Editor’s Note: Last week The New York Times invited readers to contribute their point of view about whether or not ADHD should be medicated to be published in the Sunday paper. Our Executive Director, Robert Tudisco sent in this reply which was not selected for publication, but we thought you’d appreciate reading nevertheless.
Dear Opinion Editor,
Thank you for inviting this dialogue on the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. I was quite concerned about the “Ritalin Gone Wrong” article published in the Times several months ago. I believe that it was one sided and fueled inaccurate social stigmas about the existence, diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.
I am an adult diagnosed with ADHD and I have been taking medication since my diagnosis 14 years ago. I can honestly tell you, from personal experience, that my medication has made a profound difference in managing my ADHD symptoms and has helped me make positive changes in my life. However, I believe that choosing whether or not to medicate is a personal decision that parents and students should make along with a qualified doctor. It is also important to know that medication, even when highly effective, does not cure ADHD, but can successfully manage many of its symptoms. Medication is not a magic bullet, but should be viewed as an effective tool in helping someone with this neuro-biological disorder, make positive changes in their lives as part of a multi-modal treatment approach that involves behavior modification, therapy where needed, ADHD Coaching and exercise.
As a special education attorney, I can also say from experience, that a student taking medication for ADHD does not eliminate the challenges that they face in school. What it can do is provide them with the ability to make positive changes along with educational support, where it was much more difficult, or impossible, before.
There is a huge misconception about the over diagnosis of ADHD and the perceived over prescribing of medication for ADHD. I don’t believe this is accurate. I truly believe that we are now in a position to understand and recognize different aspects of this disorder that were not completely understood before. Another misconception is that ADHD medication somehow gives students a competitive edge over other students. That is entirely false. While it is true that even those without ADHD would see an improvement in their performance with stimulant medication, it is important to recognize that without it, many of these students with, an accurate diagnosis, would otherwise have a functional impairment of a chronic nature that it would, and often has, impaired them in the performance of major life activities. I know this because I am one of them.
ADHD is neither a myth, nor an excuse for lazy underachieving students. It is a very real neuro-biological condition that impairs the portion of the brain that regulates executive functioning. Executive Functioning is crucial for students and adults to perform administrative tasks at school, at work and in their lives on a daily basis. ADHD not only affects the people who have it, but it has a major impact on those around them. I have ADHD, but in many ways, my wife suffers from it, because she is married to me. Every day, the impacts of ADHD are felt, not only by those diagnosed with it, but by their teachers, parents, classmates, clients and all of those who are close to them. ADHD is REAL. ADHD is TREATABLE. And without effective treatment, there can be DIRE CONSEQUENCES to that person, those around them and society in general.
Many also say that we all just live in a short attention span society that is ruled by sound bites of information and social media. While that is true, and it may affect the attention span of our society, it is the chronic nature and level of impairment that makes the roughly 8% of those with ADHD unique and more susceptible to our evolving society. By analogy, there is a huge difference between clinical depression caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and sadness which we can all experience at times.
It is crucial that people understand one of the more challenging things about ADHD is that it completely permeates one’s sense of self esteem in such a negative way. We are only given feedback on what we don’t do well, or as well as the others. The huge relief in the diagnosis is that there is a name and a course of treatment for this condition that can “level the playing field”. We are not stupid or lazy or underachieving. We are just different. Each time someone questions the diagnosis of ADHD, they are affirmatively saying to all those children and adults “The doctors are wrong, you are really lazy and stupid and bad.”
People with ADHD, as well as other functional disabilities, are extremely bright and talented. They just process information and see the world very differently. We face functional challenges every day, but we also have talents in many cases that those without ADHD do not have. If we receive effective treatment, which includes medication along with other support such ADHD Coaching and other forms of behavioral modification, we have the ability to overcome the functional impairment and accomplish great things.
I hope this has been helpful.
Robert M. Tudisco
In addition to being the Executive Director of the Edge Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides specialized coaching for students with ADHD, Robert is a practicing attorney, advocate, author and an adult diagnosed with ADHD. He can be reached for comments and/or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.