Sometimes, ADHD is real

A lot of people seem to have the idea that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is something less than a real condition. Many have claimed that the diagnosis of ADHD pathologizes what’s actually normal childhood behavior, or that it’s presented as a problem in order to sell a solution in the form of unnecessary medication with unknown long-term effects. Others say that ADHD is real but overdiagnosed, and medication is used where changes to the child’s environment would be more appropriate. Most recently, the New York Times reported on a doctor who prescribed ADHD medication to children who are struggling in school, regardless of whether they actually have ADHD. He believes that the school system is poorly suited to children, but that people are unwilling to make changes on a systemic level, and so they resort to medicating their children.

The problem is that many of these folk theories about the reality, causes and proper treatment of ADHD are mostly nonsense, perpetuated by people who think they’ve uncovered some grand conspiracy but have very little understanding of what they’re talking about.

Our 9-year-old son has ADHD, and he takes medication for it. His mother has ADHD, his father has ADHD, and his younger brother sometimes appears to have symptoms of ADHD – although this can be largely indistinguishable from the typical range of toddler behavior. And anyone who believes that ADHD is a hoax or can be addressed solely by environmental changes should really try spending some time with our son when he’s unmedicated.

While it’s certainly possible that children have been inappropriately diagnosed with ADHD in some circumstances, this does nothing to show that ADHD does not exist in other children. This also isn’t a matter of making an exclusive choice between either medication, or alternative means of support. There’s no reason why we can’t use everything at our disposal to treat this. And while the side effects of medication always need to be taken into account, it’s also crucial to consider the effects of withholding treatment that works.

We waited for as long as possible before looking into medication for our son. We explored every other option that was available to us. He had a specialized plan at school and extra tutoring, and he still does. We worked closely with him every day to help him understand his work, and we gave him extra practice in every subject. And it wasn’t enough.

This was not just an instance of a child chafing against the unreasonable constraints of standardized education. His environment was not the problem, and shaping his environment around him would have meant letting him flounder. This was a second-grader who would often spend three hours trying to complete a single sheet of simple addition, with the help of two adults. This was a child who had to be reminded a dozen times before he would even remember how to complete a basic task like setting the table – let alone actually getting it done. This was a kid who could not stop himself from talking, yelling, and running wildly around the house. His insomnia would keep him up all night, doing nothing but talking to himself in bed, until he was so tired that he fell asleep almost every day in school. His teachers would make him sit through 40 minutes of reading class, 15 minutes of recess, and 50 more minutes of science class just trying to get him to write a single sentence.

His eyes would glaze over halfway through trying his best to add 5 and 4, when he lost track of what he was doing and had to start over for the third time. He would stumble through trying to read short sentences, and couldn’t tell us what they actually meant even after we read them back to him. He continually failed to be influenced by incentives or even understand their purpose. He forgot to bring home his work, and he didn’t turn it in when it was finished. He would burst into tears every day when trying to do his homework. He told us he was “the worst kid ever” and that he wanted to kill himself. This was a child who was going to be held back a grade, again. And he knew that he had a serious problem. He did not like how he was, and he did not want to be like this. He just wanted to be good, and he couldn’t, no matter how hard he tried.

His instructors and evaluators refused to believe that he could have ADHD, because they thought it was “overdiagnosed”. They laughed at my partner when she suggested it, even when she told them that his father had been successfully treated for ADHD. Instead, they claimed he was mentally handicapped, and that was why he was consistently performing more slowly than the other children. We knew that couldn’t be the case, because in those brief moments when we could get him to focus, he could understand his work. Something was just getting in the way. Only after intelligence tests found him to be above average did his teachers admit that ADHD was a possibility.

We had already figured this out, and we still didn’t want to have to medicate him. We were worried about the long-term effects, too. We didn’t want him to have to rely on medication instead of developing coping strategies. But we were wrong. Eventually, we had to recognize that this constant pain was not encouraging him to develop coping strategies. It was only making him miserable. This wasn’t helping him to grow – it was destroying him. Those who criticize parents for supposedly “taking the easy way out” when they have their children treated for ADHD have made the mistake of thinking that struggle must always be virtuous. They want to believe there must be some great payoff in proportion to all the trouble. But sometimes there’s not. In reality, his ongoing struggles weren’t good for any of us. We had to accept that when it came to the well-being of our son, it wasn’t our principles that mattered – it was the results.

