ADHD – Fact or Fiction? (Reprise)

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Your child has been “diagnosed” with ADHD. Now what? While answering this question on a blog is no easy task, it is a question that I know many parents have wondered. Godly parents love their children dearly, and they certainly want what’s best for them. More often then not, however, when it comes to something like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, shouldn’t they just leave this to the professionals? The problem is, are the professionals being professional? Are the “professionals” even being honest?

A few years ago, in February 2012, there was a shocking confession in the Der Spiegel. In his last

Leon Eisenberg

Leon Eisenberg

interview before his death, Leon Eisenberg, who is considered the “scientific father of ADHD,” admitted in an interview with Der Spiegel, that “ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease.” When questioned further about this, he was asked, “Experts speak of 5.4 million American children (1 in 10 boys at the age of 10) who display the symptoms typical of ADHD. Are you saying that this mental disorder is just an invention?” Eisenberg responded, “That’s correct.” What was equally shocking was Eisenberg’s response, “It means more money.” Really? But if that’s the motivation of the psychiatrists providing treatment for your child, how can you trust their diagnosis? I have two goals in writing this post, first to show that ADHD is not an “organic illness,” and secondly, to provide a biblical solution.

The method of diagnosis itself demonstrates the lack of credibility in the diagnosis of ADHD as a legitimate illness. Many students are sent home with a note from their teacher or school, stating that he or she has ADHD and is not allowed to return without being placed on medication. But this diagnosis was not made by a doctor. It was made by the student’s teacher. Also, how was this diagnosis made? It was made by observing the student’s behavior. Sometimes, a teacher might even have extra motivation to make this diagnosis if it will remove the disruptive student from the classroom, taking the child away from the teacher’s responsibility. But isn’t the teacher just making his or her best assessment? Perhaps. Wouldn’t a doctor make a more informed diagnosis? Unfortunately no.

When a doctor diagnoses a child as having ADHD, his methods are virtually

Diagnosing ADHD

Diagnosing ADHD

always subjective. In fact, the medical criteria for diagnosing ADHD in the DSM-IV is also subjective. A child must match six or more descriptions of certain behavioral characteristics relating to inattention or hyperactivity to be medically diagnosed as having ADHD (I have provided a summary of these behavioral characteristics in my response at the bottom of this post). But doesn’t the fact that the drugs help the child behave, prove that ADHD is a disease? Not necessarily.

Many people think that because their child is on Ritalin (or whichever of the many ADD/ADHD medications) and it “helps,” that ADHD must be an organic illness. The problem is that two congruent events do not prove cause and effect. In fact, this principle applies to all psychotropic drug therapy. Dr. Robert D. Smith (M.D), addresses this very issue in his book, The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference.  For many parents, the fact that drugs such as Ritalin helps their child calm down proves the presence of a chemical imbalance. However, “in science, two concurrent facts do not prove one causes the other.” Case in point – if I broke my arm and took morphine, I would stop feeling pain, but it would obviously be wrong for me to conclude that the source of the pain was a chemical imbalance since the morphine altered what I was feeling. It made me feel better, but the problem of my broken arm still exists. In the case of ADHD, I will not argue that ADHD is the consequence of some unknown chemical imbalance, but that the problem is behavioral.  It is a problem of the heart.

Ritalin

Ritalin

Really, when we think about it, what ultimately causes an adult to investigate whether or not a child has ADHD, is whether or not the child does what the adult wants him to do. But what the child really needs, rather than psychotropic drugs, is salvation. This may sound obvious, but it’s shocking to consider how many parents overlook this simple principle, or assume their children are saved when really, external evidence shows they aren’t. Parents can’t overlook the great responsibility to bring up their children in “fear and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Remember, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it away from him” (Prov. 22:15). I couldn’t comprehend the great love I would have for my own son the day he was born, but at only ten months old, he already expresses, and quite loudly at that, what he wants or desires. Unchecked, those desires will become the lusts of his heart (James 1:14-15) and will (when he’s older) require discipline. Although I dread that day, I also know that “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). However, consistent discipline is also important, or your child will learn manipulation and hypocrisy. While there are many other verses parents can use in helping to teach their children disciplined living, parents can be confident that no matter what a child does or does not do, that “All Scripture is inspired by God and [is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). That won’t mean it will be easy. Your child’s teachers will probably not understand and just want you to medicate your child. However, as Christians, we need to be resolved to trust in the sovereignty of God and agree with His Word that it contains all the answers for parenting a child with “ADHD.” Your child might require extra supervision, and a little extra discipline, but ultimately, your child will grow to love God and His Word, while being convinced in his or her own heart that the power of God is sufficient for “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). Think about when your child was diagnosed with ADHD. Were you suspicious of your child’s diagnosis?

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Matt Tarr

About Matt Tarr

Matt currently serves as pastor-teacher at High Point Baptist Church, Larksville, PA. Prior to his ministry at High Point, Matt also served in the counseling department at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, and as a chaplain at the Scranton-Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission. He enjoys spending time with his wife Melody and his two children, Jonathan and Timothy.

  • Kyle Earhart

    Matt, As a fellow pastor I appreciate some of your points on consistent discipline and firm, clear expectations applied to behavior. And I am one who thinks ADHD is far too frequently proclaimed when the true issue is bad parenting/bad behavior. However, you make a statement that is off the mark when you say “ultimately what causes an adult to investigate ADHD is whether or not the child does what the adult wants him to do.” Your implication is that all misbehavior, or missed expectation, is sin. Bad position, my friend. Personal counseling experience and ministry experience have shown me multiple cases where there were real, measurable physiologic symptoms that worked in tandem with, not in response to, the psychiatric issues…and where appropriate low doses didn’t just change behavior, but allowed the child’s mind to function and process in appropriate, orderly progressions rather than random impulsiveness.
    I would like to ask only one question: when is drug therapy appropriate for believers who struggle in the psychiatric arena, or are these adult issues also boiled down to sin and “doing what others don’t want us to do?”

