Posted by: Tracy Barsamian | September 29, 2014

Is ADHD Really a Disorder?

Donations for US School Kids

Yesterday, I blogged about my friend’s son being diagnosed with ADHD.  Before we consider treatments (holistic or otherwise) for ADD and ADHD, we first need to ask a really important question:  Is ADHD even really a disorder?!  The anti-school crowd would shout NO! NO! NO!  They (we!) would call ADHD a diagnosis of a personality type that cannot tolerate the boredom and rigidity of school.  Today’s outrageously stressful schools push these outgoing, energetic kids to a behavioral extreme that we’ve entitled ADHD.  These kids are disruptive in class.  They are seen as “problems”.  And so, they are medicated so they’ll conform to our broken educational model.

This is the question that I continue to ask:  why are we so loyal to our schools?  Why are we more loyal to a broken system than to our children?  Kids that meet the criteria for ADHD are NOT the problem.  SCHOOL IS THE PROBLEM.

I.  Listen to what Peter Gray has to say about ADHD in his article ADHD and School:  The Problem of Assessing Normalcy in an Abnormal Environment

What does it mean to have ADHD? Basically, it means failure to adapt to the conditions of standard schooling. Most diagnoses of ADHD originate with teachers’ observations.[3] In the typical case, a child has been a persistent pain in the neck in school…and the teacher, consequently, urges the parents to consult with a clinician about the possibility that the child has ADHD. Using the standard diagnostic checklists, the clinician then takes into account the ratings of teachers and of parents concerning the child’s behavior. If the ratings meet the criterion level, then a diagnosis of ADHD is made. The child may then be put on a drug such as Adderall or Concerta, with the result, usually, that the child’s behavior in school improves. The student begins to do what the teacher asks him to do; the classroom is less disrupted; and the parents are relieved. The drug works.

The diagnostic criteria for ADHD, as outlined by DSM-IV (the official diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association), clearly pertain primarily to school behavior…  Here, for you to peruse, are the complete lists of criteria, quoted directly from DSM-IV:


1. Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
2. Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
4. Often does not follow instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions).
5. Often has trouble organizing activities.
6. Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn’t want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
7. Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools).
8. Is often easily distracted.
9. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

Hyperactivity & Impulsivity

1. Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.
2. Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected.
3. Often runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may feel very restless).
4. Often has trouble playing or enjoying leisure activities quietly.
5. Is often “on the go” or often reacts as if “driven by a motor”.
6. Often talks excessively.
7. Often blurts out answers before questions have been finished.
8. Often has trouble waiting one’s turn.
9. Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).

OK, after reading this list, who is surprised that so many boys have been diagnosed as having ADHD and that teachers usually initiate the diagnostic process? Raise your hand (but please don’t blurt out your answer before I call on you).”

Ha!!  And Gray is funny, too, huh?!  These are criteria for a medical disorder?!  These are behaviors of normal children!  And we “treat” children that meet these criteria with serious drugs – so that they can fit into our broken educational system?  NO WAY!  NO HOW!  Want to know what is “wrong” with children labeled with ADD and ADHD?  N – O – T – H – I – N – G.  SCHOOL IS THE PROBLEM.  OUR FAST-PACED CULTURE THAT NO LONGER PRIORITIZES FAMILIES AND CHILDHOOD IS THE PROBLEM.

Read more on Peter Gray’s research on the relationship between ADHD and school in the following series of articles:

ADHD and School:  The Problem of Assessing Normalcy in an Abnormal Environment (the excerpts above is from this article)

The ADHD Personality:  It’s Cognitive, Biological, and Evolutionary Foundations

Experiences of ADHD Labeled Kids Who Switch from Conventional Schooling to Homeschooling or Unschooling.

Peter Gray also wrote a book entitled Free to Learn:  Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.  (Note:  I love Peter Gray, but he is obsessed with the Sudbury Valley School model, whereas I am more in favor of homeschooling as an alternative to school.)

II.  Another book that comes highly recommended (I have not read it, yet) is Back to Normal:  Why Ordinary Childhood Behavior Is Mistaken for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Autism Spectrum Disorder by Enrico Gnaulati.  Here’s the book description:

A veteran clinical psychologist exposes why doctors, teachers, and parents incorrectly diagnose healthy American children with serious psychiatric conditions.

In recent years there has been an alarming rise in the number of American children and youth assigned a mental health diagnosis. Current data from the Centers for Disease Control reveal a 41 percent increase in rates of ADHD diagnoses over the past decade and a forty-fold spike in bipolar disorder diagnoses. Similarly, diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, once considered, has increased by 78 percent since 2002.

Dr. Enrico Gnaulati, a clinical psychologist specializing in childhood and adolescent therapy and assessment, has witnessed firsthand the push to diagnose these disorders in youngsters. Drawing both on his own clinical experience and on cutting-edge research, with Back to Normal he has written the definitive account of why our kids are being dramatically overdiagnosed—and how parents and professionals can distinguish between true psychiatric disorders and normal childhood reactions to stressful life situations…”

III.  Check out the Front Line (PBS) show/article entitled Does ADHD Exist?

As I read through the article, at first, I was thrilled to see the awesome quotes from the NO! ADHD DOES NOT EXIST team.  But as excited as I felt at first, I was even more horrified by team MEDICATE!  Truly, truly, truly team medicate’s message is clear:  Kids must conform to school (period!).  School is the given, the fixed piece of the equation.  And children must fit into the school model.  In fact, these “experts” go so far as to shame the parents who do NOT medicate their children.  Crazy!

