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#33: Book review | ADHD Does Not Exist by Richard Saul

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In today’s episode, ADHD Parenting Coach Siope Kinikini discusses the book, ADHD Does Not Exist by Richard Saul.

The idea that ADHD does not exist is a polarizing statement for many, which is why we wanted to review it. We wanted to understand why he was drawing that conclusion and what we could learn from him.

In the last 20 years, there has been a considerable increase in children and adults diagnosed with ADHD and being prescribed medication. Behavioral neurologist Richard Saul wanted to understand the rise and what it meant.

Leading Richard Saul to believe that there are symptoms that look like ADHD that aren’t ADHD and the importance of getting the correct diagnosis. If the diagnosis is wrong, you could be giving your child something that makes their symptoms worse. 

His big push is to take a look at the ADHD symptoms and to rule out other issues that could be presenting the same symptomology before diving directly into an ADHD diagnosis and medication. For example, trauma or sleep issues have many similar symptoms to ADHD.

Understanding an ADHD diagnosis allows parents to include behavioral treatment for ADHD that gives kids the tools they need to addresses the symptoms. 

It’s okay to get multiple perspectives and to continue to do so as your child grows to address the symptoms they are exhibiting. 

We do not believe that ADHD does not exist. We know that it does. 

We do agree that parents, and clinicians, need to be careful of jumping directly to an ADHD diagnosis and medication without taking a good look at all the symptomology and ruling out all possibilities. We also agree that behavioral interventions are a vital part of a child’s ADHD treatment plan has it helps them learn to deal with symptoms.

If you would like to read the book yourself, you can purchase it here:


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Episode Transcript

This is episode 33.

Just so you know, Smarter Parenting may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this document.

Smarter Parenting welcomes you to our podcast series, The Parenting Coach for ADHD. Here to heal and elevate lives is your parenting coach, Siope Kinikini.

Hello, my friends. How are things going? I hope everyone is doing well today. Today actually is a really bright day. It’s a good day. The sun is out, which is nice. I woke up super early this morning because there were a couple of things that I needed to do and it was nice to be up before the world was awake because there’s something about early morning that’s super peaceful. And I honestly believe there almost seems to be more time in the morning than there is late at night.

When I was in college I tended to stay up late and do projects and I learned really quickly that if I actually went to sleep and woke up the next morning, it almost seemed like I could get more done in the morning.

It just seems to time just seem to stretch out a little bit longer in the morning. But I think, I mean, obviously time doesn’t change for anything, but I think it’s just that your brain and the overall function of your brain is able to do more once you rested it and you can actually focus a lot better.

I think that that definitely is something for ADHD children that if you haven’t, just evaluate their sleep and encourage them to get enough sleep. Because sleep actually can help quite a bit with the symptoms of ADHD.

Today actually, what I’m talking about has to do with the symptoms of ADHD. I’m reviewing a book that came out in 2014 by Richard Saul. And he is a neurologist, behavioral neurologist, that practices in Chicago.

He wrote a book that I thought the title was just fascinating. And at the same time, it made me a little angry inside when I read it. The book is ADHD Does Not Exist.

Now, for somebody who has ADHD, when you read something like that, it’s just super dismissive. It’s like it doesn’t exist. Okay, so my struggles are not real then and what I’m going through is not real? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Because part of me is like, “Uh-uh, no way.” Yet, I thought it was important for me to read it in order to gain a little bit of insight into why he reached the conclusions that he did in this book. Now, I don’t know if you’ve read the book or not. I don’t know what you think about the book.

It did cause quite a bit of ire with a lot of people who struggle with ADHD because they found the same thing that I felt when I first read the title which is that’s pretty dismissive, right?

I’ve been struggling. It is a lifelong struggle and what you’re saying is that’s not real. Anyways, I had to put that on the shelf in order to sit back, read through it and evaluate exactly what he was trying to say and what he’s trying to communicate.

While the title is dismissive, I think it’s a little dramatic. I think he’s a little dramatic in the title. Yeah, because that’s pretty bold. I think they did that in order to sell books maybe. I don’t know because I think something with a different title maybe would be less controversial. And at the same time, it does describe, to some extent, what he means in talking about the book.

I wanted to preface this by saying that back in 2014, The New York Times reported that from 2008 to 2012, a number of adults were taking medication for ADHD symptoms and it increased during that time too around 50, by 53% and it nearly doubled actually with younger Americans.

Now, this is just those in America. Meaning that more and more stimulants or drugs were being given to adults and children during that time period. His evaluation was, “Okay, what’s going on?”

What I do want to say is that the arguments that he makes in the book are largely, there are other symptoms that look like ADHD, but are not ADHD. We need to focus in on what those are and those treatments if we are focused on on the symptomology, those treatments may not include stimulants.

It’s kind of an anti-drug book. Like don’t use drugs for your kids because it may be something else. What I love about the book, and there are things that I do love about the book. What I love about the book is that it does raise the questions of diagnoses and the importance of getting the diagnoses right. Because if you get it wrong, you could be giving your children something that actually adds to the problems.

Medication, for example, is not really a solution and that it resolves all the problems. It does help with the symptoms and reduces the symptoms, but there should be something in addition to that to help resolve the behavioral problems.

That part of the book I did enjoy. That part of the book I thought was super important. I feel like parents who just go to one doctor and get the diagnoses and then stick with it, that there could be a problem with that.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous podcast too that sometimes, a medical professional will receive the medical records from another professional and see that, “Oh, well they’ve already diagnosed with ADHD. I believe that they did a good job so we’re just going to continue on this treatment plan.”

