What Does an 800 lb Gorilla in the Room Say at an ADHD Conference?  The Truth…

Michael W. Corrigan, EdD
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This blog is a little different than my normal. I want to tell you about an inspiring ADHD conference I took part in last week and a band of 800 lb. gorillas who gently shared the obvious with adults just wanting the facts when it comes to ADHD.

First, if you didn’t know, October was ADHD awareness month. Yes, according to www.ADHDawarenessmonth.org, a website sponsored by Shire Pharmaceuticals (the philanthropic makers of Adderall and Vyvanse) and supported by a large collection of non-profit groups (e.g., CHADD) conveniently supported by the profits of many other ADHD-focused pharmaceutical companies, October was the month to celebrate awareness of ADHD. October was the month to learn more about the ADHD stimulant drugs so often prescribed.

Move along folks… nothing to see…no conflict of interest here.

If you visit the website you will find no mention of Breast Cancer Awareness month, no requests to wear any pink or other specific colored clothing, and no mention of the fact that ADHD is a highly controversial diagnosis or that the drugs being prescribed are considered dangerous and addictive Schedule II controlled substances by the FDA. Instead you will find a bunch of links to supposed awareness events (which are basically webinars hosted by the website) sharing “research” supporting the ADHD diagnosis and the continued practice of drugging children for being highly energetic, excitable, and imaginative.

Shame on those kids for their child like behavior!

Apparently, for some reason, the good folks at www.ADHDawarenessmonth.org are not aware of the pharmaceutically supported researchers’  2009 MTA study that documented ADHD drugs play no positive role after 14 months of use and hold no promise for better long term outcomes. Apparently, they also are not aware of the studies showing ADHD drugs do not benefit students’ academic achievement. For some reason, ADHD Awareless Month, uh… I mean Awareness Month, was hoping the 800 lb. gorilla in the room would stay at home caged up or at the least remain quiet, motionless, or exhibit any of the other 16 common behaviors associated with ADHD that might disrupt their bliss.

Such strategic plans by the organizer of the events might explain why I, the author of Debunking ADHD: 10 Reasons to Stop Drugging Kids for Acting Like Kids, didn’t do too many talks on ADHD during the month of October. Who would of thought that a website supporting such awareness and supported heavily by the pharmaceutical industry, would not want to provide caring adults with both sides of the research on ADHD so they could make an informed decision before putting their children on drugs or hiring an ADHD life coach for life? But apparently a brave and amazing school psychologist based in Syracuse, New York, named Michael Gilbert (800 lb. Gorilla number 1), did not get the memo.

You see Michael actually organized an ADHD conference for the month of October. But to provide a well rounded offering of insights on ADHD, he invited me and several other 800 lb. gorillas to join the list of not so supposedly controversial speakers. The ADHD conference held in Syracuse last week might have seemed to some like just another ADHD Awareness Month event. The conference was advertised as just that; a conference on ADHD. At first glance, for the attendees who did not take the time to review the list of national speakers flying in, it might have appeared to be just another normal ADHD support event possibly funded by Shire Pharmaceuticals. For those expecting more good news on how ADHD is a real mental disorder and ADHD drugs are what every child needs, the first half of the first day might have seemed like business as usual, just what the Affluent Drug Happy Doctor ordered.

The day began with several very caring and knowledgeable psychiatrists sharing research and insights on the behaviors associated with ADHD, and their connection to trauma, play, technology use, and exercise. It continued with breakout sessions on additional holistic approaches to treating ADHD with yoga, music, and child development focused programs. And then it was my turn, the psychologist which every mainstream media news outlet so far has successfully avoided bringing on to share how ADHD is just a diagnosis of normal childhood behaviors. I guess I should have been nervous.

But you see, this was not my first rodeo. Also, I sat through some of the earlier talks that day. Though I found the information to be interesting and useful, I watched the faces of the several hundred parents and educators in the auditorium as they listened and then slowly grew distracted. I suspected that many were hoping for something that they had not heard or seen on the internet. I had a feeling that they were ready for a different perspective on this supposed disorder that ADHDawarenessmonth.org describes as a non-discriminatory disorder affecting people of every age, gender, and IQ. So I began my talk by showing an animated video I created to share my motivation and logic for trying to be that voice for kids labeled ADHD. As I started my presentation and pressed “play” on the YouTube video, borrowing from a few of my favorite British comics (aka the Monty Python crew), I said in my best English accent, “And now for something completely different.”