    • Matt Tarr

      Well, first of all Karl, thank you for taking the time to respond! You have the privilege of being the very first to do so on my new blog and you ask a very important and helpful question. Perhaps it may help to understand the nature of psychology. It is most important to remember that psychology is NOT a science, even though many psychologists and psychiatrists would want you to think that. Psychology, by it’s very definition, literally means “the study of the soul/spirit. At best, we can say that psychology is the “study of human behavior,” but we cannot say that it is the “science” of human behavior. It’s not based on objective study, but instead, it’s subjectively theoretical. So, when we say that we’re studying human behavior, who is really the most qualified to do so? John MacArthur says this, “When it comes to true ‘soul work,’ only those ordained by God to do so can be used by God to change lives. The apparatus necessary is the Word of God shared through illumination by the Spirit of God and given by and administered through those called by God in the local church. Psychology or psychiatry, though it may purport to be under the aegis of the local church, if it is not under the functioned control of the Holy Scripture, is not useful or helpful to the biblical counselor and could even be (and certainly is!) destructive to the counseling process.” In other words, MacArthur is affirming 1 Cor. 2:14, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” In other words, you, as a pastor, is far more equipped to address matters of the soul (or “psychological disorders”) as a pastor, than any psychologist who cannot understand the soul. Remember this as well, “mental illness” is theoretical, but it is not organic (though it may result in organic illness). This may end up being another post all together, but I think Robert Smith again summarizes my thoughts well, “Biblical counselors can offer something superior to healing. They can offer victory in the midst of difficult circumstances, rather than improved feelings or attempts to change the circumstances. This is biblical and far superior to a healing that cannot be defined or measured. Biblical counseling is loving because it produces the victory God has promised.” I hope that helps, and I look forward to more comments and questions as you look to continually grow in your ability to minister to your own flock!

    • Joseph Whiting

      Pastor Earhart,

      Would you mind helping me understand something? I was not able to see the author’s implication that you mentioned. I’m probably not as sharp as someone in the pastorate. In fact, I know I’m not. So, what I am having trouble understanding is this: since misbehavior, according to your reply, is something different than simple “missed expectation,” what do you label it when you misbehave?

      Since the context of the article deals with behavior that is ultimately contrary to God’s standards, and since you clearly understand said behavior to be something other than missed expectation, what does the Bible label this kind of behavior, or in this particular contextual interrogative, what does the Bible label it when you misbehave? Do you have your reasons for misbehaving like these children are being afforded? Please help me to understand?

  • Matt Tarr

    As I mentioned in the post, we might assume that the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is made by objective testing, but that is not the case. According to the DSM-IV, the diagnostic criteria are as follows:

    1) At least six of the following symptoms of “inattention” must be observed for at least six months to the degree that is inconsistent with the determined developmental level of the child or adult:
    – often fails to pay close attention to details, evidenced in the frequent or careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or any miscellaneous activity
    – often finds difficulty paying attention to a given activity
    – often does not seem to listen when being directly spoken to
    – often fails to follow instructions carefully and fails to complete his/her responsibilities, such as schoolwork, chores, work responsibilities, etc.
    – often has difficulty organizing tasks and responsibilities
    – often avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained focus or mental effort
    – often loses things necessary for certain activities
    – often easily distracted
    – often forgetful in accomplishing daily activities

    2) At least six of the following symptoms of “hyperactivity-impulsivity” must be observed for at least six months to the degree that is inconsistent with the determined developmental level of the child or adult:
    Hyperactivity:
    – often fidgets with hands or feet, or has difficulty sitting still
    – often leaves seat abruptly in a situation where sitting is expected
    – often climbs or runs in inappropriate situations
    – often demonstrates difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activity quietly, or demonstrates restlessness when engaging these activities.
    – often “on the go” (is like the energizer bunny)
    – often talks excessively
    Impulsivity:
    – often lacks restraint and blurts out answers before questions are completed
    – often has difficulty waiting for his/her turn
    – often interrupts or intrudes on others in their activities

    *Note:
    – at least some of these symptoms must be present before the age of 7
    – at least some of these symptoms must be observed in at least two settings
    – there must be clear evidence of significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

    **These were taken from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 4th Ed. (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), 83-84. They were first observed in “The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference.” (Robert D. Smith, M.D., 2000), 140-41.

  • Just adding a quote,

    “The diagnosis of ADHD, as in most psychiatric problems, is not based on the body but on behavior. Even though it is vigorously defended as a disease, there is no proof of any physical abnormality in the body. The medications do not correct any known deficiency or physical abnormality. Medication is not a cure. When there is improvement in behavior, which appears to be a direct result of medication, this gives the impression the problem is solved. If the behavior does not improve or gets worse, the dosage is increased. When this fails, a different medication is considered. However, the medication does not deal with the cause of the problem. It does not help the child learn self-control. The underlying thinking and motives of the child are never addressed. It is easier to put a child on medication than to take the time to nurture and help him build character.” – Robert D. Smith, M.D.

    • Matt Tarr

      Thanks Matthew! What’s interesting is that what Dr. smith stated there is completely consistent with Leon Eisenberg’s confession.

  • Jordan S.

    You sir, have obviously not met my boys.