The Guardian 30 March 2014
One of the world’s leading neuroscientists, whose work has been acknowledged by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, has suggested that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not “a real disease”.
On the eve of a visit to Britain to meet Duncan Smith and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, Dr Bruce D Perry told the Observer that the label of ADHD outlined a broad set of symptoms. “It is best thought of as a description. If you look at how you end up with that label, it is remarkable because any one of us at any given time would fit at least a couple of those criteria,” he said.
Prescriptions for methylphenidate drugs, such as Ritalin, which are used to treat children diagnosed as suffering from ADHD, have soared by 56% in the UK, from 420,000 in 2007 to 657,000 in 2012. Such “psychostimulants” are thought to stimulate a part of the brain that changes mental and behavioural reactions.
However, Perry, a senior fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy in Houston, Texas, said he was concerned that children were being labelled as having ADHD when that merely described the symptoms of a range of different physiological problems. The symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of ADHD include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness over a sustained period.
Perry added that clinicians were also too readily prescribing psychostimulants to children when the evidence suggested there were no long-term benefits. Animal studies have raised concerns over the potential for damage to be done.