Book Review: The Science of ADHD…

The Science of ADHD – a guide for Parents and Professionals By Chris Chandler

I remember my first encounter with a person who suffered from a known case of ADHD. He was fifteen, and I was warned that he might be a bit wild. I cleared my decks for action and broke out my counter-measures. He arrived, came into my house, sat down and prepared himself for work. We spent a pleasant hour discussing his work and making plans for future sessions. I met with no behaviour that disturbed or worried me. So, on the basis of an admittedly exiguous experience of the subject, I began to read this book with at least a certain amount of scepticism.

The author is Principal Lecturer in Psychobiology at London Metropolitan University. He has created a compendious book, which appears to contain everything which is known about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He aims it at both professionals and parents, which leaves me with an uneasy feeling that he may not have fully understood the differences between these two targets. His writing style is typical of the academic, with statements such as: ’The use of neuropsychological accounts of ADHD has been put forward as a possible endophenotype linking the disorder to genes. The jump between gene and disorder is too great, and the endophenotype is an intermediate level of explanation that may be simpler to evaluate.’ It provided me with some hard reading and difficult thought. If I were a parent with a child who presented the behaviours which made me suspect that he or she had ADHD I doubt whether I would be able to feel that I understood him or her any better after reading this book even with help of the glossary thoughtfully provided at the end of the book. If, on the other hand I were a clinician I should be very grateful to the author for the depth and completeness of his writing. He is thorough, and wide-ranging in the research with which he is acquainted.

Chris Chandler has no doubt about the objective existence of the condition which has come to be known as ADHD. However, he accepts that it is less easy to speak of it with the specificity and detail which apply to other categories of disease or areas of scientific study. He accepts that ADHD is a variegated condition to which it is more difficult to assign a cause than, say, flu or measles. He devotes chapters to research into the genetic origins of the condition and its possible genesis in psychological pressures, as well as possible approaches to treatment, using pharmacological interventions on the one hand and purely psychological treatments on the other.

The author is clearly an expert. His knowledge of the human brain, the nervous system and the research which has been done into the condition, and related behaviours, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is formidable and cannot be dismissed. In reviewing his book I have to acknowledge and comment with respect on the depth and detail of his knowledge and his analysis. I found it hard to read, partly because of the unfamiliar scientific terminology and partly because the condition of ADHD seemed to be rather like a will-o’-the-wisp, difficult to pin down and uncertain of diagnosis. Presumably it has always existed, long before there were professions of psychology and psychiatry, and if the establishment of the idea that a discrete collection of behaviours can be called a ‘syndrome’ or a ‘disorder’ leads to a more multi-disciplinary approach to difficulties with the comportment of young people and a readiness to avoid resorting immediately to crude regimes of punishment and confinement, so much the better. One thing which this book succeeds in doing is deflecting attention from a too specific approach to treatment. The whole array of treatments is examined and strengths and weaknesses are fully explored.

As I said earlier, a parent looking for a treatment for a child who exhibits difficult and inconvenient behaviours would, I think, find this a difficult and confusing book. However, a clinician, faced with an unhappy parent and a fractious child (usually a boy, for some reason) would find this a valuable vade mecum.

I have met enough youngsters in my time in education to have ideas of my own on most aspects of childhood. I have to respect the range of concepts in this book, but I do not share all of them. To me, the tics and fidgets, the acting-up and the misbehaviour, and especially the impulsive outbursts which characterise ADHD are little more than evidence of terminal boredom, frustration with adult behaviour and one or other of the natural human responses to being powerless, subordinate, and/or unable to change things which adults change at need. I don’t have any scientific basis for my beliefs. Rather, they are based on a long life spent observing children.

Chris Shute
Christopher Shute is Copy Editor of the Centre of Personalised Education journal and trustee of Centre of Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now (CPE-PEN). After 25 years secondary teaching Chris has researched and written widely on education. He was a regular contributor to Education Now News and Review and the current PEN Journal. He is author of Compulsory Schooling Disease, in addition to books on Alice Miller, Edmond Holmes and Bertrand Russell. His latest work is Joy Baker: trailblazer for home-based education and personalised learning. (See Educational Heretics Press for details of all these titles  ).

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