The New York Times Untangles the Myth of A.D.H.D., Makes it More Confusing

Perri Klass, Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, wrote an article in The New York Times titled “Untangling the Myths Behind ADHD”. She argues that A.D.H.D. is not a product of the digital age but rather a predominantly genetic disorder that involves neurotransmitters, circuits, and below-normal activity in the brain’s frontal lobe. The article, however, concedes there is still a lot about the A.D.H.D we don’t know:

“There’s a lot we still don’t know,” said Bruce F. Pennington, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver and an expert on the genetics and neuropsychology of attention disorders. “But we know enough to say it is a brain-based disorder, and we have some idea about which circuits are involved and which genes.”

So it’s brain-based but the predominate cause, genetics or ‘environmental factors’, remains unknown. Scientist are presenting research that supports both sides. Luckily, we do know what the disorder isn’t:

A.D.H.D. is not a metaphor. It is not the restlessness and rambunctiousness that happen when grade-schoolers are deprived of recess, or the distraction of socially minded teenagers in the smartphone era. Nor is it the reason your colleagues check their e-mail in meetings and even (spare me!) conversations.

I was diagnosed with A.D.H.D. in 5th grade after not turning in a homework assignment. My excuse was I lost it. Furious, my middle-aged, Southern, Christian, conservative, 5th period history teacher made me dump the contents of my backpack out in front of the entire class. The phantom homework wasn’t there so she demanded I search the trashcan.

Her name was Mrs. Wilson, h8 you Mrs. Wilson.

After the incident she insisted, to both the principle and my parents, that I be tested for A.D.H.D. Mrs. Wilson was ‘interviewed’ by my pediatrician. I was interviewed and subsequently ‘failed’ a bunch of tests. I was prescribed Ritalin. To take three times a day. My mother refused to fill the prescription. I had a happy, stimulate free childhood.

My only symptom was suffering “the restlessness and rambunctiousness that happen when grade-schoolers are deprived of recess.”

I started taking Adderall and Ritalin in college. The shit is no joke. In New Orleans I met a man who had a nasty meth habit as a teenager. I asked him, as an experienced speed freak, the difference between the high from smoking crystal meth and the high from adderall. He told me they are very similar, crystal just hits you faster and lasts longer.

Google difference between meth and adderall. It’s hard to find a real answer.

“If you have a deficit in dopamine, it’s harder to concentrate on goal-oriented behavior,” Professor Pennington said. “The psychostimulants change the availability of dopamine in these same circuits.”

This I understand. Take 40 mg of adderall and you experience a tidal wave of dopamine. For 6-8 hours it surges. Then it is gone and you are cranky. Irritated by every little thing. You have trouble sleeping and forget about eating. If you smoke, you smoke more. You drink a lot of water. It is not healthy behavior that very quickly transforms into dependency. You need the drug to “work.” Goal orientated behavior.

And we give this to little children?

“Attention is a really complex cognitive phenomenon that has a lot of pieces in it,” said Dr. David K. Urion of Harvard, who directs the learning disabilities and behavioral neurology program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “What we’re specifically talking about in kids with attention deficit is a problem compared to age- and gender-based peers in selective attention — what do you glom onto and what do you ignore?”

Isn’t the entire concept of consciousness a really complex cognitive phenomenon? If we don’t really understand that how are we supposed to wrap our hands around measuring “attention?” Could it just be a word, not something we go prodding at with dangerous drugs that can seriously alter the brain? TC mark

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  • A Different View

    Not everyone metabolizes everything equally. I take Ritalin daily for my ADD (I have tried other similar drugs with little effect). I can't notice if I'm on it other than by looking at my productivity. Without it I could be working on a project one moment and standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth the next. I'd have no memory of really switching tasks, and wouldn't be immediately aware of interrupting my work. When looking for a correct dosage, I experimented with up to triple dosage, and felt little effect. I take the minimum needed. I have always been this way. Most stimulants relax me and many sedatives can keep me up. It may be like meth for some, but not all. Many of those diagnosed with ADD have this difference in brain chemistry. This medicine is for those people. I'm sorry it didn't help you, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful for some people. Yes, ADD and ADHD have fuzzy definitions. Yes, sometimes folks are misdiagnosed. But those two facts alone don't mean that we don't have lots of data showing enough different metabolic paths and brain function in the ADD/ADHD brain. I believe the true problem is that it costs too much to scan everyone who goes to be tested. Instead we use cheaper, less reliable tests.

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