Notes and Queries

Friday, 01 April 2011 17:24

The Guardian

November 2, 2000

Notes & Queries

At school in the 40s I cannot remember any fellow pupils being hyperactive, disruptive or showing symptoms similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD). Is the recent growth of this due to a lack of firm discipline at home and in school, or to pollution radiation, junk food, etc?

There are always fashions in mental illnesses. In Freud's day conversion hysteria was popular. Now it is rarely found. In Sydney where in the 1960s I was working as an educational psychologist any child with a behavioural or learning difficulty was likely to be diagnosed as autistic. Since then, this diagnosis has come to be used much Discriminatingly.

Nowadays the psychiatric profession, supported by the drug companies, readily creates fashions in diagnosis. The committee which decides upon the contents of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, increasingly used here, needs only to ascertain that a group of psychiatrists reliably agrees that a mental disorder exists in order to include this disorder in the manual. Another committee could reliably agree that the moon was made of green cheese, but such agreement does not prove the cheesiness of the moon.

There have always been children who do not behave in the ways which the adults around them wish. A few of the these children have some actual brain dysfunction. Many more children, living under conditions which they find stressful, are constantly distracted by anxiety and so are hyperactive and disruptive. Other children have parents and teachers who cannot tolerate the exuberant behaviour of ordinary children and wish them to become unremittingly quiet and obedient.

The current popularity of the recently created mental disorder ADHD means that many anxious or ordinary children are diagnosed as ADHD and prescribed Ritalin or similar potentially addictive drugs. Their long-term effects on a developing brain are yet to be discovered.

Dorothy Rowe