Neurologist Calls ADHD a Phony Medical Illness

For two decades now, I’ve been hammering away at and questioning the very concept of the alleged disease of “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Now there’s a neurologist with over 50 years of experience asking some of the very same questions. His name is Dr. Richard Saul, a neurologist practicing in the Chicago area, and author of a new book called, “ADHD Does Not Exist.”

Here’s an excerpt:

You may notice that there is something striking about the way we define this “illness”—that is, by its symptoms, rather than its cause. If we were to define a heart attack by chest pain, then the appropriate cure would be painkillers, rather than the revival and repair of the heart. Other examples are easy to find: Nasal congestion can be a symptom of a cold, allergy, or many other conditions, but a runny nose is not a diagnosis. In the same way, the symptom complex associated with the ADHD diagnosis is related to more than twenty medical diagnoses, (from those as mild as poor eyesight, sleep deprivation, and even boredom in the classroom, to more severe conditions like depression and bipolar disorder), that, when treated effectively, can result in the disappearance of the attention-deficit and hyperactivity symptoms.

My argument has always been essentially the same. With “ADHD,” we’re talking about a pattern of behaviors, or a description of one’s mental state. If one employs the medical disease metaphor, these are symptoms — not causes.

Yet ADHD has always been classified as a psychiatric disorder. Psychiatric disorders, by definition, refer to problems in behavior and/or cognition (i.e, thinking/emotional states).

ADHD has enjoyed a free ride for decades. While labeled a psychiatric or psychological disorder, it has been treated exactly as if it were a medical disorder. While economically convenient for some, and emotionally satisfying for many, it doesn’t make it true.

“I have ADHD. Therefore I can’t so this activity.”

But wait a minute. ADHD is a behavioral or psychological problem. It could be related to depression, anxiety, poor mental habits, bad classroom conditions, poor teachers, or even plain old laziness.

But we weren’t allowed to suggest any of these things. Why not? Because to do so would be to blame the victim. The victim, it was held, was the person “suffering” from the totally externally imposed (i.e. brain-induced) illness of ADHD. But how did we know the “victim” of ADHD actually is a victim? Well, because he has ADHD, that’s why. It’s circular reasoning.

So we now have a generation of people with the medical disease of “being unable to pay attention.” Not surprisingly, the very existence of a phony disease concept generates more and more people who feel like they have it. We might as well have a disease label called, “Having a bad day disorder,” or, “Been screwed over in relationships illness.” Oh, these are medical illnesses now? Medical and government authorities say they are. Therefore, it must be true.

If ADHD was a medical illness all along, why is it classified as a psychiatric or psychological problem rather than a medical one? No answer was given, because the question was never asked (nor permitted in polite society).

If ADHD is a medical, brain-related issue, then what does the science of neurology (the study of the brain) have to say about it? Well, here’s what one neurologist is saying. And it will be interesting to see how well received his book is. Expect lots of hostility and rage from people personally invested in these sorts of pseudo-medical fabrications for reasons much deeper (and darker) than mere money.

It’s a situation, as Dr. Saul claims, where the symptoms are mistakenly described as the illness itself. This provides a convenient means for passing the buck. Parents with kids who aren’t performing can claim, “It’s not my fault, or my child’s fault. It’s his ADHD.” Teachers or school officials with kids who are not learning can say, “It’s not us. We’ve got a class full of kids afflicted with ADHD.”

People cite the supposed universal effectiveness of ADHD medication — likened to taking an antibiotic for a throat infection — as proof of its medical/neurological origin. Dr. Saul documents cases where medication was shown not to help, or even make the problem worse. I have encountered that hundreds if not thousands of times over the years, when working as a family therapist and trying to help parents with their child’s school or behavioral problem. Medication was not the solution, which is why they were reaching out to someone like me.

Sooner or later, lies and deception — even when practiced by authoritative people in seemingly well-meaning professional fields — are exposed by their own flaws and inner contradictions. Facts are stubborn things, and reason is most definitely its own avenger. ADHD is a classic example of that.

I’m grateful to Dr. Saul for speaking out. It’s time for more health and educational professionals, who see and think the very same things, to start doing the same.

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