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Michael B. Laskoff

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Being Famous Doesn't Make You an ADHD (ADD) Expert

Posted: 08/09/09 05:21 PM ET

I'm just back from a wedding, which prevented me from catching Real Time with Bill Maher until today. And I have to say that I'm delighted that I didn't watch it Friday night because I would have been too riled up to sleep. Bill Maher and his guest Arianna Huffington were talking about ADHD (ADD) like experts when clearly they're not.

The subject arose when Maher raised the topic of over-medicated America -- a fair point. Huffington used this as an opening to raise the topic of ADHD. She disclosed that teachers in her children's school had wanted her kids to take ADHD medication, which she linked to the propensity to over-medicate in America. In many well-to-do communities, this certainly occurs, but this is not the whole story. A far larger problem than the over-diagnosis of ADHD is under-diagnosis. As a result, many children and adults with ADHD never get the help that they need, including medication.

As someone who has the disorder and benefits from taking Vyvanse, I feel an obligation to point out that equating a genetically-caused mental health disorder like ADHD with an avoidable excess (over-medication) cheapens the discussion of both. In fairness, most people only know ADHD by reputation, so I thought that I'd share something of the reality. Hopefully, it will explain why medication is so very important to so many people with the condition.

One, the ADHD brain develops in an atypical fashion when compared to the population at large. Those of with the condition are literally wired differently. As a result, many things which most people take for granted are difficult for us.

Two, everyone experiences ADHD symptoms -- e.g., impulse control, inattention and organizational deficits -- at least some of the time. The different for those of us with ADHD is the frequency, duration and depth of these states. In our case, the symptoms are very likely to disrupt our ability to succeed in rather important arenas like school, work and long-term personal relationships.

Three, discipline and routine can help people to control the symptoms of ADHD but are not always sufficient. That's why Vyvanse (similar to Adderall) was such a revelation to me: it has helped me to achieve the capacity to focus that most people take for granted. That's why I take it daily.

Four, ADHD is subtle and therefore easy to dismiss. This is because: there's no single, clear-cut test for ADHD; it's popularly regarded as a childhood disorder; and it's over-diagnosed.

Unfortunately, none of this changes the fact that over 10 million adults have ADHD or the reality that medication can help many of them to lead happier, more fulfilled lives. Of course, if you don't have ADHD, it's hard to imagine what a difference the right medication makes.

Mr. Maher and Ms. Huffington, please continue to discuss ADHD, but first consider using your prodigious and powerful network of experts to get the facts right first. So much focus on abuse can obscure the reality that ADHD medication can help many people lead happier, fuller lives.

 

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