Shedding the Stigma of ADHD

What if ADHD wasn’t a neurological disorder at all, but simply the result of poor parenting? If just being a good enough Mommy could make all your kids’ troubles go away? If every outburst in class or missed homework assignment was your fault, and under your control to fix?


This is the premise endorsed by Dr. Sroufe in a recent New York Times op-ed about “Ritalin Gone Wrong”, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Judith Warner has a lovely rebuttal in Time, rounding up the expert opinions of those who work closely with ADHD patients and know what Sroufe doesn’t seem willing to acknowledge: that this disorder requires more than good parenting.

Like me, Warner calls out Sroufe, the op-ed’s author, for his argument that nurture rather than nature is behind ADHD. She brings up psychology’s embarrassing history of blaming children’s mental health problems on mothers who love their kids too much or not enough, and places Sroufe’s personal work squarely in the context of that now discredited approach. She likened the essay to a trip back in time:

A trip back to an era when autism was routinely blamed on “refrigerator mothers.” When children with psychiatric ills were believed to be victims of toxic “schizophrenogenic” mothers — women who loved too much or too little, were too effusive or too lacking in affection, pushed their children away or bound them to them too closely, didn’t embrace their “feminine” role with proper delight or pursued it to seductive excess.

Warner is so right about this it hurts. As does her observation that back in the day when all kids’ mental health problems were laid at their mother’s feet, it was a lot harder to seek help. Instead of having a diagnosable medical condition you could get help for, you were seen as having a problem kid. A problem kid whose problem was you, their incompetent mother.

Don’t believe Warner? She rounds up the critiques of giants in the field like Ed Hallowell, author of numerous books on ADHD. Hallowell takes aim at Sroufe’s lack of compassion and false assumptions. She also cites Harold Koplewicz, the president of the Child Mind Institute, who goes after the weaknesses in Sroufe’s science.

Basically, no one liked this article. And rightly so. All that parent-blaming business belongs well in the past. While environmental factors can influence children, we don’t cause our kids ADHD by giving them too abrupt a bath, as Sroufe suggests is possible.

As I said in my original response, Sroufe makes a good point when he says that medication isn’t sufficient to treat ADHD. It’s not. But that point is hardly novel, and it doesn’t mean Ritalin and other medical approaches to treatment don’t help. It’s good to see a variety of voices speaking out against this particularly poisonous viewpoint.

Photo: fotopedia

Article Posted 4 years Ago
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