ADHD Is A Label Not A Real Disease, Says American Neuroscientist

14/08/2014 16:59 | Updated 20 May 2015

Children playing in park

The Observer the definition of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is so broad that virtually anyone could claim to be experiencing at least some of the symptoms at any given time.

And he said doctors were too quick to prescribe 'psychostimulant' drugs to children when evidence suggests there may not be any long-term benefits.

Prescriptions for the drugs, such as Ritalin, have risen from 420,000 in 2007 to 657,000 in 2012 – an increase of 56 per cent.

Dr Perry, who will also meet cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood during his visit as a guest of the Early Intervention Foundation, a charity aimed at tackling the root causes of childhood dysfunctions, said: "We are very immature in our current evolution in giving diagnoses.

"A hundred years ago, someone would come to the doctor and they would have chest pain and would be sweating. And they would say, 'Oh, you have fever.' They would label it, just like we label it [ADHD] now. It's a description rather than a real disease."

He added: "If you give psychostimulants to animals when they are young, their rewards systems change. They require much more stimulation to get the same level of pleasure.

"So on a very concrete level they need to eat more food to get the same sensation of satiation. They need to do more high-risk things to get that little buzz from doing something. It is not a benign phenomenon.

"Taking a medication influences systems in ways we don't always understand. I tend to be pretty cautious about this stuff, particularly when the research shows you that other interventions are equally effective and over time more effective and have none of the adverse effects. For me it's a no-brainer."

Dr Perry said he favoured an approach that went back to the root causes of the problem, and often required attention being focused on the parents.

He said: "There are number of non-pharmacological therapies which have been pretty effective. A lot of them involve helping the adults that are around children.

"Part of what happens is if you have an anxious, overwhelmed parent, that is contagious. When a child is struggling, the adults around them are easily disregulated too.

"This negative feedback process between the frustrated teacher or parent and disregulated child can escalate out of control.

"You can teach the adults how to regulate themselves, how to have realistic expectations of the children, how to give them opportunities that are achievable and have success and coach them through the process of helping children who are struggling.

"There are a lot of therapeutic approaches. Some would use somato-sensory therapies like yoga, some use motor activity like drumming.

"All have some efficacy. If you can put together a package of those things: keep the adults more mannered, give the children achievable goals, give them opportunities to regulate themselves, then you are going to minimise a huge percentage of the problems I have seen with children who have the problem labelled as ADHD."

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