ADHD: Smarter isn’t Better

Been there, done that.

Why Being Smart Doesn’t Help People With ADHD

For bright kids with ADHD, parents and teachers tend to assume the problem is their motivation or will power. These presumptions can follow patients throughout their childhoods and seriously impact their education.

Hat tip to Overexcitable.

My Books

By the way, this is my 200th post, so yay me.


Deathbed Confessions

Here’s a fun argument.  ADHD denialists point to the meme that Dr. Leon Eisenberg, the “father” of ADHD, supposedly said that ADHD is a fictitious disease on his deathbed.

I hope when you are 87 and on your deathbed that you are able to give lucid, accurate statements that sum up your entire life (and that if they are reported by the media, that they are accurately reported in context).

Arguing about the credibility of the source has limited sway, though, so the easiest rebuttal to the argument is so what?

Even if that’s what he said and he meant, what does that actually change?  Do all the decades of scientific research since Eisenberg’s work suddenly disappear from the universe? Do my symptoms go away?

A pictorial description of the United States; ...

You can read analysis of the rumor here (  Basic story: Eisenberg was expressing concern about ADHD drugs being too casually used for children, and some of the quotes have been mistranslated from German.  Also, it was several months before his death, not a dramatic deathbed confession.

Fake ADHD Isn’t Real (Part 4 of 7)

Many people have an old-fashioned notion of willpower, leftover, I think, from a Victorian notion of morality.  Technology, science, and medicine change rapidly, but culture and social structure, in many ways, change at a glacial pace.  Slavery ended in 1863, yet we arguably still feel effects of this scourge today.

Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” published in the 1890’s is about post-partum depression/psychosis and the popular “rest cure” for well-off women of that era which consisted of nothing less than solitary confinement.  In the story, the narrator complains to her husband that although she may be getting better in body, she’s not making any progress in her mind and may be getting worse.  His reply:

I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours.

This dialogue belies a belief that many people have today.  If one is depressed, the advice is “just don’t let it bother you,” that one can just shut it out.  Likewise, the common advice for those suffering from ADHD is to “try harder.”  (The better advice is “try differently,” but that’s for another post.)

Part of intellectual maturity is to recognize that people are different in mind and see the world and function in different ways. This lesson comes to me all the time when I grade papers with students.  I’ve had students thank me for a D and storm out of my office for a B+.  I’ve always thought that personal essays are more fun and easier to write than research papers, but I’ve had students tell me the opposite is true for them.  Having autistic children helps me understand different minds too.

(Next: Everyone is a little ADHD. Especially professors.)

All my posts on ADHD Fakeness.


Photo by flood llama

Fake ADHD Isn’t Real (Part 3 of 7)

Another source of ADHD denial is the way we’ve defined freedom and discrimination in the United States.  In a class I taught, I once posed a question about discrimination.  Way back in the olden days I sold cell phones, the kind that only made phone calls and had roughly 18 minutes of battery time.  If you wanted to listen to music on your phone you had to duct tape a cd player to it.  The store where I worked required a two-year contract and a $250 deposit if a customer did not have a credit card.  One customer who did not have a credit card complained to me that the policy was “discrimination.”  I asked my students if they agreed. They said no.

We had a long discussion and came to the conclusion that in broad terms “discrimination” applies to being judged negatively based only on things which one has no control, such as race or gender or height or whatever, whereas other kinds of decisions are based more on things people can control. There are lots of exceptions, but that seemed, for everyone in the room at least, a good starting point. A customer with poor credit did not merit a credit line. You can argue about to what degree people have actual control over their finances, and there may be systemic discrimination in play, but the popular conception is that one has some control, or at least should.

I think for less serious forms of mental illness, that many people believe the symptoms would be controllable if the sufferer just tried harder.  According to this line of thinking, for someone who is not obviously mentally ill, not ranting and writing manifestoes and wearing unwashed clothes, what’s the big deal?  Just buck up like everyone else.  And that person better not get any special help! It’s okay to discriminate against people with mental-illness-lite because those people are suffering the consequences of their own actions.  No one says to me You wear glasses?  You should just try harder to see more clearly But I was told a thousand times you could do your homework on time if you really wanted to.

Everyone experiences sadness, grief, loss,  and hopelessness at times and for some people such emotions turn into clinical depression and others they do not.  Everyone at some time has trouble settling down to focus, but people who have more trouble may look like they’re just not trying.  Hyperfocus confuses the issue because ADHDers have tons of attention for things they like.  It’s true for me. I can spend hours reading a book when I really need to spend ten minutes opening my mail.  Turning off that hyperfocus kind of attention is just as hard as turning on other kinds.  And it has nothing to do with intelligence.

In the United States, these discussions of deficit and agency and accommodation take place in a context where traditional values include self-reliance, rugged individualism, and the meritocracy.  As an example, see the “you didn’t build that” dustup from the 2012 presidential election, where a vague pronoun turned into a tussle about American values.

(Next: Victorians mess up everything.)

All my posts on ADHD Fakeness.

A Motorola DynaTAC 8000X from 1984. This phone...

No cell for you! Next!

ADHD Awareness Month

Well, I’m late as usual on this because it is ADHD Awareness Month and I was only aware of it as of today, said month being nearly over.  But here is an important means of battling the ADHD myths:

7 Facts You Need to Know about ADHD:

  1. ADHD is real
  2. ADHD is a common, non-discriminatory disorder
  3. Diagnosing ADHD is a complex process
  4. Other mental health conditions often occur along with ADHD
  5. ADHD is not benign
  6. ADHD is nobody’s fault
  7. ADHD treatment is multi-faceted

Full discussion, handout, poster, and references here:

Anno Domini High Definition

I don’t know what this has to do with ADHD, but it’s pretty.