When in fact, I think it’s more helpful to get different perspectives on something that’s like ADHD where you may be prescribing some type of stimulant, like Ritalin. I think it’s important to get independent views and to narrow down what specifically is happening with the child.

I think it that even using from different disciplines. ADHD. What he stresses in there is that it can be misdiagnosed super easy by professionals and so the care needs to be taken and focusing in.

He gives examples of patients that he has had where they have reevaluated and looked at specifically what needed to be done and how to treat those symptoms and that it was not ADHD. It was something else that looked like ADHD.

Now, if you look at the current DSM which is the manual that clinicians used to do, actually give diagnoses out to clients and to patients, you’ll find that it’s changed over the years.

Initially, I think it was back in 1934 and the 30s when we were dealing with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. That’s, it’s a long span of time, but when that started happening, that’s when drugs were being used to address those issues.

It’s just continued overtime where it’s like, “Oh, your kid is behaving this way, we’ll try this drug.” And, “Oh, do this, this will solve your, this will solve the problem, blah-blah-blah.”

It’s continued that way and the name of ADHD has changed over time too. I mean, back then they just call it hyperkinetic disorder or hyperkinetic and in some areas of the world, they still call it that hyperkinetic disorder.

Then it came to the 1980s where they separated that and the revised version of the DSM had. You can have ADHD and then you can have ADD. And then they revised the manual again and now it’s all combined into one where it’s just ADHD and you can have an inattentive type or a hyperactive type.

It’s changed overtime and then the drugs have changed overtime. The argument made in the book is that those things that have been pre-established before have just continued on without challenging some of those thought process in going forward.

There’s almost like this underlying kind of belief anyways in the way that I read the book. Now, you may come up with something different that it’s being influenced largely by pharmaceutical companies which I wouldn’t put it past them.

They do want you to buy a product. It’s a product for them. An underlying idea that pharmaceutical companies are driving and pushing this thing along to promote this idea that children have ADHD.

If that’s true, with the increase of ADHD medication for adults and for children from 2008 to when was it? 2012, they’re probably making a killing. His argument in the book is, “Look, you should really evaluate what the symptomology is and determine if this is ADHD or if it could be something else.”

Now, what I did like also about the book is he did give examples of what it could be which is really great. Now, as far as book reading, I like to read books, but it wasn’t really a great read for me.

It wasn’t exciting and somebody who is struggling with ADHD, I can only do sections at a time. It wasn’t engaging enough for me to just sit down and read it through and get through it really quick, but it did have some interesting points in the book where I feel like the book is destructive again, as in the title and in the dismissiveness of whether or not ADHD exists.

To flatly come out and just say it doesn’t exist, yeah, really. I don’t know, I don’t know about that. One of the things that I definitely think is important for parents to do is to really evaluate their child’s symptomology and really get multiple opinions from separate professionals, not one that will read the medical record and just adopt what the other professional has stated, but one who will actually run their own tests and determine if this is true or not.

Because again, I think there was a previous podcast where I had done an interview with a dentist and there are some things that happen where a child can exhibit irritability and hyperactivity or inattentiveness. 

All of them are symptoms of ADHD, but it’s because of lack of sleep or there are dental issues going on where they’re unable to really get a full night rest.

Doing a full gamut evaluation before prescribing medication is really, really recommended. I can’t recommend that enough before you determine, “Okay, this is what we’re going to try and this is what we’re going to do.”

One of the things that he emphasizes is also the dangerous effects of medication. Long term, short term. In some cases, we don’t know the long-term because some medications, we just don’t have the data to know and so it really, really is important for parents to take the time to do the assessments correctly, get the information correctly before moving on and making a decision towards medication.

Now, I am not anti-medication, I think medication has its place, but I am also skills, pro-skills and pro helping your child learn how to cope and deal with their inattentiveness or their hyperactivity in other ways in addition to the medication should medication be needed and of course, there’s a place for medication.

There is a place for it. It’s just for me, I just want to be sure that I explore and I do everything that I possibly can on my end before I give my child a pill because parents want. There are no parents that really want to do that unless they feel like they’ve tried everything.

At least that I know of. Parents are very cautious and careful. Anyways, that’s a review for me. If you want to pick up the book, I would suggest actually getting it from a library, a public library, I don’t know if it’s a book that I would necessarily keep on my shelf, but if you get it from the library, you can read it and you can see if you like it yourself.

I’m a big advocate of public libraries. We do fund them with our tax money. I think why not take advantage. Do that, check it out or borrow it from a friend, you can download. I think there’s an ebook available, I’m not sure because you can get that for cheaper or if you want to order the book, Amazon of course or anywhere else, you can order the book.

That’s it from me. I am super grateful for you. Thank you for tuning in and we will be continuing to cover some additional topics on ADHD I think are super important. If you have a need and would like individual coaching, sign up for it on Smarter Parenting.

We have a coaching option where we can do it online and I can coach you through specific issues that you may be struggling with your child. There are also behavioral skills that are available on the Smarter Parenting website that you can use with your child who struggles with ADHD.

We are moving actually towards this, a club membership for people and parents who have children who struggle with ADHD where we can support each other. That’s coming down the pipe in Smarter Parenting.

Stay tuned and if this has been useful, please rate it and share it with a friend that you think would benefit from it. That’s it from me. Have a good one and I will see you later. Bye.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Free 15-minute ADHD Coaching mini-session

Episode 16: ADHD and dental issues with Dr. John Peterson

Episode 17: Confirmation bias and ADHD

Episode 25: Treatment options for ADHD

ADHD Does Not Exist

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Podcast Transcript

The transcript text is below. You can also download the PDF file of the transcript here.