Has his medication been a cure-all? Of course not, and this was by no means an excuse to stop helping him. He still gets all the support he needs from his family and from his school. The difference is that now, it’s actually working. Instead of running just to stay in place and still falling behind, this makes progress possible. He remembers to bring his work home and turn it in. He can finish his homework on his own without requiring constant attention, and he gets it right. He doesn’t fall asleep in school, and when he stays up late, he actually chooses to read books. He can focus and tell us what the sentences mean. He listens to us, he can control himself, and he can behave himself. And he smiles so much more! He’s happy now, he’s less anxious, and his attitude toward school has improved remarkably considering how difficult it had been for him. He’s passing instead of failing, because he finally has the basic abilities that are required to learn and succeed.

The inertia of the status quo often gives it a certain privilege in people’s minds. They set higher standards of justification for switching to an alternative than they would for simply staying on the present course. But when we put our options on an equal footing and considered them fairly, we could not justify depriving him of the treatment that would actually help. This isn’t just a matter of how it’s affecting him now. When ADHD isn’t properly treated, it can lead to higher rates of substance abuse, anxiety, depression, dropping out, car accidents, unwanted pregnancies, STDs, unemployment, and everything else you might expect to result from being chronically unable to think clearly. And we’re not willing to stand by and watch him fail over and over while we try to find alternative treatments, when we already have one that works.

This was not our first choice, and if other means were sufficient to control his symptoms, we wouldn’t have chosen to medicate him. But as of right now, this is not possible. Do we enjoy paying for expensive medication? No, but there is absolutely no way I can regard it as some kind of scam. The value to our entire family has been incalculable. ADHD had made our above-average child seem like someone who was mentally challenged. This is what finally worked to undo that, and I could never expect other parents to forgo a treatment that’s had such a transformative effect.

Regardless of what anyone else may think, this is a personal decision to be made by the family based on their situation and their needs, and I don’t find it at all appropriate to issue blanket condemnations of medication for ADHD when this may be exactly what someone’s child needs. Everyone wants what’s best for kids, and certainly nobody wants what’s worse for them. But when people are unclear on how to achieve this, their ignorance can lead them to conclusions that fail to respect the reality of what these children are dealing with. We would know – we’ve been there.

Sometimes, ADHD is real
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A stunning lack of self-awareness

“Bill Nye really doesn’t understand science.”

Such a claim would be laughable coming from anyone. But it’s a full-on mind-shattering BSOD of irony when you realize this statement came from Ken Ham of the infamous Creation Museum:

Perhaps the most ridiculous moment comes at 3 minutes in, when Ham claims:

He doesn’t teach children how to think critically. He doesn’t teach them how to think about science. He wants to teach them what to think.

This is, of course, coming from the founder of Answers in Genesis, an organization with a statement of faith that says:

The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.

The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the earth, and the universe.

The special creation of Adam (the first man) and Eve (the first woman), and their subsequent fall into sin, is the basis for the necessity of salvation for mankind.All mankind are sinners, inherently from Adam and individually (by choice), and are therefore subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.

Freedom from the penalty and power of sin is available to man only through the sacrificial death and shed blood of Jesus Christ and His complete and bodily resurrection from the dead.

Those who do not believe in Christ are subject to everlasting conscious punishment, but believers enjoy eternal life with God.

It is the duty of Christians to attend a local Bible believing church, as portrayed in the New Testament.

Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ.

The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of creation.

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.

That’s Answers in Genesis for you. Clearly they never teach children what to think. They teach them to think critically – until they hit Bible.

