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The Invention of ADD

Malibu, CA Child Therapist By: Dr. Jeremy Fink, LCSW, Psy.D.  |  March, 7th, 2017

Playing with my daughter at the park here in Malibu an older boy, 3-years old, pushed her off the slide. “No!” Yelled the child’s mother. “You’re getting a timeout!” I was down on my knees attending to my daughter when a looming figure swooped overhead and grabbed the boy by the wrist. “Sorry, my son has ADD,” the mother explained.

I saw what went down. My daughter doesn’t yet understand the rules about taking turns, this sort of thing has happened before at the park, and likely will happen again. “It’s okay,” I said. My daughter was crying, but she was going to be alright. Not even a skinned knee, just some wounded pride. “He didn’t mean to,” I said. The boy’s face had become pallid, eyes alert to the feeling of fresh hurt from his mother’s chastisement. “It’s not okay...he knows what he did. He needs a consequence.”

This school of thought seems so common these days. Children need consequences, which I still can’t differentiate from a punishment. It seems like this may be the modern replacement to the old fashioned adage, “this hurts me more than it hurts you.”

It was hard for me to watch her be so castigating with her son. Using threats and shaming to enforce her rules. But this is really none of my business. I am just another parent at the park, and my two cents of psychoeducational parenting advice was not requested, nor do I think welcome. But the ADD comment on the other hand is my business.  I am in the business of ADD, and for years I’ve been saying that it does not exist. 

In an article published February 17, 2017, in Curious Mind Magazine1, renowned psychologist and developmentalist Jerome Kagan concurs with this statement. To paraphrase, ADD is a mere invention by the pharmaceutical industry, and not a medical or psychological disorder. This statement is highly controversial. This is because ADD and other pervasive mental health disorders are considered disabilities, and are protected under the American’s with Disabilities Act. The diagnosis is thought to be helpful for a child who needs extra support at school, who by any other means would not recieve it. Helping children at school and providing extra support could only be helpful.  

So what’s the harm if the diagnosis of ADD is just an invention?

As a clinician specializing in children, one of my aims is to help children develop their own voices.  Unlike most groups of people that are on the periphery of society, and children certainly are this (existing separately and required to accommodate to the world of the adult), children do not have a way of speaking up for themselves. Throughout history adults have displaced their emotional shortcomings onto children. For example during the middle ages if your child cried incessantly, tantrumed, or spit-up it was believed that your child may be possessed by the devil. Permitted practices included placing the child in an ice bath, binding them with rope, and even infanticide was excused under these circumstances.

Luckily our children are protected today, and have rights. But the same practice of displacing the emotional shortcoming of the parent onto the child is being committed. Just replace demonic possession with mental disorder. Replace sanctimonious with scientistic. Replace the papacy with big pharma. But, the invention of ADD does not serve big pharma alone, it also serves the parents who cannot tolerate or understand the feelings that come up for them when their child acts out or misbehaves.

My daughter had stopped crying. She was back on her feet, shying away from the slide now, but onto her next adventure. I glanced over at the mother and the little boy. She looked angry (the cover up for shame); she made him stand alone behind the playground. But the boy no longer looked sad, his face was blank of emotion. For me, this was the most disturbing part, because at just three years of age he had already gotten used to it.