“‘I think the current diagnosis of ADHD is a mess and has been wildly overdone.  It blames a variety of symptoms entirely on the child’s brain, and ignores the child’s environment and the interaction with it.’” (Philadelphia Inquirer, William B. Carey, pediatrician, researcher, and medical educator, dies at 93)

Admittedly, I am a bit of a hoarder.

This hoarding tendency of mine has overlapped with a multitude of articles I have saved  for many years, unable to toss or to even scan them on to the internet.

As part of the ritual of the New Year, I commit to going through these articles attempting to organize them better, but rarely tossing them.

I always think they would be great springboards for later blog topics.

Going through the piles one article jumped out at me that I have saved for over 20 years.  It was by Dr. William Carey, the renowned professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who passed away this July at the age of 93.

Within the article,  “Is ADHD a Valid Disorder,” Dr. Carey raises many important issues that are as relevant today as they were when it was written.   As the coffee stains on the article attests, it has been reread by me many times.

While not knowing him personally or having the pleasure of attending his lectures, I have been a behind the scenes disciple of Dr. Carey.

Dr. Carey emphasizes that there is no one test or objective instrument to diagnose ADHD (often referred to in more casual terms as “ADD.”)

Typically, in the process of obtaining a diagnosis of ADHD  a parent typically will say a few common buzzwords.  Here are some of the more common:

He just can’t focus.”

“He’s easily distracted.”

“She won’t get started.”

“He hates homework and the teacher says his attention is very poor.”

“The teachers say that they are not doctors, but… (with the clear implication that they think the child needs medication). 

 “She’s always fidgeting.”

When descriptors like these and a few others have been present for at least 6 months, the scales tilt in the ADHD direction and a “diagnosis” is typically obtained.

After receiving this diagnosis parents will often report a sense of comfort, feeling that they have “finally gotten the answer.”

As is my nature, I will push back on this “the answer,” emphasizing that there are many other factors that may not have been understood or addressed.

Just below the coffee stains on my saved article, Dr. Carey noted:

The assumptions that the ADHD symptoms arise from cerebral malfunction has not been supported even after extensive investigations.  The current diagnostic system ignores the probable contributory role of the environment; the problem is supposedly all in the child.  The questionnaires most commonly used to diagnose ADHD are highly subjective and impressionistic…The label of ADHD, which is widely thought of as being beneficial, has little practical specificity and may become harmful.”

Takeaway Point

Don’t be too quick to toss things out.  They may come in handy one day.