A stunning lack of self-awareness

Well, isn't that embarrassing

Five days ago, an op-ed in support of the fatally flawed Regnerus “gay parenting” study appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Breathlessly describing the response to the misleading study as “an academic auto-da-fe”, “inquisition”, “witch hunt”, and a “savaging” by “the progressive orthodoxy”, who are treating him like a “heretic” and “traitor” and “cannot admit their true political motives”, they spend almost no time addressing the actual criticisms of the study, such as its unhelpful and inaccurate definition of “gay parents” and small sample sizes of actual same-sex parents. Their best defense is that the study “is no scientifically worse than what is routinely published in sociology journals.” Is that really the case?

Apparently not. The op-ed now appears even more vacuous and absurd in retrospect. Two days ago, the Chronicle received a draft of an internal audit to be published in the same journal as the Regnerus study, detailing how the peer review process “failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems” and was compromised by “conflicts of interest among the reviewers”. A professor on the editorial board who was assigned to examine how this happened described the paper as “bullshit”, and identified Regnerus’ definition of “gay parents” as something that should have “disqualified it immediately”.

The lesson couldn’t be clearer: When the facts aren’t on your side, you’ll end up looking rather silly.

Well, isn't that embarrassing

Well, isn’t that embarrassing

Five days ago, an op-ed in support of the fatally flawed Regnerus “gay parenting” study appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Breathlessly describing the response to the misleading study as “an academic auto-da-fe”, “inquisition”, “witch hunt”, and a “savaging” by “the progressive orthodoxy”, who are treating him like a “heretic” and “traitor” and “cannot admit their true political motives”, they spend almost no time addressing the actual criticisms of the study, such as its unhelpful and inaccurate definition of “gay parents” and small sample sizes of actual same-sex parents. Their best defense is that the study “is no scientifically worse than what is routinely published in sociology journals.” Is that really the case?

Apparently not. The op-ed now appears even more vacuous and absurd in retrospect. Two days ago, the Chronicle received a draft of an internal audit to be published in the same journal as the Regnerus study, detailing how the peer review process “failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems” and was compromised by “conflicts of interest among the reviewers”. A professor on the editorial board who was assigned to examine how this happened described the paper as “bullshit”, and identified Regnerus’ definition of “gay parents” as something that should have “disqualified it immediately”.

The lesson couldn’t be clearer: When the facts aren’t on your side, you’ll end up looking rather silly.

Well, isn’t that embarrassing

Regnerus deconstructed: How a new study misrepresents same-sex parents

A recently published study by sociology professor Mark Regnerus purports to show that children of same-sex parents experience a significant degree of negative outcomes, contrary to numerous earlier studies on LGBT parenting. Most notably, the new study alleges that the children of lesbian mothers are more likely to be on public assistance, more likely to be unemployed, less likely to be employed full-time, more likely to be cohabitating, less likely to be married, more likely to have had an affair, more likely to have had an STI, more likely to have been in therapy recently, more likely to have recently thought about suicide, more likely to have been raped, and more likely to have been molested by an adult.

These findings would certainly be surprising – if they were supported by the evidence. While these results have been widely reported as representative of the parenting skills of same-sex parents, the study itself can tell us almost nothing about this. The shortcomings of its design make this impossible.

The study was conducted by surveying a representative sample of nearly 3,000 young adults aged 18 to 39, who were sorted into 8 categories of family structures: an intact biological family of a married mother and father, lesbian mothers, gay fathers, adoptive families, biological parents who divorced after their children were grown, stepfamilies, single parents, and all other kinds of families.

However, the groups designated as “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” are actually defined by whether one of the respondent’s biological parents ever had a same-sex relationship during the respondent’s childhood. Little information is given about the nature and duration of these relationships, and the set of people whose parents once had any kind of same-sex relationship is not identical to the set of people who were raised in a household with same-sex parents. Same-sex relationships aren’t limited to committed same-sex couples raising children. This definition could also encompass a same-sex affair outside of an opposite-sex marriage, a parent who services clients of the same sex in the course of sex work, or same-sex activity within the context of an open relationship. For the purposes of this study, these situations are all lumped in with committed same-sex partners raising children.

