A new report published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics indicates that children who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more than three times as likely to develop ADHD than kids with other injuries.  This finding raises some critical questions for me.  First, ADHD is typically described as a neurobiological disorder of genetic origin.  How then can injury to the brain ”cause” ADHD, since according to ADHD advocates, it’s been in the child all along?  Second, if kids who suffer TBI are three times more likely to develop ADHD, then why isn’t anyone hypothesizing that perhaps the ADHD-like behaviors being observed in these kids are not innate, but in fact due to the brain injury.  Or to put it another way, perhaps what we’re looking at in these kids is TBI and not ADHD.

I’ve criticized the diagnosis of  ADHD over the years because I believe that a number of other influences are involved in the behaviors associated with ADHD (e.g. diet, media, stress, lead poisoning, boring classrooms, etc.), and different kids are going to have different reasons for these behaviors rather than one over-arching ADHD diagnosis.  So now, apparently, we can add TBI to the list of confounding factors with respect to an ADHD diagnosis.

Of course, this makes perfect sense:  injury to the brain, and in particular to areas in the prefrontal cortex which control executive functions like inhibition, decision-making, and organizational skills, would cause problems related to these functions, which are the behaviors associated with ADHD.  But what bothers me is that ADHD is considered axiomatic in today’s fast-paced world and the TBI is just treated as an overlay, when in the case of the kids in this study, it appears to be the real culprit.  The authors of the study refer to this ADHD as ”secondary” ADHD (SADHD).  Isn’t this just a fancy way of saying it’s not ADHD, it’s something else, in this case TBI?  I think we ought to use Occam’s Razor, and keep things as simple as possible, not have two or three diagnostic categories (ADHD, SADHD, TBI) where one would do very nicely here.

For more on my criticisms of the ADHD hypothesis see my book:  The Myth of the ADHD Child, Revised Edition: 101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion.

This article was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.

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4 Responses
  1. Tom Armstrong

    I’m 62 and have Tourette Syndrome that was not diagnosed until I was 25, I went through Hell! TS includes ADHD and OCD.

    Eventually I became an engineer; I have an MS/CS degree. BUT my passion is tutoring kids in math, especially special needs.

    I just found Dr. Armstrong in a random Google search… how? Dr. Armstrong and I share a lot. My name is also Thomas Armstrong!

  2. Jennifer Goldwasser

    How can I find a doctor to believe me? my daughter suffered a head injury with PCS which were 3 years later (still present) re-diagnosed as ADHD and sensory integration disorder. They are dismissing my concerns of a prolonged healing of the head injury and now have her labeled with ADHD! Because the liability of the negligence witch caused the injury it is important to get an accurate diagnosis but it has been impossible and our lawyer is being very dismissive too. The doctors she has seen dont seem to even know about SADHD…
    Thank you

  3. It sounds like you need a new lawyer and new doctors. I don’t know where you live, but I’d suggest you spend some time on the Internet finding researchers and/or doctors who know about the issue that you could contact, and they might be able to refer you to someone in your area. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone with expertise in SADHD. Good luck in your journey!

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