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.