“Not a single individual — not even the person who finds it close to impossible to pay attention or sit still — is afflicted by the disorder called ADHD as we define it today,” Richard Saul writes in his new book. A lot of doctors would disagree: There has been a 40 percent increase in ADHD diagnoses in the past decade. Eleven percent of U.S. children have received that diagnosis, and most of them are prescribed stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin. Still, Saul is not alone in wondering whether all these diagnoses, and all that medication, are appropriate.
A physician, researcher and professor, Saul says the medical establishment’s error is defining ADHD by its symptoms — failure to pay attention, too much fidgeting or running around, fast talking, repetitive behavior — rather than what causes it. And he lists some 20 possible “true” diagnoses. These include sleep disorders, problems with hearing or vision, substance abuse, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hard-to-detect seizure disorders and even the “problem” of simply being gifted. Drawing examples from research as well as his own decades of medical practice, he suggests tools for the evaluating these conditions.
“I wrote this book to be provocative,” Saul says. And he has probably succeeded.