Monday, September 19, 2011

Irresponsibility at The National Post

I'm honestly so angry right now that it's going to be a struggle to write this post without an extreme use of profanity. For those of you who know me, you know I don't swear a lot, but right now I'm so mad that every bad word I've ever heard is flooding my mind.

You see, today The National Post, a major Canadian newspaper, published an "opinion piece" that effectively denies the existence of ADHD. Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for opinion pieces. In fact, I have a few opinions of my own right now, some of which I'm about to share. But what I am against is stupidity, especially stupidity in the guise of journalism.

Maybe stupidity isn't the word I'm looking for here, because I don't believe the article was written with malicious intent. Perhaps irresponsibility would be better. As a well-respected writer with a established career (see, I did my research), I believe this journalist acted irresponsibly by writing about something of which he apparently knows nothing. You see, the National Post's weekday circulation is about 170,000 across Canada. That's 170,000 people who could have been educated about ADHD, but instead were misinformed. And that, quite frankly, is my idea of irresponsibility.

If you haven't seen the article, here it is. The snide, bolded comments are mine.

Diagnosis: Attention Surfeit Disorder
(National Post, September 19, 2011)

These days, if a boy fidgets, pays no attention when people talk to him, and tries to get out of doing things he doesn't like, chances are psychiatrists will diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD.) Many of us had ADD when I was young, only we didn't know it. They called us spoiled brats, not sick kids. [And once upon a time people with mental illnesses were locked up in insane asylums where they were treated like animals, but by all means, let's continue to talk about the good old days, shall we?]

Teacher's Pets suffer from a different illness. I call it Attention Surfeit Disorder (ASD). Psychiatrists don't recognize it, possibly because many are afflicted themselves. Just as we once confused ADD-victims with bad boys, we confuse ASD-victims with clever boys. I think they're just as sick as bad boys, but since they usually go on to become doctors, they're a menace only to their patients.

Patients don't count. They used to, once, when doctors could offer them little beside bedside manners, but now that physicians can actually tighten loose patients a notch, at least temporarily, they've stopped coddling them. The first thing students learn in medical school is save what bedside manners they have for patients they can't help.

If you're a patient, don't worry until your doctor is polite to you. When that happens, start seeking second opinions, until you find a specialist who's rude. Then you can relax.

Anyway, it takes a sharp mother to recognize her son as a menace. An old friend I haven't seen for a while is sharp. While we're having coffee, she describes her son as a menace. Apparently at six he'd pose queries like "Mommy, when was the common carp domesticated?"

I sense a trap. "Has someone domesticated the common carp?" I ask.

"Even a person as innocent of pisciculture as you," my friend replies, "must have seen goldfish in a bowl."

True. Mind you, goldfish never looked terribly domesticated to me. Frankly, they didn't much look like carp, either.

"I thought there was something fishy about them," I respond warily. Most mothers prefer "My son, the doctor" as an opening gambit to "my son, the menace." The word leaves a gap in the conversation

"Let me guess - has he become an ichthyologist?" I ask.

"No, a doctor," my friend replies triumphantly. You can't keep a good mother down. "He works as a psychiatrist for the Ombudsman's office."

I nearly say that in that case he must hear a lot of carping, but stop in time.

"So, he isn't such a menace anymore," I say instead.

She laughs ruefully, before glancing at her watch. "Once a menace, always a menace," she says. "Have another coffee and meet him. He'll be picking me up in a few minutes."

I'm shocked to recognize the slight, neat, dapper young man who walks into the restaurant 20 minutes later. We've never met before, but he's a fully grown Teacher's Pet, a breed I can smell from a mile, upwind.

Teacher Pests, as I used to call them, exude their essence from every pore. From his carefully knotted tie to his meticulously polished shoes, my friend's son conjures up nightmarish memories. He's the monster from school, the immaculate pupil, the role model: The boy everybody wants to know why you can't be like, including your parents.

"Why can't you be like Billy?"

"I could, Mom, but you wouldn't like it."

"Try me."