After watching the six minute clip, they applauded loudly.  Apparently, educators and parents want to hear the other side of the ADHD debate when it comes to this deplorable medical practice of drugging kids for exhibiting common developmental challenges, and slightly annoying childhood behaviors. Given my book shares 10 reasons why we should stop drugging kids for acting like kids, I continued by sharing Reason #1.

Reason #1 illustrates how common the childhood behaviors associated with ADHD actually are, and how they also are related to similar behaviors (symptoms if you will) that we use to identify giftedness in children. Coincidentally, many adults find such behaviors slightly annoying. Since a few in the beginning of the talk didn’t agree that all children are basically highly excitable, easily distracted and such behaviors are often annoying, we played a short round of Family Feud; cue the game show music. You might note I learned long ago you have to do fun stuff when speaking about a serious subject at the sixth hour of an all day conference. After hearing the crowd read in unison the top 5 most annoying behaviors children exhibit that drive us adults bonkers, more heads started to nod in affirmation of my message; so I moved on to Reason #2. Reason # 2, aka Chapter 2, is where I share how simplistic, unreliable, and void of validity the diagnosis for ADHD actually is. This is where I knew I had the chance to get the vast majority fully understanding where my logic comes from when it comes to debunking ADHD.

As part of my normal presentation,  I explain how few symptoms (zero to seven) it takes to be diagnosed ADHD and few of the other caveats shared in the DSM-5, and then I read each symptom. I ask the crowd to raise their hand when such symptoms describe them as a child or even as an adult today. As I continue to read the 18 rather similar symptoms, and they continue to raise their hands for every symptom associated with ADHD, many start to leave their hands up. When I get done reading all 18 of the symptoms I ask them to raise their hands if they would have been diagnosed ADHD as a child or even as an adult today. Every time I do this I get the same results. And last week in Syracuse, once again nearly every person in the room had their hand up.

This is when I ask them to look around and see how ADHD is not an abnormal behavior based diagnosis. How could it be abnormal when everyone has it? I think that is called normal. At this point I share why I call ADHD the All Do Have Disorder. As the nonbelievers look around the room, and see how non-discriminatory the diagnosis for ADHD actually is, you can see the cognitive dissonance on their faces. This is when we realize that if we had every child tested for ADHD in the world, we would conveniently find that every child is ADHD. Why? Because the marketers of ADHD drugs are evil geniuses and ADHD is a diagnosis of normal childhood developmental challenges.

The rest of my talks at the two day conference went well. Believe it or not I spent one of my talks just focused on what we can do to actually help kids better manage and navigate through the challenges of social and behavioral development, which is the focus of the second part of my book (Chapters 7-10). But I was just the first 800 lb. gorilla to present at the conference.

I was accompanied by my respected colleague Robert Whitaker, acclaimed investigative journalist and author. His presentation, using basically only research produced by the pharmaceutical industry and void of any chest beating dominance gestures, shared vividly how the pharmaceutical industry and those connected to them (researchers paid by the drug makers) admit regularly to either not knowing how the drugs work or how the drugs are harmful or ineffective. Once again, this message was delivered with compassion and kindness by an articulate, nonthreatening family man. Then the amazing and incredibly caring psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin joined us… King Kong, the 800 lb. gorilla with the biggest reputation in the room.

I know many in the pharma industry or supporting their cause want to paint this gentle man as some sort of raging primate out of control, but he is nothing of the sort.  He is the child psychiatrist every parent dreams of finding. Sharing his poignant passion and scientific knowledge he further convinced the adults in attendance of this unfortunate travesty we face when it comes to ADHD and prescription medication. The mental health practitioners, educators and parents in attendance were spellbound when he described his empathic approach to therapy and working with children, that does not include prescriptions.

The inspiring documentary film maker Kevin Miller spoke as well, and shared some previews of his upcoming follow up feature to Generation Rx, titled Letters from Generation Rx. There was not a dry eye in the place after seeing the personal stories his work shares related to the nightmares in America resulting from prescription abuse. Like so many in attendance, beyond trying to hide my tears like a parent at a Disney movie, I was enjoying every minute, every word the speakers shared over the two days of discussions. But what I wasn’t ready for was the story shared by Dr. Gretchen LeFever Watson and the parents of Richard Fee.