Listen to what this first ADHD “expert” Dr. Robert Barkley says about children labeled with ADHD, “Many people in the public ask, “Where were these kids when I was growing up? I’ve never heard of this before.” Well, these kids were there. They were the class clowns. They were the juvenile delinquents…Back then, we didn’t have a professional label for them. We preferred to think of them more in moral terms. They were the lazy kids, the no-good kids, the dropouts, the delinquents, the lay-about ne’er-do-wells who were doing nothing with their life. Now we know better. Now we know that it is a real disability, that it is a valid condition, and that we shouldn’t be judging them so critically from a moral stance. . . .”  WHAT IN THE WORLD?!?!  So…if you are not a strong student, you don’t sit quietly in your seat and perfectly regurgitate information back to your teacher, you are lazy?  A no-good kid?  So…according to this “expert”, back when we were school-aged, the system was not serving a large portion of the population.  And so those kids were called names.  NOW, we don’t call kids losers, instead we drug them, so that they can sit down and shut up and better fit in.  Huh.  Is that really better?  It sure isn’t dealing with the underlying problem:  school.

But wait it gets better, listen to what the next ADHD “expert” Dr. Harold Koplewicz says about that children with ADHD…  “without treatment, these children lose out on a normal life. They can’t get the joy of getting decent grades. They can’t get the joy of being picked to be on a team.  To suggest that this <ADHD/Ritalin> is a fraud, that somehow children are being abused by these treatments, is really an outrage, because for these kids, to not get treated is really the greatest abuse and neglect. . . .  WHAT?!  It’s abuse and neglect NOT to medicate your child?  A valid reason for mediating one’s child is so that she can have “the joy of getting decent grades”.  Joy from grades?  Have you ever met a child, Dr. Koplewicz?  So the proposed solution to the problem is to medicate the child so that he can better fit into the broken school model.  But wait!  A SCHOOL MODEL = a SYSTEM (a THING).  CHILDREN = HUMAN BEINGS.  And, we want to change the human beings to fit into the model?  WHY ARE WE NOT CONSIDERING — DEMANDING!! — THAT SCHOOL CHANGE TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE CHILDREN??  THIS SITUATION IS NOTHING SHORT OF INSANE.

Now that we’ve reviewed some of team medicate’s most ridiculous statements, let’s look at some of the strongest points of team ADHD DOES NOT EXIST.

Dr. Fred Baughman answers the question:  “You take the position that ADHD and many of these other psychiatric diagnoses are fraudulent. Why?

Let there be no mistake about it. Present-day psychiatry…represents ADHD…to be a biologic abnormality of the brain, a so-called neurobiologic disorder. Their representation to the entire public and to all the teachers and all mental health professionals is that, having ticked off six or more of these nine behaviors, one has diagnosed an organic or a physical abnormality of the brain.

Their neurobiologic propaganda has been so intense for so many years, that the country believes in this. …We’ve got probably, conservatively…six million [children in the United States] on medications for ADHD and a total of nine million with neurobiologic psychiatric diagnoses of one sort or another, on one or more psychotropic drugs. Here we’re talking about as many kids as you’ve got people in New York City, and to me, this is a catastrophe. These are all normal children. Psychiatry has never validated ADHD as a biologic entity, so their fraud and their misrepresentation is in saying to the parents of the patients in the office, saying to the public of the United States, that this and every other psychiatric diagnosis is, in fact, a brain disease.”

And I’ll close with the really powerful words of Dr. Peter Breggin:

“We have lost track of what childhood is about, of what parenthood and teaching is about. We now think it’s about having good quiet children who make it easy for us to go to work. It’s about having submissive children who will sit in a boring classroom of 30…  We’re in a situation in America in which the personal growth and development and happiness of our children is not the priority; it’s rather the smooth functioning of overstressed families and schools…

There are no miracle drugs. Speed–these drugs are forms of speed–don’t improve human life. They reduce human life. And if you want less of a child, these drugs are very effective. These parents have also been lied to: flat-out lied to. They’ve been told that children have a neurobiological disorder. They’ve been told their children have biochemical imbalances and genetic defects. On what basis? That they fit into a checklist of attention deficit disorder, which is just a list of behaviors that teachers would like to see stopped in a classroom? That’s all it is…”

I’m just so bummed out by tonight’s post.  What are we doing to our children?  But hopefully my next post will provide some hope!  We’ll look at changes we can make in our kids’ lives to lower their stress, to slow down the pace, and to give kids back their childhoods.  Think Kim John Payne (Simplicity Parenting) and Alternatives to School.

Hugs,  Tracy


  1. Yes, yes, yes! I share your anger. So glad you are doing this series!!

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