Just when you think the media have gotten all the mileage they can out of articles calling ADHD a fake disorder, there’s another flurry of these pieces. This time the occasion is Alan Schwarz’s new book, ADHD Nation. I haven’t read it, but if the reviews and the author’s history writing about ADHD at the New York Times are any indication, the book’s analysis is about as thoughtful and evenhanded as the title would suggest.
I suspect books and articles “exposing” ADHD aren’t going away any time soon for a couple reasons. First, the story about how ADHD is a fictitious diagnosis has been repeated so many times at this point that these things practically write themselves. And second, people with ADHD are a vulnerable group, so they’re easy to attack, as are any group of people with a disability or mental health disorder.
The thing is, anyone can write these articles. There’s an easy formula to follow. If you want to write one of these articles, you can do it too. All you have to do is:
1. Focus on ADHD as a disorder of childhood
Most articles making the case that ADHD isn’t “real” cast ADHD as something that kids have. They either gloss over adult ADHD, or ignore its existence altogether.
Thinking of ADHD as a childhood disorder fits with an easy narrative that gets a rise out of people: we’ve medicalized childhood, parents don’t even know how to deal with basic childhood behavior anymore, and we’ve put an entire generation of kids on speed.
If we start looking at all the adults who struggle with ADHD, including many who weren’t even diagnosed in childhood, this narrative starts to get more complicated. And if you’re writing a piece about how ADHD is made up, complicated is not what you want. You want something that takes as little thought to read as it does to write.
2. Point out that there’s no blood test for ADHD
If you’re going to write an article asserting that ADHD is fake, it goes without saying that you want to include some “evidence.” For many authors of these pieces, the smoking gun is that there’s no biomarker for ADHD: there’s no test a doctor can do to determine with certainty whether or not someone has ADHD, so of course the disorder isn’t real!
What people making this argument invariably fail to mention is that the same is true for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and every other psychiatric disorder.
There’s a good reason this fact doesn’t get mentioned: once you acknowledge it, you have to either drop this line of argument or go from saying that ADHD isn’t real to saying that mental health disorders in general aren’t real.
3. Don’t cite any research
Here’s a simple exercise you can do to see why you should avoid citing research when writing an article about how ADHD is a fake disorder.
Go to PubMed and search for “ADHD” to see some of the most recent studies on ADHD being published. Scroll through the pages of search results, and you’ll find study after study showing how people with and without ADHD differ in neurobiology, performance on cognitive tests, and life outcomes.
Now try looking for those studies suggesting that ADHD doesn’t exist. Yeah, you’re going to be looking for a long time.
Obviously, it’s best just to sidestep the inconvenient scientific consensus that ADHD is real if you’re going to write an article about, well, how ADHD isn’t real. If you broach the subject of research at all, it should be to explain that all scientists everywhere are in the pocket of Big Pharma, so all those studies can’t really be trusted.
As I writer, I find it interesting from a professional perspective how far journalists can distort the truth by choosing not to include certain facts. As someone with ADHD, though, I’m horrified by how little some journalists seem to care about the consequences of the things they write.
There’s a legitimate discussion to be had about why some people don’t get diagnosed with ADHD when they should and, yes, why others get diagnosed when they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, people writing articles about how ADHD is fake seem to be more interested in cashing in on simplistic narratives than actually having that discussion.