ADHD and ADD are not a disease


There are thousands of articles published every year about attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). These two disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and are widely recognized as one of the most-often-diagnosed problem for children and adolescents. Yet there is a prevailing assumption among both medical professionals and society at large that ADD/ADHD is a "disease".

In the medical community, the disease model assumes there is a known, physical cause that can be attributed to the symptoms and thus treated. With ADD/ADHD, there no such thing. It is, instead, a subjective disorder whose diagnosis is based not on physical evidence, but on subjective evidence.

This is not meant to be an argument for or against subjective diagnosis. They are common in psychology and the practice is the basis for most of the disorders listed in the DSM. But implying that there is a genetic, physical, or other known physical cause for disorders like ADD/ADHD is incorrect and dangerous.

Let's consider how most ADHD diagnosis in children are made. First, the patient and parents visit a doctor. Anecdotal evidence regarding the child's behavior is solicited and questions are asked which subjectively measure the behavior patterns of the child. Some observations may be made, such as the child's apparent attention span, anxiety level, and so forth. Then a diagnosis is given.

There is no blood test, x-ray, or ultrasound capable of substantiating a diagnosis for ADD/ADHD.

A literature review via Google Scholar shows that the prevailing evidence so far is that ADD/ADHD is a developmental modeled disorder rather than a disease model. Little or no evidence is found to prove any sort of physical cause, including genetics, but lots of evidence is showing developmental causes. This means that the "cause" of ADD/ADHD is likely environmental and thus comes from a myriad of factors, such as parenting style, television exposure, education and more.

So why is it important that we recognize that ADD/ADHD is not a disease, but a disorder?

Simple. Disorders can be treated and do not require the standard paradigm of medical intervention. Disorders can be cured. More importantly, they can be prevented.

The paradigm shift within someone's mind when they're told that they have a "disease" versus having a "disorder" is small, but fundamental and important. A disorder does not necessarily require medical intervention in a traditional sense (pharmaceuticals, surgery), leaving it open to alternatives (therapy, changes in diet, etc). It also removes the "victim" onus of disease and empowers the person with a knowledge that they can proactively help themselves or their child.

Studies are showing that interventions and lifestyle changes have great effect on ADHD-diagnosed children. Less television, more physical activity, less sugar and stimulant intake, more active parenting.. all have been shown to have positive effects on children with ADHD.

This should be the focus of endeavors to help children with attention problems.

Source: Myth and ADHD


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