Distracted, fidgeting and squirming in his seat, the 13-year-old boy in my consulting room was exhibiting all the classic signs of an attention disorder.
His desperate mother hoped that I could do something for her son, who had become sluggish and unfocused at school, did not seem to care that his academic performance was declining, and claimed to feel ‘too tired’ for sport, which he used to enjoy.
He had been diagnosed with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – and been taking medication for a year but, to the despair of his teachers and mother, his behaviour had not improved at all.
I was not at all surprised. Why? Because, after 50 years of practising medicine and seeing thousands of patients demonstrating symptoms of ADHD, I have reached the conclusion there is no such thing as ADHD.
This so-called condition has apparently spread like wildfire across the globe in recent years, with a huge increase in its diagnosis and medication. More than 4 per cent of adults and 11 per cent of children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD – a leap of more than 40 per cent in the past decade. It’s now the most common mental health disorder in the UK and affects around 2 to 5 per cent of school-age children.
Back in the Seventies, I believed in ADHD. It seemed to explain the attention issues that affected so many children. But over the years I’ve come to realise that the symptoms actually had a whole range of underlying causes that were being ignored because of the knee-jerk diagnosis of ADHD.
As I argue in my new book on the subject – which has generated a furious controversy in America, where I work as a behavioural neurologist – we’ve become stuck in a cycle of misdiagnosis of ADHD and over-prescription of stimulants such as Ritalin. Only by properly investigating, identifying and treating these causes can we help our patients.