- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

While media attention has recently heightened awareness of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a few of my conservative brethren have focused their attention on the wrong details and unfortunately chosen to characterize this disorder as a "myth."

Anyone who believes that ADHD is not a legitimate disease clearly doesn't have it. Nor have they experienced the agony of watching a child struggle with its challenges on a daily basis prior to diagnosis and treatment that literally turns lives around for both children and adults. Like millions of other parents, I have seen it first-hand. It is time for its detractors to rethink this issue

Although it is a condition officially recognized by the world's leading medical experts and institutions, including the American Medical Association, U.S. Surgeons General, and American Academy of Pediatrics, no other illness receives more prejudice than does ADHD. When its symptoms and effects are misrepresented and misreported, the implication is that victims of this disease are somehow at fault. Sadly these children are already at great risk as they struggle with academic requirements and appropriate peer interactions. Would we find a victim of juvenile diabetes at fault for the dysfunction of his pancreas? Of course not. Then why is it deemed acceptable to imply that children (and adults) with symptoms of ADHD are somehow responsible for the visible manifestations of their dysfunctional brains?

The root causes of ADHD are not completely understood, but it can be accurately diagnosed and scientific evidence proves it exists. For example, studies show the brains of these children are smaller than those of healthy kids, and size variations in the right hemisphere of an ADHD brain also create an abnormal symmetry. Other studies show ADHD brains do not produce enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the transfer of chemical messages. This anomaly in dopamine production occurs in the area directly associated with attention and emotive behavior.

Approximately 5 percent of school-age children suffer from ADHD, which is three to four times more prevalent in boys. The reason for this disparate occurrence is yet unexplained, but has nothing to do with suspicions by some editorialists that the likes of Gloria Allred have conspired to drug boys into behaving more like girls. As conservatives, we celebrate the physiological differences between boys and girls and eschew the radical feminist notion that gender differences are created by societal pressures. ADHD is no exception to this rule boys are different, and something in their brains makes them more susceptible to the disorder.

The government-run school system is indeed an abysmal blob always looking for the path of least resistance. Along those lines, some have suggested that ADHD is nothing more than a plot hatched by the education establishment to keep children still in their seats. This unfortunate observation is insulting to the responsible parents who recognize and seek treatment for their child's consistent, detrimental and make no mistake, painful inattentive and impulsive behaviors.

This is no more evident than in my own house, where both of my children have ADHD my daughter being more affected than my son and my own self-awareness tells me that I will have to get up from my chair at least three times to do something else in order to focus on this opinion piece.

Fortunately for my children and 20 million others like them, there are treatments available including medications, when needed that allow them to cope with the symptoms of ADHD so as not to be labeled by their teachers or peers as "weird" or "stupid." Drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall quiet abnormal activity in the frontal lobe and allow sufferers to control their impulses and focus their attention.

Studies indicate that these medications are completely safe when properly administered. Unfortunately there are scattered pods of alarmists and fringe groups buying into disinformation about ADHD and thus playing directly into the hands of trial lawyers who see the "myth of ADHD" movement as a post-tobacco litigation meal ticket shaking down the pharmaceutical companies.

The ideological community in which I reside is all about individual responsibility and families. We know that lack of accountability is costly to taxpayers and grows government, and denying the existence of ADHD has a direct impact on these cornerstone principles. Untreated ADHD contributes to lower college graduation rates, unemployment and marital instability known causes of increased government dependency.

Being a responsible parent includes doing what is medically necessary for the health and success of a child. When conservatives criticize parents for seeking treatment for ADHD, they bolster the arguments of trial lawyers that it is somehow nothing but a big scam, and are then in danger of propping up those self-appointed busybodies we normally tend to ridicule. Instead we should work to ensure that this group of children is also not left behind.


Kerri Houston is national field director for the American Conservative Union and the mother of two ADHD children.

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