The great ADHD myth
Have hyperactive kids been misdiagnosed with ADD?
The psychiatrist who identified attention deficit disorder - the condition
blamed for the bad behaviour of hundreds of thousands of children - has
admitted that many may not really be ill.
Dr Robert Spitzer said that up to 30 per cent of youngsters classified as
suffering from disruptive and hyperactive conditions could have been
They may simply be showing perfectly normal signs of being happy or sad, he
'Many of these conditions might be normal reactions which are not really
disorders,' he continued.
Dr Spitzer developed the bible of mental disorder classification in the
1970s and 1980s, which identified dozens of new conditions including ADD and
Since then hundreds of thousands of children have been diagnosed with ADD, a
behavioural disorder linked to poor attention span, and ADHD, which adds an
element of hyperactivity.
The disorders describe disruptive and restless behaviour that results in
children having difficulty focusing their attention on specific tasks.
ADHD is most commonly noticed at the age of five, and as many as one in 30
British children is said to have it.
It is often treated with drugs, with Ritalin being the most commonly
Some scientists say ADHD is a genetic disorder that does not disappear with
But sceptics believe the diagnosis is a 'biobabble' label, which has evolved
from a soundbite culture that is too prepared to medicalise anti-social
Dr Spitzer, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, now
says the classification led to many people being diagnosed as medically
disordered when their mood swings and behaviour were simply normal feelings
of happiness and sadness.
In a BBC2 documentary series The Trap, which begins on Sunday, he says that
between 20 and 30 per cent of mental disorder diagnoses may be incorrect.
His admission comes as figures show that the amount spent by the Health
Service on drugs to treat ADHD and similar disorders in children trebled to
?12 million in just five years, from 1999-2003.
Almost 400,000 British children aged between five and 19 are believed to be
on the drugs - despite doctors' fears about side-effects.
That is the equivalent of every child in Britain each taking more than four
doses of the drugs every year.
NHS guidelines recommend drug treatment for the most severely affected,
although there have been reports of cardiovascular disorders, hallucinations
and even suicidal thoughts.
There have been at least nine deaths reported to the UK's Medicinesand
Healthcare products Regulatory Agency since Ritalin became available in the