This story started out by Dr. Watson sharing the academic nightmare she experienced not too long ago when “colleagues” at her medical college did not like the research she was doing on ADHD rates and stimulant use. Most likely due to their allegiance to the pharmaceutical industry, a group of faculty accused her of academic dishonesty. Her research data was frozen. Her integrity was questioned in the media. And what started off as an admirable effort to reduce the percentage of kids being drugged in schools, ended up being what every professor that researches hot button issues fears.

Dr. Watson told us how she just hoped it would all go away. but when the media scrutiny finally seemed to fade away after this unfortunate event, she got a call from Alan Schwarz at the New York Times. He was asking her to help Richard Fee’s parents, Kathy and Rick Fee, to get through the nightmare they had recently encountered in the Virginia Beach community. The New York Times had run a front page story describing how their son Richard, a college class  president and aspiring medical student, had committed suicide after a long fight against Adderall addiction. The story these brave parents shared at the conference was nothing less than insane. To hear how the doctors, who have now been found guilty, carelessly prescribed stimulants even after the addiction was being treated, made it apparent to all in attendance that this practice is out of control. For any naysayers left in the crowd, the Fee’s story thoroughly washed away any doubt that remained in the auditorium. It’s a story you must read about if you haven’t already.

As ADHD conferences go, it was the best I had attended. Though I know body hair in this day and age is not all the rage, I was proud to be surrounded by so many furry and soft spoken creatures. As I fought back the tears after hearing the Fee’s tragic story at the end of that day, and looked across the room at the speakers who shared the most heartfelt version of the truth behind ADHD and the dangers of the drugs prescribed far too often, they all started to look like 800 lb. gorillas to me. They were brave, kind, and powerful gorillas that could no longer stand quietly. They only spoke the truth with the most caring of tone. Given so many of the audience who spoke out and asked questions, were mothers who had grown tired of being told they must drug their children and agree to legal education contracts (e.g., IEPs and 504s) for their children to remain in school, it felt like we had started a “Mom-o-lu-tion.” They felt like part of the gorilla gang.

So… thank you Michael Gilbert for being “the connector” for us and your community. And thank you to all of the adults in Syracuse who came to the conference, listened and left with much more to think about. Thank you Shire for inspiring us to also celebrate ADHD Awareness Month. But I hope most of all this blog shares that we can’t wait until next October. Personally, I believe we should take the 800 lb. Gorilla in the Room ADHD Truth Tour on the road nationally. Maybe Alan Schwarz would like to host the first one in New York and help many more parents facing the same challenges as the Fee’s avoid such nightmares. Maybe you have a women’s organization or university in your city that would like to host the event. If so let me know and I will call my new furry friends. Our children deserve nothing less.

25 COMMENTS

  1. I just clicked on the link to the ADHD awarness week website and it’s a medical marketing nightmare.

    “We know what it is, it’s easy to treat, take our easy to understand assessement tool.”

    I’ve seen breakfast cereal sold with greater morality and integrity.

    Yuk – good to hear you are challanging them Michael

  2. wow! would have loved to be there. please let us in the mia audience know where/when there might be another such “truth conference”. not sure how serious you were but i will still see if there is anything i can do to find a host in my area.

    keep up the amazing work. i share your words often and i desperately hope my audience is listening.

    thanks

    erin

  3. Great outcome it sounds like at this event!
    “Because the marketers of ADHD drugs are evil geniuses….” Is a true statement and leads me to think it is about time to pull back the curtain and hold these “evil geniuses” accountable!

    Thanks for the blog and for representing an 800 lb. gorilla’s viewpoint- can’t wait for the tour!

  4. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Jeanne Stolzer, and now, one of yours! Additionally, I’m a sociology student about a year from graduation, and I look forward to joining your fight in the front lines someday. I would love to see this piece published in an academic journal. Sir, you deserve it as much as the world deserves the truth. Kudos on a job well done! I look forward to seeing more of your work, and perhaps even working with you in the future.

