Vital Signs

Making a Killing

Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton is breath-ing new life into the popular perception of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a “disease”—a chemical imbalance that requires a stabilizing, “counter-balancing” agent such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, or another name-brand amphetamine to correct a defective brain.  An example can be found in his recent syndicated column: “Managing ADHD Once It’s Diagnosed” (March 9).

On the positive side, Dr. Brazelton does acknowledge that “[o]verdiagnosis is a major problem with ADHD” and that “many children so labeled are merely anxious, resulting in overactivity and short attention spans.”

His argument breaks down, however, when he discusses children who are “over-focused.”  Brazelton claims that the severity of the disorder boils down to the “quality of [a child’s] attention” coupled with his “ability to control” it.  The classic scenario of ADHD is nonstop activity, combined with the inability to sustain attention on any particular project (ADD).  To categorize its precise opposite—intense concentration (i.e., “overfocusing”)—as the same illness is nonsense.

All medical researchers and practicing physicians (psychiatrists included) study the normal, disease-free status of human...

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