The ADHD controversy

By on April 7, 2017

A controversial comment made by leading Harvard Child Psychologist Jerome Kagan in Spiegel Online became the subject of heavy discussions between academia and pharmaceuticals. Kagan claims ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is an invented health condition rather than a serious illness.

In the United States, experts estimate there are about 5.4 million American children who display ADHD symptoms. In comparison, Japan’s ADHD rate is at least 3% of the population with the number increasing to 7 times more in the last 20 years.  An article in Japan Times published January 2015 reads:  “A growing number of Japanese children are being prescribed psychotropic drugs to treat depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and schizophrenia.”

Dr. Jerome Kagan says:

“Every child who’s not doing well in school is sent to see a pediatrician, and the pediatrician says: ‘It’s ADHD; here’s Ritalin.'”

“In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million kids don’t have an abnormal dopamine metabolism.”

“The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors they’ll make the corresponding diagnosis,” says Kagan to Spiegel Online.

However, American Prof. Richard Scheffle, co-author of The ADHD Explosion: Myths, Medication, Money and Today’s Push for Performance argues that ADHD is ‘real but exists on a continuum’.

“It simply means there isn’t a clear line that says you’re in the “definite” or “highly likely” group.”

So what does that mean for parents with ADHD children?

We spoke recently to Dr. Ron Shumsky, Tokyo-based American clinical psychologist and child neuropsychologist, to ask what he makes of the controversy.

“Many children and some adults struggle to control their attention and addressing that can make a huge difference for the better.”

“The ADHD model is misleading in many respects and the continuum model makes sense. And I’d take that a step further; it’s not just an ADHD continuum, it’s an Attention continuum.”

”Attention is the mind’s director, a set of functions in mind for controlling what to think about, how hard to think, and how to get things done. Everyone operates those functions, but people, and especially children, vary a lot in how well they do so: some operate attention very well, some do it ok, and some have a lot of trouble with it. “

Dr. Shumsky thinks drawing a line between ADHD and not-ADHD is a misleading claim without purpose. The issue here Shumsky says, “isn’t ADHD.”

“It’s Attention.  In what ways does a given child operate attention well, or not so well, and what can we do to help him/her operate it better.”


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