Q: Our eight-year-old is scheduled to enter third grade at a public school this coming fall. Last year, he did very well. Nevertheless, his second grade teacher is convinced that he has ADHD. At a meeting with the principal, school psychologist, school social worker, and the head of the special education department, lots of pressure was put on us to have him tested and put on medication. When we pointed out that his grades were all very good to excellent, they pointed out that his standardized test results were just average. But in our estimation, he’s self-motivated and responsible. We don’t feel that one test proves much of anything. Granted, he’s somewhat impulsive and disorganized, but we’ve chalked that up to his just being a boy. We are considering homeschooling him and would like your advice.
A: First and foremost, there is no good science behind the diagnosis of ADHD. The claims that it is genetically transmitted and involves “biochemical imbalances” and “brain differences” have never been conclusively proven. After researching the subject for ten years, a nationally known pediatrician and I wrote the book The Diseasing of America’s Children, in which we exposed the bad science behind ADHD and proposed an alternative explanation that requires no intellectual leaps of faith. I find it significant that no ADHD spokesperson has ever mentioned the book publicly, which my coauthor and I take to mean that they have no rebuttal and don’t want to draw attention to the book and our conclusions.
The scenario you describe is actually quite common. Public and private school educators have been generally persuaded by “experts,” through in-service workshops, that ADHD is a legitimate medical diagnosis. From that conclusion they go on to argue that medical problems require medical interventions, and from that comes the ubiquitous insistence that ADHD children require medication. To my knowledge, none of the medications in question have ever reliably outperformed placebos in clinical trials. Which means, in other words, the necessity of such medication is highly suspect.
Then there’s the matter of testing a child to determine whether he or she has ADHD. The fact is that none of the published diagnostic criteria depend on test results. They refer to behavior, period. When I point this out to professionals who administer such tests, the standard response is that they do this in order to do proper treatment planning. That begs the question of why they almost always lead parents to believe that the tests are necessary for a diagnosis. I will also point out that the typical battery of tests for ADHD is very expensive.
And, yes, the diagnostic criteria are biased against boys, who tend to be much more impulsive, forgetful, and distractible than girls. If the hunt for ADHD boys had been in full swing in the 1950s, I am convinced that I would have been caught in the net.
The sad reality is that once a school decides that a child has ADHD, they rarely let their “diagnosis” go, and parents who are “uncooperative” are not regarded well. Under the circumstances, to parents who’ve asked, I’ve often recommended homeschooling. That isn’t a one-size-fits-all recommendation, however, and obviously involves considerations over and above a school’s arbitrary decision that a child has ADHD. But since you’re already considering that alternative, I encourage you to investigate it further.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at email@example.com or (817) 295-1751.