ADHD 2.0

by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. & John J. Ratey, M.D.

A person with ADHD has the power of a Ferrari engine but with bicycle strength brakes.

p. xvii

ADHD 2.0 is an book about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder from the authors of the popular Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder—from Childhood through Adulthood. It purports to give up-to-date recommendations for recognizing and coping with ADHD.

I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, so I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can. Someone recommended this book to me when we were discussing my diagnosis.

I like the analogy I quoted above. It’s helpful. And of course I like thinking about my brain as a Ferrari. But overall I have some issues with this book.

Everything seemed OK until page 40, when out of nowhere the authors cited a chiropractor, Robert Melillo, who now says he can cure ADHD and other disorder with balance training.1 Seeing a chiropractor cited for curing mental disorders sent my antennae right up. It wasn’t hard to find this 2018 investigative report by NPR, which concluded there was no evidence for his claims.

On the very next page Hallowell and Ratey recommend another company, Zing Performance. Like Melillo’s business there is some foundation for the theory behind the treatment, but the treatment itself is unproven and controversial.

It would be one thing if Hallowell and Ratey had written something like “The underlying theory is sound and this treatment seems to address it, so we think it could be worth a try. But no promises.”

Instead, this is what they said about Melillo’s Brain Balance Achievement Centers:

[I]n our opinion, they do provide a valuable and usually successful treatment for selected children with more severe ADHD or autism.

p. 40

And this is what they said about Zing Performance:

[T]he gain is clear. These exercises, if done faithfully, do indeed work the vestibular system hard, and many report subsequent improvements in the symptoms of ADHD.

p. 41

There isn’t much disclaiming in those endorsements, even though it seems like there should be quite a lot of it. So after Chapter 3 I stopped trusting Ratey and Hallowell.

The pseudoscientific trend continued. In chapter 5 they recommended the Kolbe Index, a personality test that claims to measure your “innate abilities.” And like other personality tests—Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, etc.—it’s about as scientific as astrology. In chapter 6 they recommended the Feingold diet, which is not supported by good evidence of effectiveness. And OmegaBrite, an expensive omega-3 supplement. (I took this for a while and found it highly effective for upsetting my digestive system.) And CBD, of course, the snake oil du jour. And the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, a cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) device billed as a “superdevice for depression” (not ADHD, notably). I mean, come on.

I’m no scientist, but I am skeptical. Something’s off, here.

I didn’t learn anything about ADHD from this book, and given all the apparent pseudoscience I don’t think I would trust anything in it, anyway. If there is any redeeming quality in the book it is the authors’ appeal to reason in the next-to-last chapter, on medication, which anyone who gobbled up the bunk in the previous pages may especially need to hear.

Confidential to the person who recommended this book to me: Even though I did not like this book you have been extremely helpful to me as I learn about ADHD and how to live with it. Thank you and I’m grateful for you.

  1. From his book, Disconnected Kids: “ADHD, dyslexia, and even autism, among others, can become a thing of the past.” ↩︎

What I Mean When I Say I’m Autistic

by Annie Kotowicz

When I read We’re Not Broken I felt like I understood more about autism as a public health issue, but not necessarily what it means to be autistic. It turns out this book is what I was looking for.

Through the lens of science and her own experience, Annie Kotowicz describes what it means to be autistic.

Autistic people process information differently, because our brains are hyper-connected in some places and less connected in others.

I miss what others catch, and I catch what others miss.

What I Mean When I Say I’m Autistic, pages 15 and 19.

I don’t want to tell anyone what to read (yes I do), but if you have an autistic person in your family, workplace, or circle or friends, I think this book will be really helpful. Maybe that person would even be willing to read it first and circle the parts that especially apply to them, and cross out the parts that don’t, as Kotowicz suggests.

We’re Not Broken

by Eric Garcia

Someone close to me was recently diagnosed with autism and asked me to read this book to better understand them. I’m glad they did, because I didn’t realize how little I knew about autism or how to think about it.

Some takeaways:

  • Autism is not actually on the rise—alarmingly or otherwise. Basically, we were really bad at identifying it and now we’re better at identifying it.
  • Autism is fairly common. According to the CDC about 1 in 36 people is on the spectrum, making autistic people one of the largest minorities in America.
  • Autism is a disability, not a disease. It probably can’t be cured because, as advocate Jim Sinclair said, “it is not possible to separate the person from the autism.”
  • High functioning and low functioning are misleading, unhelpful terms. People with autism have different support needs, and the amount of support someone needs does not necessarily correspond to their ability to function.

And most important of all, autistic people must have their own say in their support options and autism policy. Even well-meaning parents and other neurotypical advocates are not a substitute for self advocacy.

The book reminded me of another disability rights advocate, Haben Girma, who I interviewed on The Lawyerist Podcast in 2019. Both Girma and the author of this book, Eric Garcia, advocate for the social model of disability—that it is society’s job to remove barriers to access by disabled people, rather than seeing them as broken people in need of mending.

Seems right to me.