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A brief history of media reporting on ADHD….we seem to be going backwards again

by on 2023/05/18

Written by Dr Sinead Rhodes and Ailbhe McKinney

As could have been predicted, the BBC Panorama programme shown on Monday night about adult ADHD diagnoses has led to a series of other media reports questioning the validity of ADHD. In a blog post on Tuesday I expressed concern about the impact of this programme and now we are seeing it escalating out of control. One headline out today asks ‘does ADHD even exist’. The article goes on to continue a lot of old myths about ADHD and is littered with inaccuracies like ADHD is caused by bad parenting – it definitely is not.

Inaccuracy number 1:

Some of course relate to medication.  They refer to children ‘being dosed with drugs that pacify them, and their real problems are ignored’. Let us look at the research. Pacify? No – self-regulation. There have been numerous media reports over the years referring to ADHD related medication acting by slowing down the child or adult – this obviously does not sound like something you want for your child – but let’s see what the research says.

Actually, we know from research that stimulant medication slows down performance when a task is difficult and speeds up performance when a task requires quick responding. The medication acts to help the child or adult self-regulate. For many of these children and adults, medication acts as a gateway to being able to engage with psychological supports and programme.   

Inaccuracy number 2:

The article repeatedly refers to there being ‘no independent valid test for ADHD’. ADHD is a thinking and behaviour condition and so the only way to diagnosis it is for a clinician to assess the person’s history of thinking and behaviour. This isn’t as clear cut as a blood test you take for diabetes or an X-ray for a broken bone but that doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate.

ADHD is always the scapegoat, even though autism, dyspraxia, depression, OCD, anorexia, and post traumatic stress disorder, for example, are all diagnosed in the same way; by an assessment performed by a clinician where the clinician’s judgement plays a bigger role than with a blood test or x-ray. Even saying this, it is important to point out, there are standardised assessments used for ADHD where the same questions are asked and cut off scores indicate an ADHD diagnosis. 

Media coverage in recent years…It was getting better…..

At Research the Headlines we have continually reported over the last ten years about recurring topics in the media. Common examples are how much caffeine is bad for you, how much exercise do you need for good health. ADHD is up there amongst the most commonly recurring. Below are some examples of our previous posts! What is really disappointing is that you will see in a post we published almost a year ago we were getting hopeful that things were changing and reporting was becoming more accurate and less sensationalist.

Unfortunately, it looks like we are entering a sea of the worst reporting ever on the topic. Here are some reminders of our previous discussion of this topic. These include adult ADHD, diagnosis of ADHD, brain differences and ADHD, parenting and ADHD, medication and ADHD, circumcision and ADHD, environmental factors in pregnancy and ADHD, steroid use in premature babies and ADHD, video use in ADHD, reports about diagnoses of famous people and ADHD, including Richard Bacon,, and Rory Bremner

We need to keep going forward with our understanding of ADHD – not a monumental leap backward to inaccurate sensationalist reporting that has a huge risk of causing serious harm. 

From → Health, Psychology

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