What's Billy the Brain like? While ordinary boys are dishevelled, Billy is perennially neat. While we fidget, Billy sits quietly, as alert as a Boy Scout. While our attention wanders, his eyes are fixed on teacher's lips. Fixed? Glued. While our imagination soars with eagles or (more often) hibernates with bears, Billy's goes swimming in a bowl, looking for things to domesticate.

Is ASD a medical condition? I don't know. Is ADD?

Shrinks think we used to mistake sick kids for discipline problems because we didn't know any better. ["Shrinks" don't THINK that. The medical and scientific communities KNOW that. Imaging studies have shown that the brains of children with ADHD are different from those of other children, specifically in the area of the brain that controls emotions and impulse control.]  I think we mistake discipline problems for sick kids because we still don't know any better. [I think you would be better off doing some research before you write your next "opinion" article.] Being resolved not to make our grandparents' mistakes, we make our own. Having decided that inattentive children suffer from ADD (actually ADHD, since we've added hyperactivity) we prescribe drugs for them instead of drills. [It's called ADHD because there are three types of ADHD: 1) primarily inattentive 2) primarily hyperactive 3) combined. And most doctors will tell you that ADHD meds are only one component of an effective ADHD treatment plan.]

Drugs calm bad boys as well as drills, if not better; it's just that while drilling bad boys helps some, drugging bad boys helps mainly their parents. [A) Don't you ever, EVER, call my son a bad boy. My son is beautiful, funny, smart, and the light of my life. He also has mental health challenges that requires medication. B) It is that exact lack of understanding and stigma in regards to ADHD medication that contributes to the guilt parents feel about providing their children with the medications they so badly need. My heart breaks to think of all the children out there who won't reach their full potential because their ADHD goes untreated. I would no more withhold my son's ADHD medications than I would withhold his insulin if he were diabetic.] The more psychopharmaceutical services we provide, the more we need. In America, the diagnosis of ADHD went from about 12 per 1000 in the 1970s to 34 per 1000 in the 1990s. Epidemic? Perhaps it's something in the water - not necessarily in the fidgety children's water, but in the water of education and health professionals. [It's called better screening and understanding. The cancer rates have gone up as well. Maybe we've made that up as well???]

Perhaps it's just as well that ASD hasn't been classified as an illness by the satraps of mental hygiene. Imagine my friend having to feed her precocious boy pills against being a Teacher's Pet.
Most of us expect our grandchildren to know more than we do. This leads some of us to believe we know more than our grandparents. Do we? Yes, we do, about satellite-navigation and kneesurgery. About many other things, we don't. About ourselves, for instance, we probably know less. [You're right; we do expect our grandchildren to know more than we do. For the sake of your grandchildren, I sure hope they know more than you.]


  1. Hear Here! I'm not one to call people names, but the author of this opinion letter posted in the National Post is an Attention Seeking Simpleton (I won't spell out the acronym...)

    I only wish I had seen it earlier, I would have blogged about it also... I may yet if either a retraction or another opinion letter educating people about the true effects that ADHD can have on a person's life is not printed soon.

  2. Wow, there's got to be some kind of underlying reasoning behind writing this kind of drivel...beside "I'm just gonna make crap up today and put it in a national paper!" Ugh. Makes me sick.

  3. Well said, Laura, and I'm right there with you on the vitriol.

    Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the double-standard that exists in society re: mental illness vis-a-vis physical illness: a cancer sufferer who is gaunt, pale, and bald elicits much sympathy, and deservedly so; an ADHD sufferer - like someone who suffers from depression - is shunned/patronized/marginalized because it is invisible.

    Yes, it's an opinion piece, but it's one hell of a poorly-informed one; frankly, I expect more from a major journalistic outlet such as the NP.

    The part that is most frustrating about this is that there will be people who will repeat this trip as gospel.

    Rail on, sister!!

  4. Well done!! Please tell us you've returned your very well researched opionion's right back to the Editor of the National Post...with a huge Shame On You sticker!!!!

    So frustrating that the entire readership will mis being educated.