The labels of “lesbian mothers” or “gay fathers” also ignore the fact that having had at least one same-sex relationship does not necessarily make someone gay, any more than one opposite-sex relationship makes someone straight. In an article in Slate Magazine, Regnerus says, “our research team was less concerned with the complicated politics of sexual identity than with same-sex behavior.” But the study says nothing about the nature or extent of that behavior aside from whether it was ever present to the slightest degree, or completely absent as far as the respondents were aware.

What little data the study does provide in this area mostly pertains to the length of time the respondents spent in a household with same-sex partners, which turns out to be… not much. Of the respondents in the so-called “lesbian mothers” group, who numbered 163, only 57% reported living with their biological mother and her same-sex partner for at least 4 months, and 23% lived with them for at least 3 years. In the “gay fathers” group, numbering 73 people, 23% said they lived with their biological father and his same-sex partner for at least 4 months, and less than 2% lived with them for at least 3 years.

There are two flaws in comparing these respondents to those in the “intact biological families” group as a measure of the effects of same-sex parenting. First, this suggests that while the 18 years spent with one’s married heterosexual parents are responsible for these positive outcomes, the mere months that many respondents spent in a household with same-sex parents must be responsible for their negative outcomes. This completely ignores the effects of whatever other family structures they were a part of during the many years that they did not spend with their same-sex parents. And in the case of those who spent no time living with a parent’s same-sex partner, how could any of their outcomes possibly be attributed to same-sex parenting?

Second, Regnerus’ 8 categories of family structures are not mutually exclusive. A respondent with a parent who had at least one same-sex relationship could also have lived with their married biological parents for their entire childhood, or had a stepfamily, an adoptive family, a single parent, or some other kind of family. Regnerus acknowledges this, and states that he “forced their mutual exclusivity” for the sake of “maximizing the sample size” of the “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” groups. Unfortunately, this makes any comparison between the “intact biological families” group and either of the “gay” parent groups practically useless.

Regnerus has filtered the other six groups – biological parents, stepfamilies, adoptive families, later divorced parents, single parents, and all others – so that they consist only of parents who are believed to be exclusively heterosexual. But he’s constructed the two “gay” parent groups so that they consist of a hodgepodge of these family structures. Every other group contains only one type of family. The “gay” parent groups contain potentially all of them.

Regnerus’ treatment of these groups thus fails to separate the possible effects of having a stepfamily, a single parent, divorced parents, married biological parents, or being adopted, from the effects of a parent having at least one same-sex relationship. As a result, the outcomes that he attributes to same-sex parenting could just as well be due to family instability. He isn’t comparing married heterosexual parents whose children lived with them for 18 years to committed same-sex couples whose children lived with them for 18 years. He’s packed the “gay” groups with divorces, remarriages, adoptions and single parenthood, and then compared them to intact heterosexual families. Of course the results would reflect unfavorably on the groups he’s designated as gay. But they don’t tell us anything about the outcomes for children who were raised by committed same-sex parents for a substantial portion of their childhood.

Regnerus himself has admitted to these shortcomings, but claims that there was no way to overcome these limitations. On his blog, he wrote:

One of the key methodological criticisms circulating is that-basically-in a population-based sample, I haven’t really evaluated how the adult children of stably-intact coupled self-identified lesbians have fared. […] And I’m telling you that it cannot be feasibly accomplished. It is a methodological (practical) impossibility at present, for reasons I describe: they really didn’t exist in numbers that could be amply obtained *randomly*. It may well be a flaw-a limitation, I think-but it is unavoidable. We maxxed Knowledge Networks’ ability, and no firm is positioned to do better. It would have cost untold millions of dollars, and still may not generate the number of cases needed for statistical analyses.

Considering how many inaccurate stories about same-sex parents have been published because of what his study falsely claims to show, this is an especially weak excuse. If the data aren’t there, then the data just aren’t there. This doesn’t mean you can misrepresent committed same-sex parents by grouping them with all kinds of disrupted families and different living situations. It means your study simply isn’t capable of examining the competence of same-sex parents. And Regnerus should have admitted that in the first place.

Regnerus deconstructed: How a new study misrepresents same-sex parents