is a personal decision between the patient, the family, and the doctor. Thousands of people deal successfully with the symptoms of ADHD without medication, just as thousands find medication an important part of the treatment process. My own son has been on medication and off of medication, depending on the demands of his life and his coping skills. The decision to medicate or not has to be made based upon the individual needs of the person with ADHD. But that decision should be made based upon good information, not claptrap. And that is my problem with the New York Times, which once again is giving front-page status to utter nonsense in the Sunday Review op/ed section.
So let’s be clear about the facts. When an ADHD medication works properly, there is no stupor and no restraint on creativity. Anyone who experiences a stupor should be visiting his or her doctor immediately. ADHD medications should help your brain to work more effectively. This is not a chemical straightjacket, but rather an opportunity to avoid the many negative consequences of untreated ADHD, such as school failure and a miserable childhood.
The author describes his own troubled childhood, the difficulties his own son is having in school now, and a mythical “Ritalin Boy,” and concludes that suffering and a distracted mind can lead to creativity. In his most appalling passage Kureishi states, “Ritalin and other forms of enforcement and psychological policing are the contemporary equivalent of the old practice of tying up children’s hands in bed, so they won’t touch their genitals. The parent stupefies the child for the parent’s good.” Listen up, folks: According to the New York Times, any parent of a child with ADHD has plopped the child in the bathtub without prior warning, thereby disrupting the wiring of the brain (“Ritalin Gone Wrong”); and, if a parent is so misguided to as to use medication, that parent is chemically restraining the child in the most vulgar terms (“The Art of Distraction”).
In another section, Kureishi describes this as “a moral issue rather than a scientific one; values are at stake here—not facts.” This is in fact both a moral issue and a scientific, factual one. Would we deny a child with diabetes access to insulin because the struggle with their health and potential death would be inspiring? Would we refuse to allow a child to see properly with a pair of glasses, because the resulting visual haziness might lead to some artistic creativity? How could the New York Times continue to be so irresponsible? This is so much more than adding insult to injury. This is gross negligence and does irreparable harm. Fortunately the members of CHADD know this is nonsense, but I worry greatly about the family new to ADHD that reads such garbage and assumes that it must be credible if it appears in the New York Times.
In full disclosure please note that following the publication of “Ritalin Gone Wrong,” CHADD sent a letter to the editor and an opinion/editorial article by Max Wiznitzer, MD, a member of CHADD’s Professional Advisory Board. Neither was published.
So what are we to do? Well, there are several things that can be done—and we need your help.
1.       Take a moment to go to the comment section at the end of the article and tell the New York Times what you know about ADHD.
2.       Send an email to the public editor, expressing your dismay at the incredibly irresponsible behavior of the New York Times op-ed staff.
3.       If you are by chance an advertiser in the Times, please take note. Reconsider sending your advertising dollars to a business that regularly spreads highly prejudicial misinformation.
We cannot allow such blatant misinformation and discrimination to continue to thrive. Please take a moment to act on behalf of all those you love who have ADHD.
Ruth Hughes, PhD, is the CEO of CHADD.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New York Times Article Blames Parents for ADHD

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.