While some years ago the acronym ADHD was unintelligible to many, by now everyone has probably heard of the Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. More and more children are being diagnosed with it and given medication to treat the disease. But is it a disease?
The traditional method of Western psychiatry is to treat any serious behavioural malfunction as a disease. As soon as a certain psychological issue starts creating serious problems for a person in their relationships or work, medication is developed for it. And ADHD seems like a good candidate for the title of a disease – indeed, it can severely impair a child’s family life and school performance. Children with ADHD cannot sit still or concentrate, they don’t listen and run around, they don’t do homework and have trouble with group activities. They are forgetful, cannot follow even simple instructions, and always lose things. They are unable to focus on the same task for more than a few minutes and always get bad grades at school. What’s worse, in up to 50 per cent of such children ADHD symptoms persist into adulthood. You can read more about the symptoms here.
So far, nobody knows what causes ADHD. Risk factors include premature birth and smoking and drinking during pregnancy, plus genetic predisposition. It seems that ADHD is much more common among boys, but some doctors say it is just underdiagnosed among girls. Children with ADHD show different patterns of activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for command over actions; they are normally given medication that increases the level of hormone dopamine, which is related to activity. These drugs are stimulants that include amphetamine; and while it is not clearly understood how they work, they do reduce the symptoms (more on medication here).
A Real Disease?
Recently, however, some of the leading researchers have started questioning the reality of ADHD as a separate disease. Here’s the important point: nobody says that ADHD doesn’t exist, just that it may not be a specific illness. ADHD comprises such a vast array of symptoms and is so little studied that simply calling it a disease and treating it with drugs may be an excuse for doctors. Researchers such as Dr Bruce Perry believe that ADHD symptoms stem from problems between parents and children, from parents’ lack of skills and self-control, and from children’s lack of proper communication. According to these doctors, instead of giving strong medication (long-term effects of which are poorly understood), we should first of all train the parents. After all, when parents are tired, frustrated, and annoyed, it can elicit a child’s bad behaviour, which in turn leads to more frustration from parents, and so on (you can read more on the argument here).
So what’s the conclusion? ADHD as a condition is definitely real, but it may not be a phychiatric condition. Rather, children with ADHD together with their parents may need professional therapy and training in relaxation techniques and meditation, rather than stimulants. Western medicine tends to put labels on everything; thus, if your child is diagnosed with ADHD, make sure to get a second opinion and analyse your own behaviour as a parent!