In the last several days lots of activities have me focused on public attitudes and public understanding about AD/HD and related disorders.
CHADD has worked this week with potential legislative sponsors on a renewal of U. S. Senate recognition in September of AD/HD Awareness Day. This coming Saturday, I speak to the National Medical Association's section on psychiatry and behavioral science on public attitudes and AD/HD and special education placement issues. Last Saturday, CHADD conducted a public forum targeted to the African-American community in Prince George's County, Maryland, where community attitudes were discussed. And we have radio talk show host Michael Savage and his colleague Selwyn Duke making declarations this week about the "fraud" of autism, added to their previous declarations about the "fraud" of AD/HD, and the reaction of family members to these declarations.
Family support groups, such as CHADD, have a mission to increase awareness of these disorders to foster a greater level of acceptance and understanding of the very real and significant challenges individuals with disorders and their families face. Growing up and living with substantial disabilities in daily life are emotionally, physically, and financially draining. My family is so fortunate to have supportive extended family, a caring community of faith, financial and health insurance resources, and informed communities and networks. With all of this, it is still difficult to deal with our challenges, expectations, emotions, and pain. Negative, hostile, antagonistic public attitudes from some individuals don't help.
We are all aware of the organized groups that deny the existence of mental disorders and declare that these disorders are fraud. But others in society who are not apparently connected with these organized anti-psychiatry groups foster this notion that AD/HD, autism, and other behavioral challenges are "willful" actions by "brats" with inadequate parental direction. My son's 17 years of difficulty are not willful; he is a delightful and kind person, and he has loving, supportive parents and family.
Just after the last presidential election, Armstrong Williams declared: "There is no scientific basis for the diagnosis of AD/HD. If a child is bored, distracted, and or boisterous in the classroom, he is often believed to be suffering from AD/HD, or to say, childhood."
This week, Michael Savage declared that autism is a "fraud" and a "racket", adding that "in 99% of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out."
Part of me says let's just ignore such ignorance and get on with helping our family member grow, develop, and live as normally as possible. Let us work with the professional community and fellow families to build supports. But a mission of CHADD is to rely on our professional advisory board to share the published scientific evidence to counter the spread of misinformation. So part of me says prepare a blog on this subject.
To defend themselves against the public outrage from autism groups across America, from advertisers pulling their financial support of his program, and from radio networks discontinuing sponsorship of his program, Michael Savage and his supporters say that they are just trying to attract public attention to overdiagnosis of autism, AD/HD, and other behavioral disorders. Okay, then let us focus on science-based diagnosis, whether health care professionals actually practice using evidence-based diagnostic guidelines, and the consequences of persons mildly challenged with some symptoms of these disorders. That is a legitimate and important discussion. But why demean individuals, children, and their families with loaded words such as "fraud," "racket," and "brats." This causes tremendous pain. Mr. Duke actually defended Mr. Savage's attack on the existence of autism by stating, "It seems as if taking offense is the recreation of choice in modern America." A radio host declares that autism and AD/HD don't exist, they are frauds, they are caused by lax parenting because "they don't have a father around to tell them, ‘don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life.'" And then they complain because those of us living with family members who have disabilities take exception. This is an interesting logic. Who is the heartless and insensitive party in this? Mr. Duke then quickly declares that this is all caused by "an irresponsible psychiatric community" and "trigger-happy diagnosticians" whose "most egregious example of their handiwork is ADHD, a mythical condition that has become a handy excuse for bad behavior."
We need to focus on the published evidence of science. We need uniformity in professional diagnosis, adhering to evidence-based guidelines. When Lawrence Diller, MD, states that many families come to him because their children have mild symptoms of AD/HD and want an edge up in school, let us discuss severity in daily functioning and significant failure to meet the daily expectations of life. But don't call us "frauds" and don't call our children "brats." Whatever happened to the notion of Christian charity in our society-of putting ourselves in the shoes of others and having empathy?
CHADD will continue to work with the professional community in enhancing the science behind disability. CHADD will continue to convene persons with disorders and their families to exchange life experiences and provide mutual support. Some of us will continue to speak out against ignorance whose purpose is to harm.
Stay strong as you deal with challenges of daily life. Seek out support.