A good post on Reddit about ADHD and public perception, etc.

It’s amazing how much high quality scientific research is out there on the disorder. Put simply, we know a lot about the disorder; its causes, treatments and long-term outcomes of those affected. ADHD has been constantly studied, and we have a wealth of peer-reviewed studies pertaining to the disorder.

Often, journalists and other various people who claim to be ADHD “experts” constantly trivialize ADHD with their latest “theories” and “causes,” most of which have no understanding of the scientific findings of ADHD. Many of these people are just grabbing for attention at some media outlet. The problem I have with this stuff is that it does a disservice to those of us with the disorder, making it hard for us to get through all the bullshit and see what ADHD really is.

Full post and discussion here:

Image representing Reddit as depicted in Crunc...


Fake ADHD Isn’t Real (Part 2 of 7)

I used to think ADHD is fake. Or at least poorly defined.  One of my first memories of ADHD was a student research project in a class I taught as a new teacher.  This student’s assertion was that symptoms of ADHD in children were also the symptoms of being a child in the first place: not sitting still, having difficulty focusing on things that aren’t exciting, and so on. I tended to agree.  When I got my first letter about having to provide an accommodation to a student with a learning disability, I thought oh, great.  I was young and struggling anyway to keep up with my work as a teacher (with undiagnosed ADHD), and now I was having to provide this accommodation, to take class time and my personal time to recruit a note taker to a student who didn’t seem all that different from anyone else.  I’m not proud of that response, but I understand where it came from.

Back then, I did not consider that I could have ADHD for two reasons.  I thought it was a children’s disorder (with sketchy symptoms) and I thought having ADHD meant that you could not concentrate, and I had always read compulsively.  I just thought I was a brat because I didn’t like to do boring things or deal with thorny problems.

Working in an educational institution, I know that one reason people deny ADHD exists is that limited resources will be directed toward some people and away from others.  As a parent with two autistic kids in special education, I am keenly aware of the resources spent on my children while schools are being closed and programs cut. As a professor at a teaching institution (as opposed to a research institution), the overall focus is on trying to help all of our students learn and succeed, but there is backlash and resentment from some professors.  Someone put a quote on a wall once that said good students learn no matter what the teaching method. I’m not sure if that was an indictment of poor students, or a justification for laziness on the part of professors.

My kids get special, individualized attention, but my son’s entering kindergarten class had thirty kids to a room.  I am grateful for the resources, and, though I’ve never really experienced it, I would understand other parents’ frustration and jealousy. I’ve even heard some of the special ed staff gripe about the money spent on vocational ed. We’re lucky that the state of Michigan has stringent requirements for special ed (because it can’t be cut), but on the other hand, the staffing and facilities shift around more than a hyperactive toddler in an airport.

When resources are scarce, the claws come out.  Just witness the United States federal government when it works on budgets (if you don’t give in, why I’m just going to shut the whole thing down!).  Why do kids with ADHD deserve a break for their behavior and extra help and others don’t?

(Next: ADHD is un-American)

All my posts on ADHD “fakeness.”


Kind sir, I beseech thee, take your Obamacare and shove it up your Teapot Dome.

Fake ADHD Isn’t Real (Part 1 of 7)

ADHD is a story we tell ourselves about a pattern of behavior.  As such, it isn’t real.  It’s not real in the sense that all the stories we tell ourselves aren’t real; they are mere interpretations/representations/translations of reality.  In the strictest sense, nothing is real other than reality itself. In this sense, ADHD is not any more real than democracy, love, God, and fantasy football.  To quote a cheesy movie, “There’s no such thing as an ass.”

The philosophical sense of “real” is not what people use when they question whether ADHD is a real thing or not.  I hope you’ll forgive my rhetorical trick in the title and keep reading.  The best search engine hits on my blog come from “fake” and “ADHD.”

Aristotle, a 4th-century-BCE philosopher, port...

Aristotle is the father of rhetoric.  His name is Latin for funky hat.

I get a little flash of anger when someone says that ADHD, anxiety, or depression isn’t real because these things affect me, the same way I get defensive when people assert that online classes aren’t real classes because I teach a lot of online classes, and people who make those assertions don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

Putting anger aside, though, I ask why would a person need to make such a denial?  People who use the term “real,” aren’t usually interested in metaphysics.

Consider Andrea Yates.  She’s the woman who drowned her five children, one a time, whose lawyer used postpartum depression as a defense.  She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

I teach a class called “Justice in Literature,” which is a general education class for criminal justice majors.  I’ve used an essay about this case in class to talk about culpability and mental illness.

Most of my students are young enough not to have heard of this case, but knowing only a few basic details of the case, more than a few students have responses that condemn Yates.  They say things which seem cruel, like “she didn’t want to be a mother any more and used depression to get away with murder,” or “everyone is depressed sometimes, but only lazy people use it as an excuse.”

I don’t condemn such points of view in class, but explore them further, trying to use a factual approach as much as possible.  One detail I provide is the fact that by “winning” the case, a now-treated Andrea Yates spends her time in an institution with perhaps a fuller consciousness of her loss.  At the time of the murders, she was denied treatment despite warnings from her doctor and kept confined to the home by her strongly religious husband, and was convinced that by drowning her children she was saving them from eternal damnation.  People take many things from the Andrea Yates story; I’ve heard people blame religion, patriarchy, a too-weak medical system, a too-strong medial establishment. As a teacher I think it is more important to explore the reasons for one’s honest responses to texts rather than pretend to adopt the “correct” reading.  The former instance is called “learning” and the latter is called “coercion.”

(Next: Who said ADHD is fake?  Uh . . . I did.)

All my posts on ADHD “fakeness.”