I must admit to some initial skepticism about an ADHD book aimed at both "parents and professionals." My skepticism grew when the author introduced himself in the preface as a parent of a child with ADHD. Parents of children with disabilities are experts on their own children, of course, but they may overestimate their knowledge about the disability conditions generally, or view their child's unique characteristics as definitive of the conditions, or even romanticize the conditions. But I must also admit that my worries were unfounded; Chris Chandler's new book, The Science of ADHD, is an excellent introduction to the vast scientific literature on ADHD, and parents as well as professionals will benefit from reading it.
It seems almost a cliché to say that a book is both sophisticated and accessible, but Chandler's book really is both of these things. First, the prose is simple and clear, and the most elementary concepts in statistics, genetics, and neuroscience are patiently explained, so that parents and other nonprofessionals will be able to intelligently follow discussions of research studies. At the same time, Chandler covers complex ideas (e.g., different kinds of behavioral inhibition; reward deficiency theories of ADHD) and integrates information from a remarkably large number of studies. It is the latter feature that makes the book worth reading even for professionals who consider themselves to be ADHD specialists; Chandler cites almost 1300 references (the reference list is over 80 pages long), and some of the more fascinating studies were new to me.
Never dogmatic or arrogant, Chandler is pleasantly evenhanded about almost everything controversial: the genetic origins of ADHD, the pros and cons of stimulant medication, and much else. He seems to believe that it is useful to view ADHD as a disorder of the brain, but even his review of the neuroscience literature includes scattered references to critiques, leading a reader to wonder how trustworthy the neuroscience studies are. Certainly, the book's neutrality is its greatest strength, allowing readers to understand the contributions and limitations of studies that they hear about in the news or elsewhere. But the neutrality is also something of a weakness, especially for parents who may wish that Chandler would take a clear stand on difficult issues and offer an informed recommendation. (I myself was hoping for more opinions, even though I might have disagreed with them!)
I would also note that despite his general agnosticism, Chandler seems too dismissive of claims that many diagnoses of ADHD are invalid. Although he notes that assessment tools for ADHD are far from perfect (here he seems to hold them against a biomedical standard), he tells us that science has shown ADHD to be "a real and valid disorder." True enough, but what does this really mean, and what evidence supports such an assertion? On a related topic, although he dutifully reports ADHD prevalence estimates as high as 16%, Chandler does not indicate any surprise or skepticism about these figures.
But these complaints are small when compared against the tremendous achievement of The Science of ADHD. The book is a masterful summary of the extant literature on ADHD, sophisticated enough for professionals and accessible enough for parents and other laypeople. It deserves to be read by anyone with a personal or professional interest in ADHD. Parents should read it to become inoculated against the many myths and simplistic ideas about ADHD that they will encounter. Professionals should read it as a stimulus to examining recent and classic primary source documents on the topic. For either audience, the subtitle's description of the book as a "guide" is true in the fullest sense of the word.
© 2011 Benjamin J. Lovett
Benjamin J. Lovett, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Elmira College, where he teaches classes on a variety of topics in psychology and his research focuses on the conceptual and psychometric foundations of psychoeducational assessment and psychiatric diagnosis.