The Problem With CHADD and
CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention
Deficit Disorder) has undoubtedly helped a great number of people with ADD. The
group was started back when no one had heard of ADD and at that time ADD behavior was
attributed to shear laziness and lack of character. Since that time, in large part
to CHADD, the public now understands that some people have a harder time than others when
it comes to paying attention and sitting still. And many people have been helped by
medications and other strategies used to help with ADD. If not for CHADD, these people
probably would never have known about ADD.
However, now that awareness of ADD
has increased to the point where nearly everyone has heard about it, I believe that the
group's agenda has become an obstacle for ADDers. The group strongly
believes that ADD-type behaviors are caused by brain defects, even though a number
of experts in the field believe that such behaviors are often perfectly normal, though
different. That is, brain differences vs. brain defects.
This is critically important because CHADD is the number one resource for ADD information
in the country. All of the information CHADD disseminates to doctors, patients,
schools, parents and the government is skewed in a very significant way because of this
CHADD omits the many positive and alternative views of ADD
held by researchers and experts in the field of ADD. If you look at their website, you will find no mention of anything at all
remotely positive about ADD. Not Dr. Bonnie Cramond's research on the link between ADHD
and creativity; the common belief that Thomas Edison and Mozart were ADHD; the
similarities between ADD and Gifted/Creative behaviors; positive comments from experts
like Ned Hallowell, M.D., or even the slightest acknowledgement that there are respected
people in the field of ADD who believe that the syndrome is a natural condition rather
than a real disorder.
A while back I wrote a letter to CHADD asking them to post
some positive information on their website, or at least link to some other websites with
positive information. I never heard back from them.
On the other hand, CHADD has posted a letter by Dr. Barkley
in which he describes ADD in the most negative and depressing terms possible, painting a
dreary picture of a lifetime of low intelligence, poor performance, and jail time.
Dr. Barkley believes that ADD itself lowers a person's intelligence and he brushes aside
the fact that many ADDers are quite successful. Dr. Barkley's ideas are just that:
his ideas. They are not fact and they should be balanced by information from other
ADD experts, creativity and temperament researchers, psychologists and others with ADD
experience. CHADD has a duty to let people know there are legitimate opposing
factions within the field of ADD.
CHADD is supposed to be an advocacy group. But what CHADD
seems to be advocating is not the people who are ADD, but rather the concept
of ADD as an severe brain defect. If CHADD was an advocacy group for people
who are ADD, then it would spread the news about ADDer's positive attributes far and
wide. It would encourage teachers to recognize different temperaments and learning
styles and provide creative hands-on opportunities for ADD children, push for
smaller class size, advocate alternative schooling, recommend that children be given
creativity and IQ tests as part of their ADD assessment, and so on.
Instead, CHADD is pushing for special accommodations by
schools and employers under the American's With Disability Act. This issue is
particularly dangerous for those of us who are ADD. A backlash has already formed
against ADDers because of the special accommodations which a few people have been
demanding under the law. For example, prospective ADD attorneys get extra time when
taking the bar exam, and employers are now afraid of having ADD employees on their payroll
because the law requires them to make "reasonable accommodations". I
suspect the majority of people with ADD do not want such special treatment.
Moreover, it endangers the careers of ADDers, many of whom are doing just fine. It's
a small world, and word of an employee's ADD condition can spread quickly within someone's
field, making it hard for them to find a job. I find the law insulting, quite
frankly. I don't need extra time to take a test (I have the opposite problem - I
rush through tests), or any sort of special accommodations by my employer. I
am not disabled, I just think differently.
CHADD has been instrumental in removing
responsibility. They are very quick to tell parents "it's not your
fault." Parents are never to blame for their children's behavior; schools and
teachers are never to blame for a child acting out in school; and ADDers are never to
blame for their own behavior. Everything is instead blamed on the brain
defect. However, in a study recent reported by Science News, 37 ADHD children were
removed from medications while their parents received special training, especially with
regard to discipline. After a year, all the children were still off the
medications. Obviously how parents act is extremely important and part of the ADD
equation. It is simply amazing to me that CHADD can fail to report this side of the
Before CHADD existed, everything was blamed on the parents,
which was equally wrong. The truth is that ADDers are biologically different from
their peers, but parents and teachers DO have profound effects upon their behaviors.
Effective, loving discipline is absolutely critical, and I have personally witnessed
out-of-control ADHD children whose parents were absolutely clueless about discipline,
instead whining, nagging and yelling at their children over and over without enacting
consequences. Of course the child was out of control! And regardless of what
CHADD insists on telling everyone, the parents ARE partly responsible for that.
From the day my son Ryan was born I have told myself that
if he is acting out, his needs are not being met. As his mother, it is my responsibility
to figure out what those needs are and to provide for them. Over and over again I
have slipped into a habit of exasperation with his behavior, finding him and I Iocked in a
cycle of negativity and competition for several weeks. And at these times I have
forced myself to stop and think "Who is in charge here? What am I doing
wrong?" And each time that I have stopped and done some soul-searching I have found
that indeed something was not right. The most common scenario has been Ryan
not getting enough positive attention to counterbalance all the negative comments
("Ryan!! Get off of the stove!"). It's so easy for my husband and I to
become caught up in our own world of work, chores, and home improvement projects we forget
to make time for Ryan. Some other typical sources of problems I've identified with
Ryan include poor rule making or discipline techniques on my part, problems with specific
teachers, overstimulation, allergy medication and lack of sleep. I have always found
a way to improve my son's behavior by changing my behavior or his environment. These
improvements have typically been dramatic. If Ryan is acting out, I blame myself and
then I figure out what is wrong and try to fix the problem. This has worked. But
according to CHADD, this strategy is wrong. I should be telling myself it's not my
fault and seek professional help instead for his brain "defect." Then I
suppose the doctors can step in to medicate my hopelessly out of control child.
