My five-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD about a year ago. The diagnosis would certainly come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time around him. He talks without interruption from 7:00 in the morning until he falls asleep at 10:00 p.m.. He runs any child he plays with into the ground as they beg him to slow down. He loves school and does well but spends nearly the entire day standing up as he is unable to stay in a seat for any length of time. He often has no control over his body, which seems to be driven by some outside force. He is outgoing, kind, and likable, but often "wears out his welcome" as his impulsivity and limitless energy exhaust those around him. It’s probably this same ADHD that has given him the adventurous spirit, unflinching enthusiasm for new experiences, and exceptional resourcefulness that are his hallmarks. These traits, combined with his good nature, have allowed him to thrive in most social and educational environments—but that is becoming harder for him.
He has been a great challenge to parent, a major source of stress, and left us exhausted and frustrated. It is only recently though, with the increasing severity of his symptoms, that it has begun to profoundly affect his quality of life. He cannot control his impulses in the very situations he loves most, and worst of all, is beginning to become aware of the effects his hyperactivity are having on others and feeling deep remorse for that.
Thankfully, while ADHD can’t be cured, there are many treatment options that can lead to successful management. We familiarized ourselves with the options, read into the available research (as well as non-medical professionals can) and looked to the expertise of our pediatrician to choose a treatment. We are trying a combination of medication and behavioral modification. While not “magic bullets," there are a number of medication options that have high success rates, limited side-effects, and often significantly improve the lives of those with ADHD.
I am enthusiastic but at the same time bothered by the thought of the many kids (and adults) that won’t have access to the same safe and often effective treatment options. This is because of the ill-informed, irresponsible, and delusional demonization of ADHD medications that is spread by self-proclaimed experts with no medical knowledge, and usually an axe to grind or an alternative to sell. You will find that the anti-ADHD medication crowd runs in the same circles where we find anti-vaccination types. Their claims are anti-scientific, loaded with manipulative language, often ideological, and unsupported by legitimate research. That isn’t stopping them from getting to concerned parents who are trying to navigate the sea of conflicting claims while they try to make the correct decision for their child. As a parent, being told a treatment is dangerous, toxic, ineffective, life-destroying, addiction-causing, untested, or “zombifying,” will make you pause. Hearing it thirty times will cause you to look past the mountains of good science and your better judgement, and to the false promises, unproven claims, and outright frauds that are the bedfellows of those attacking ADHD medication without evidence.
A Google search for ADHD treatments will return many useful resources including leading institutions committed to providing the most reliable information available on the subject like The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Centers For Disease Control. It will also return 30 sites out of the first 100 that make claims relating to treatments that have no scientific support whatsoever. Many of the sites intentionally use language that shows complete disregard for the truth or meaningful debate.
While the CDC and AAP provide exhaustive evidence-based reviews of treatment options, websites right next to them in the search results will feature absurd fear-inspiring statements like:
"On a physical level, the recommended drugs are toxic, and they have a long list of deleterious effects.1 Regarding Ritalin, the fact is that "methylphenidate looks like an amphetamine (chemically), acts like an amphetamine (effects), and is abused like an amphetamine (recreational use, Emergency Room visits, pharmacy break-ins)."
Pharmacy break-ins as a side effect? Really?
"Ritalin produces two especially harmful effects. It deprives a child of the right to develop a character and a way of living with self and world"
"The 700 percent rise in Ritalin use is our canary in the mineshaft for the middle class, warning us that we aren't meeting the needs of all our children, not just those with ADD. It's time we rethought our priorities and expectations unless we want a nation of kids running on Ritalin"
"Increasingly over the past ten years or so, millions of parents are nagged by their children's physicians: "If your child had diabetes," the doctors taunt, for example, "you'd give him insulin wouldn't you?"
"98% of people with ADHD will NEVER see significant and lasting changes by following the "conventional" routes of treating ADD and ADHD"
"Your doctor just wants to pump him full of drugs. He dismisses diet as a treatment of ADHD when you ask what foods are not good if you have ADHD".
"The juggernaut of mental or behavioral labeling and biopsychiatric drugging"
Nothing in these statements is backed up by any credible evidence or useful in making a choice. Most are just acting to advance some anti-mainstream medicine agenda. That doesn’t mean they don’t effect people’s decisions. This is just a tiny sample quickly grabbed from the first few of the many prominent websites spreading this misinformation. They usually go on to promote alternative treatments that are equally inaccurate and often outright scams.
I don’t take any position on whether or not parents choose to medicate their children. My intent is not to promote one treatment over another. I will leave that to the medical community and the findings of science. I am just sickened by those who freely distribute information they are not qualified to give and intentionally do so in a way that manipulates those who listen. It is particularly troubling when they bear no cost for disguising themselves as experts and making it difficult for people to make informed decisions that could have profound impacts on their families.
Michael Blanford is Director of Educational Programs for the James Randi Educational Foundation.