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How some self-described adult 'ADHDers' stifle the debate about child labelling and drugging

Many adults diagnosed with ADHD are never properly informed about the unscientific nature of the diagnosis and the risks of treatment. They mistakenly believe there are scientifically valid diagnostic tests and that the near universal temporary effects of stimulant medications (i.e. amphetamines) are unique to those with ADHD. This constitutes an abuse of their right to 'informed consent'.


Nonetheless some adults are fully informed and still choose to self-identify as ‘ADHDers’ and take prescription amphetamines. Arguably, because they are adults, that is their right. However, their choice does not legitimise ADHD as a 'neurodevelopmental disorder' or suggest that the drugs are safe and effective for either children or adults in the long-term.

Unfortunately some (not all) of these adult ADHDers believe their choice qualifies them to speak on behalf of children. Typically they argue that more children need to be diagnosed and treated (i.e. labelled and drugged).

Frequently these adult ADHDers also describe themselves as ‘neurodiverse[1] and respond aggressively to scientific criticisms of the labelling and drugging of children as if it is a personal attack on them by ignorant ‘neurotypicals’. I know this because I have been derisively called ‘a neurotypical ableist’ by numerous Adult ADHDers who find what I have said or written offensive.


It is of course their choice to take offense and label themselves, but the false dichotomy they set up (i.e. neurodiverse v neurotypical) perversely twists the original meaning of ‘neurodiversity’.


The term was first coined in the 1990s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer who wrote:

Neurodiversity is an idea that takes into account variations in the human brain regarding learning, mood, attention, sociability, and other mental functions that doesn’t pathologize the conditions, meaning they are not regarded as abnormal or unhealthy but as differences to be understood and worked with. It largely rejects the medical model of disability.[2]


Singer was encouraging the acceptance of difference. However, the subsequent unscientific division of the population into ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘neurotypical’ groups is the antithesis of inclusion, and it encourages the medical model of disability. It sets up two groups, the normal (non-ADHD), and the abnormal (ADHD), and without a shred of diagnostic evidence assumes that the cause of abnormal behaviour is abnormal brain function that requires normalising via pharmaceuticals.

The irony of this name calling by self-declared ‘neurodiverse ADHDers’ is that it is their opponents - we critics of ADHD child labelling and drugging - who are genuinely advocating neurodiversity. We are trying to foster a broader, more accommodating and inclusive definition of what it is to be a ‘normal child’ (i.e. it’s normal to be different).


We know that some of the children labelled ADHD do have real problems and need help. However, we also know that ADHD is an unhelpful, unscientific, vague label and that so-called 'medications' do not address these problems and frequently cause significant harm.


In contrast the subset of adult ADHDers described above are engaging in divisive identity politics and ‘othering’ by promoting the labelling and drugging of non-compliant children.


Identity politics - with its core tactics of name calling and offense taking - must not be allowed to stifle the much needed scientific debate about childhood ADHD. Like so many other aspects of the ADHD debate, this 'neurodiverse v neurotypical' BS needs to be called out.

by Martin Whitely PhD Editor ADHDisBS.com 7 November 2021


References [1] ADHD Aware Website, What is ADHD? Neurodiversity and other conditions https://adhdaware.org.uk/what-is-adhd/neurodiversity-and-other-conditions/ (accessed 15 August 2021) [2] Singer J. Why cant you be normal for once in your life? A chapter in Disability Discourse, Mairian Corker Ed., Open University Press, February 1, 1999, p 64

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