  5. Michael – it was great to have you contribute so much to the conference. Will look forward to future events with you to continue to expose this Adhd fiasco and bring real support to children and families around the world… This is needed especially with those working within the school environments!

  6. “Instead you will find a bunch of links to supposed awareness events (which are basically webinars hosted by the website) sharing “research” supporting the ADHD diagnosis and the continued practice of drugging children for being highly energetic, excitable, and imaginative.” Dr. Corrigan

    If a medical doctor diagnoses and treats a child with ADHD based on those criteria, he should have his medical license suspended.

  7. Harvard’s Accessible Education Office does not mention energetic, imaginative or excitable to define the characteristics manifest in people with ADHD. Perhaps the standards they use to measure its presence and for their students to qualify for accommodations should be universally adopted- nationwide.

    A.Demonstrating that they exhibit a sufficient number of symptoms (listed in DSM-IV-TR) of Inattention and/or Hyperactivity/Impulsivity that have been persistent and maladaptive. The exact symptoms should be specified and described in detail and it should be shown how the student meets criteria for a long-standing history of impairment.
    B. Since ADHD is by definition a disorder that is first exhibited in childhood or early adolescence, the documentation must provide evidence to support a childhood onset of symptoms and associated impairment. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 504 Plans, early psycho-educational academic reports, teacher comments, documentation from tutors or learning specialists, and disciplinary records may all be useful sources of collateral information (but, in and of themselves, are not considered clinical documentation for the purpose of granting accommodations at Harvard University).
    C. Providing objective evidence demonstrating that current impairment from the symptoms is present in two or more settings. Since ADHD tends to affect people over time and across situations in multiple life domains, it is necessary to show that the impairment is not confined to only the academic setting or to only one circumscribed area of functioning.
    D. A determination that the symptoms of ADHD are not a function of some other mental disorder (such as mood, anxiety, or personality disorders, substance abuse, low cognitive ability, etc.) or situational stressors (such as relationship issues, family, or financial crisis, etc.).
    E. Indicating the specific ADHD diagnostic subtype (Predominantly Inattentive Type, Hyperactive Impulsive Type, Combined Type, or Not Otherwise Specified) is required.

    A qualified diagnostician must conduct the evaluation.
    Professionals conducting assessments and rendering diagnoses of ADHD must be qualified to do so. Comprehensive training in the differential diagnosis of ADHD and other psychiatric disorders and direct experience in diagnosis and treatment of adolescents and adults with ADHD is necessary.

    •Documentation must be current.
    Because the provision of reasonable accommodations and services is based upon assessment of the current impact of the student’s disability on the academic activity, it is necessary to provide “recent” and appropriate documentation. In most cases, this means that a diagnostic evaluation must have been completed within the past three years.

    •A detailed academic history must be provided.
    Because developmental disabilities such as an ADHD are usually evident during early childhood (though not always diagnosed), historical information regarding the individual’s academic and behavioral functioning in elementary and secondary education should be provided. Self-report alone, without any accompanying historical data that validate developmentally deviant ADHD symptoms and impairment, is not sufficient.

    •The documentation should build a case for and provide a sound rationale for the ADHD diagnosis.
    An ADHD evaluation is primarily based on an in-depth history reflecting a chronic and pervasive history of ADHD symptoms and associated impairment beginning during childhood and persisting to the present day. The evaluation should provide a broad, comprehensive understanding of the applicant’s relevant background including family, academic, behavioral, social, vocational, medical, developmental, and psychiatric history. There should be an emphasis on how the ADHD symptoms have manifested across various settings over time, how the applicant has coped with the problems, and what success the applicant has had in coping efforts.

    •Test scores alone are not sufficient to establish an ADHD diagnosis.
    Test scores or selective subtest scores alone should not be used as the sole basis for the diagnostic decision. A neuropsychological or psycho-educational assessment can be helpful in identifying the individual’s pattern of strengths and weaknesses and whether there are patterns supportive of attention problems. However, a comprehensive testing battery alone, without illuminating a pattern of real world functional impairment, will not be sufficient to establish an ADHD diagnosis or a disability. Checklists and/or ADHD symptom rating scales can be a helpful supplement in the diagnostic process, but by themselves are not adequate to establish a diagnosis of ADHD.