ADHD does not exist (a critical comment)

ADHD does not exist

In the next article, we are going to cover a very controversial yet old topic on mental health, ADHD does not exist.

ADHD does not exist (a critical comment)

ADHD does not exist

The assertion that ADHD does not exist has been present for some years in the field of debate in psychopathology and psychiatry, is a highly controversial issue among other things because of its stability and consistency as a defined mental illness, there are consequences for the lives of many people. 

The problem with mental illness and its definition 

Psychopathology, the discipline that is dedicated to the definition and delineation of mental illness, as well as its conceptualization through the scientific method, has been a field that has accompanied psychology and psychiatry since their beginnings, and with it has also gone through a series of controversies regarding the definition of what is a mental illness, and what are the examples of it. 

Depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, are examples of mental illnesses that are commonly mentioned in people’s popular vocabulary and are also commonly diagnosed in different contexts worldwide. 

However, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is part of a group of mental illnesses around which there is much more controversy. Skepticism and misinformation have made the conceptualization of this mental disorder even more difficult. Among other consequences, this has led to ADHD being diagnosed inadequately, more often or less clearly. That’s part of the reason why it’s been said that ADHD does not exist. 

ADHD does not exist (a critical comment)

What is ADHD?

ADHD has been classified as a behavioral disorder, which is usually noticed in early periods of development (between approximately 6 and 12 years old). Most commonly, symptoms begin to disappear and improve with age, but it has also been reported that some adults continue to experience some symptoms, although their nature changes. 

Great care should be taken with the use of the ADHD diagnosis (which should always be made by a mental health professional) since during childhood it is common for many children to have phases or moments where they are inattentive and/or hyperactive, it seems that their energy never runs out. 

This should not be confused with ADHD (perhaps this is one reason why some people claim that ADHD does not exist), and people working in mental health services should be very careful about using this label. Diagnoses are a tool to help patients, not to make their lives worse. 

ADHD can be a disability, affecting one’s social and occupational functioning.

What are the symptoms of ADHD? 

Despite the controversy (a lot of people have said that ADHD does not exist at all) that has existed for several years in the definition of ADHD and its symptoms, the manuals of psychopathology and mental disorders have been defining the symptoms, among which are

Symptoms of inattention: 

  • Having a too narrow and/or limited attention span, which makes it easy to be distracted
  • Making careless mistakes (e.g., with schoolwork or home commitments)
  • Constantly changing what is being done. People move from one activity to another quickly and do not stay on the same task for longer periods of time. 
  • Being virtually unable to engage in tasks that demand the use of attentional resources or that might be tedious or “uninteresting.
  • Have a marked difficulty in organizing and tidying up activities and tasks 

Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity

Among the main signs of this type are

  • Being practically unable to stay still in one place, especially when it is a calm space with quiet surroundings. 
  • Physical movements are excessive and this becomes evident.
  • People have the need to talk constantly, they cannot remain silent for long. 
  • Being practically unable to wait for a corresponding turn. 
  • Exhibiting actions before or without thinking. 
  • Interrupting other people while they are talking. 

ADHD does not exist: misdiagnosed?

Making a diagnosis of ADHD is a very demanding job in terms of time, and a costly one, since it requires a set of specialized knowledge in order to achieve a sufficient level of precision and certainty. Unlike what one might think about other mental illnesses, the diagnosis of ADHD is not easy to make. This could another reason for people to say ADHD does not exist. 

ADHD does not exist (a critical comment)

People working in the specialized field of mental health are often in work contexts that do not allow them to make a proper diagnosis of any mental illness, which generates many negative consequences on patients and on the way their problems are addressed. 

Science and the progress of knowledge 

When people claim that ADHD does not exist, they are making a common mistake when it comes to progress at the level of scientific research. Science, knowledge, and in this specific case psychopathology, are part of a constant process of investigation, which seeks to reach a point of greater certainty, but you never know exactly how close you are to it. 

This was intensely emphasized by Karl Popper, a prominent philosopher of 20th-century science. To say that a certain phenomenon does not exist is a far-reaching statement, and should not be made lightly. Saying ADHD does not exist is against knowledge and how it works. 

ADHD does not exist (a critical comment)

Being sensible, the most we could say, in light of the above, is that knowledge about ADHD is still not sufficiently stable and consistent, nor does it enjoy a high degree of acceptance in the scientific and non-scientific community, to be clearly accepted as a mental illness, like the others. 

Causes of ADHD 

As with other mental disorders, it is extremely difficult to attribute the onset or development of a disorder to a single cause, given the complexity of our developmental process and a large number of interactions of our organism, in general terms, with the surrounding environment. 

What has been proposed is a combination of factors involved that, it has been assumed, may be responsible for the development of the disorder. These include the following:

Genetic factors

ADHD tends to run in families, increasing the likelihood that others will develop it or have developed it when a family member has the disorder. Research has provided evidence that this is more likely to happen when there are family members with the disorder. 

Despite this, and as mentioned at the beginning, there is still no possibility of attributing a single factor to the development of ADHD, so it is believed that although there are hereditary factors, they are set in motion in a complex way and are not due to an error or failure in a single gene. 

Brain anatomy and function 

Another factor that has been mentioned as being involved in the development of ADHD is the brain structure and its dynamics. 

Research has found, although not very clear so far, that some brain structures may be of different sizes in people with ADHD, compared to people not diagnosed with the disorder. However, the exact significance and implications of this are not very clear at this time. 

On the other hand, a certain deficit in the balance of some neurotransmitters in the brain has also been included in the picture, which could be responsible for some behavioral symptoms or expression characteristic of ADHD. 

Groups most at risk 

Finally, some groups of people have been found to be especially vulnerable to developing the disorder, as we will see below (even when a lot of people says that ADHD does not exist): 

Those who were born prematurely (i.e. before the 37th week of the gestation process) or with a low body weight at birth. This group has been classified as one of the most at risk of developing ADHD. 

On the other hand, and given what was previously mentioned about anatomy and functioning at the brain level, it has also been found that people who suffer from epilepsy have a higher risk of developing ADHD at some point in their lives. 

So ADHD does not exist, does it?

Even when a lot of people say that ADHD does not exist, as mentioned previously, the most prudent thing we can do given the current state of research in the area is to remain skeptical but open to new findings. We do not know what discoveries may come in the future, and how this could change the landscape related to the definition of ADHD. 

It is clear that mistakes have been made with the diagnosis and treatment of people believed to have ADHD, but this should not be a sufficient reason to abandon the use of this category of psychopathology as a tool to help improve the quality of life of many people. 

Conclusion

There is much controversy surrounding the definition of ADHD as a disorder, to the point that many people have claimed that ADHD does not exist and that this category should not be used. However, there are other elements of research that clearly point to symptoms and functioning. 

There is evidence for the existence of ADHD not only in humans but also in dogs, as mentioned in the book All Dogs Have ADHD. The book goes in depth on the link between dogs and ADHD.

Science progresses slowly and is not always a satisfactory tool to solve the problems we face as a society. This work should continue, as this will lead to greater clarity and precision in the definition of the phenomena that are of interest to us. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about ADHD does not exist

 

Recommended resources

  1. ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder
  2. Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential
  3. May We Have Your Attention Please?: A Springboard Clinic Workbook for Living–and Thriving–with Adult ADHD

References

  1. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Handbook: A Physician’s Guide to ADHD
  3. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Science Direct basics)
Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.