Thanks, but no thanks. My strategy of blaming myself (and on occasion his teachers)
has worked wonderfully.
Personal responsibility for the ADDer is also removed by
CHADD. When I am late for work, I'm not late because of my ADD, I'm late because I
didn't leave the house on time. If I forget to do something at work, it's not
because of my poor memory, it's because I failed to write it down. Never do I
blame ADD. It's my responsibility to recognize my weaknesses and overcome
them. Based on what I've heard from other ADDers I think most would agree with me.
But CHADD, in their strong support of special accommodations, obviously thinks
Certain people have been using this
"accommodations" or "defect" strategy wherever they can.
Recently a Connecticut man claimed the reason he failed to pay his taxes for several years
was because he was ADD. The judge found him guilty anyway, but the case was on the
front page of the paper... "MAN SAYS ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER CAUSED HIM TO MISS
There's a grave danger in this "accommodations"
attitude. If you are so defective that you require special accommodations, then you
must, by definition be unable to do certain things. Is this what we want the world
to think of ADDers? That we are incapable and unable? What will our job
prospects be? What hope would ADD children have for their future? We cannot
have it both ways. Either we are capable or we are not. CHADD is telling the
world that we are not. I would argue the opposite: we ARE capable, we just have to
put more effort into organizing and finding an interesting career. Being capable
means being responsible. ADDers need to accept responsibility for their own actions,
and CHADD is certainly not helping.
Witness how the defect attitude (which goes hand in hand
with accommodations) can also be used by "normal" people to try and justify
their behavior. A reader wrote to me that her 8-year old granddaughter had
been struck and killed by a motorist. The granddaughter, who was being treated with
Ritalin, had begun to cross the street and then suddenly doubled back into the path of the
oncoming car. The driver was speeding, doing 40 mph in a 25 mph street near a young
child. Even so, he refused to take responsibility for his own behavior, saying
that the girl had a disorder which caused her to behave unpredictibly.
And "normal" adults can easily use a diagnosis of
ADD as an excuse not to change school environments or parenting styles. If a child
is seen as different but within the broad range of normal, I believe there is greater
pressure for adults to accept responsibility for providing a suitable environment for that
Regarding special accommodations in schools: Public
schools are required to accommodate ALL learning styles and needs, not just those of
ADDers. If a child has problems with fine motor skills so that he has trouble taking
tests but knows the subject matter, then a reasonable accommodation would be oral tests or
the use of a computer in certain subjects. The student should not have to be
identified as ADD, however.
CHADD is big on pushing for schools to provide special
education classes for ADD children. They picture "normal" kids in the main
class and ADD (defective) kids segregated off to the side in special ed classes.
While there is certainly a need for special ed classes, I think we should view ADD kids
not as defective kids requiring segregation, but as canaries in the coal mine. They
are the ones most sensitive to teaching methods and class size. Based on what I've
learned about temperament and learning styles, a slight majority of children learn best
using techniques and strategies which ADD kids respond to (lots of hands-on learning,
plenty of physical activity, independent projects, small class size, individual attention,
extroverted and interesting teachers, etc.) CHADD should be working to change mainstream
classes so that most kids learn better and ADD kids can stay in the main classroom.
Smaller class sizes is an issue which is big right now
(California recently passed a referendum on class size limits), but there is nothing on
CHADD's webpage about that. I suspect that if class sizes were smaller, there would
be fewer kids diagnosed with ADD in the first place.
Many ADD children do well in alternative schools or in home
schooling. I have heard one psychologist say that homeschooled ADD children almost
never need medication. CHADD should support government policies which free parents
economically to send their children to private or alternative schools. Many parents
have told me they can't afford a private school, although the government is paying all
kinds of money for special ed classes in the public school. A voucher system would
allow parents to choose an alternative school which might be more compatible with
their child's learning style or which might simply have smaller classrooms and better
CHADD describes certain alternative treatments available
and explains why these are ineffective. I agree with CHADD that there is no
magical alternative treatment which will "cure" ADD and that there are a lot of
scams out there. However, I believe that CHADD should be more open to the idea that ADDers
are affected by many things in their lives, including discipline, boring classrooms, diet,
stimulation levels, allergies, medications, etc. A predisposition towards ADD may
be exacerbated by a combination of environmental factors to generate unacceptable
behavior. Parents of ADD children would be wise to examine these factors to see if
any are affecting their child. For example, I have spoken to a few parents who had
incredible success by removing certain foods from their child's diet. But CHADD
would apparently disagree that environmental factors contribute to ADD behavior. They have
posted a page which debunks certain "alternative" therapies but is silent
about scientific studies on omega-3 fatty acids and parent training, and on the success of
CHADD is partly funded by the manufacturer of Ritalin,
CIBA-GEIGY. They swear their agenda does not reflect this. But when you see
how incredibly biased their agenda is towards ADD being a "defect" which
requires medication, it's pretty hard to believe they're not being influenced by
See also: CHADD's Fact
Sheet on Alternatives: A Critique