Many myths have been manufactured about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Facts that are clear and compelling to most scientists and doctors have been distorted or discarded from popular media discussions of the disorder. Sometimes, the popular media seems motivated by the maxim “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” That’s fine for storytellers, but it is not acceptable for serious and useful discussions about ADHD.
Myths about ADHD are easy to find. These myths have confused patients and parents and undermined the ability for professionals to appropriately treat the disorder. When patients or parents get the idea that the diagnosis of ADHD is a subjective invention of doctors, or that ADHD medications cause drug abuse, that makes it less likely they will seek treatment and will increase their chances of having adverse outcomes.
Fortunately, as John Adams famously said of the Boston Massacre, “Facts are stubborn things.” And science is a stubborn enterprise; it does not tolerate shoddy research or opinions not supported by fact. ADHD scientists have addressed many of the myths about the disorder in the International Consensus Statement on ADHD, a published summary of scientific facts about ADHD endorsed by a of 75 international ADHD scientists in 2002. The statement describes evidence for the validity of ADHD, the existence of genetic and neurobiologic causes for the disorder and the range and severity of impairments caused by the disorder.
The Statement makes several key points:
- The U.S. Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize ADHD as a valid disorder.
- ADHD involves a serious deficiency in a set of psychological abilities and that these deficiencies pose serious harm to most individuals possessing the disorder.
- Many studies show that the psychological deficits in people with ADHD are associated with abnormalities in several specific brain regions.
- The genetic contribution to ADHD is routinely found to be among the highest for any psychiatric disorders.
- ADHD is not a benign disorder. For those it afflicts, it can cause devastating problems.
The facts about ADHD will prevail if you take the time to learn about them. This can be difficult when faced with a media blitz of information and misinformation about the disorder. In future blogs, I’ll separate the fact from the fiction by addressing several popular myths about ADHD.