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ADHD Pioneers Track Their Greatest Inspirations: "Who Influenced You?"


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Russell Barkley, Ph.D.

I was influenced to study ADHD while an undergraduate student in psychology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill by my mentor, Donald Routh, Ph.D., who was studying hyperactive children. I was fascinated by the research and especially by these dysregulated children. I did my honors research with him, and continued in the field by focusing my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation on this topic — in particular, objectively measuring ADHD symptoms and examining medication effects. I won the university’s Distinguished Dissertation Award for that research.

Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., often called the “Father of ADHD," is a retired clinical scientist, educator, and practitioner.

[More from Dr. Barkley: How the DSM-5 Fails People with ADHD — and a Better Way to Diagnose]

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Edward Hallowell, M.D.

I had never heard of ADD until 1981, when I learned about it at the start of my fellowship in child psychiatry. If you’d told me before 1981 that someone had attention deficit disorder, I would have thought you were referring to a psychoanalytic term for a person who’d not received enough attention growing up. But when I learned the actual definition of ADD, it hit me like a slap across my psyche. In one of the great “Aha!” moments of my life, I realized not only that I had the condition myself, but that the medical deficit-disorder model left out all the good parts, like creativity, curiosity, tenacity, high energy, an entrepreneurial spirit, spontaneity, an infectious sense of humor, a refusal to give up, and an array of other assets I would piece together over the ensuing decade, culminating in my writing a book with my friend, John Ratey, M.D., in 1994.

In writing that book, I had to work way outside the box, because the straight medical deficit-disorder model left no space for anything positive, useful, or gifted. The condition was regarded as an unmitigated blight. Yes, the negatives were real and could ruin your life if you didn’t take care. But the positives shone through the gloom if you looked for them. I saw them, I lived them, and I made it my business to tell the world about them. I saw it as my mission to set people free from the shackles of ignorance and a misunderstood condition. I saw in ADHD what others did not see.

Edward Hallowell, M.D., was an early proponent of a strengths-based approach to ADHD. He is co-author of the groundbreaking Driven to Distraction series. (#CommissionsEarned)

[More from Dr. Hallowell: 3 Areas of Research Advancing Our Understanding of ADHD]

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Нина Виноградова via Getty Images

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Patricia O. Quinn, M.D.

I was first introduced to ADHD in 1970 as a senior medical student at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C. At that time, the disorder was called Minimal Brain Dysfunction. In 1972, I met Judith Rapoport, M.D., a child psychiatrist, and partnered with her in a research study involving 100 extremely hyperactive boys and their response to the medications methylphenidate and imipramine. Over the years, I diagnosed and treated many boys and girls with ADHD. As these girls went through adolescence and entered adulthood, I saw the unique issues they faced. I also dealt with the mothers of my patients and found many of these women also had ADHD. My friend, Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., and I decided to focus on this group that was being ignored by both clinicians and researchers. The work has been extremely rewarding and I feel we have made a difference in the lives of many women around the world.

Patricia O. Quinn, M.D., is a pediatrician, author, and speaker who devoted her career to studying girls and women with ADHD.

[Read: Why ADHD in Women is Routinely Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Treated Inadequately]

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William Dodson, M.D.

I'd have to say that I most admire two partners: Paul Wender, M.D., (often called the “Dean of ADHD”) and Frederick Reimherr, M.D., who together established ADHD as "a thing." The original diagnostic criteria, called the Wender-Reimherr Scale, and now called the Wender Utah Rating Scale, made them the professional targets of a thousand "lesser lights" who envied their work. I most admire the courage that it took in the early years to stand up and present their findings, which many people still don't appreciate today. If they had been bullied into backing down to save their academic careers, we would not be here celebrating now.

William Dodson, M.D., was one of the first practitioners to specialize in adults with ADHD.

[More from Dr. Dodson: ADHD Is a Whole-Life Experience. The DSM Needs to Reflect That.]

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Peter Jensen, M.D.

During my medical school residency at the University of California San Francisco, I was selected to be in a workshop with researchers, one of whom was Keith Conners, Ph.D., who developed the Conners ratings scale for ADHD. I was so inspired that I wanted to do research. There were many arguments about which treatments were most promising. Parents needed answers and pediatricians needed answers. I wanted to go to the National Institutes of Health and lead big studies that would change the field. So I did. I set up a large study involving seven universities and the NIH, and we developed a protocol testing medicine, therapy, and both together. We did that study for 16 years and published more than 150 papers.

We learned that medicine was more powerful than therapy if done well; the problem was that most medicine was — and is — done poorly. Doctors don’t use the right doses —usually kids are way underdosed and are not covered for the whole day — nor do they support and counsel parents. Medicine, if well done, is twice as effective as therapy, but adding therapy to complement medication is even better. We learned that two-thirds of kids, if they get that combination, can look like any other kid in the classroom. That’s why I founded REACH: to train doctors in proven therapies.

Peter Jensen, M.D., is the principal author of the landmark Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD and founder of the REACH Institute, which trains clinicians in ADHD.

[More from Dr. Jensen: The Future of ADHD Research Looks Like This]

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Ellen Littman, Ph.D.

Working with children in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I saw girls with behaviors similar to hyperactive boys, but less aggressive and more talkative, giggly, and antsy. Finding negligible research on the topic, I attended conferences, seeking consensus for my clinical observations. Instead, in the early ‘90s, I heard a keynote speaker describe girls as “ADD wannabees.” During the Q&A, I argued with him passionately. In the lobby, I was approached by doctors Patricia Quinn and Kathleen Nadeau, who asked me to write a book about girls with ADHD. These were two brilliant and renowned women who were steadfast in their resolve to raise awareness of girls with ADHD. Their validation, determination, and experience were simply thrilling. We were prepared to fight the good fight.

Then, at a conference in 1995, I looked over the shoulder of a woman carrying a book entitled Women with Attention Deficit Disorder (#CommissionsEarned).  I said, “Whoever wrote that book is a genius.” She said, “I wrote it.” It was Sari Solden, a woman courageous enough to share her experiences with and understanding of inattentive ADHD. We all shared a vision: to champion the acknowledgement of girls with ADHD.  Almost 35 years later, it’s turned out to be more difficult than we imagined. And yet we persist.

Ellen Littman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and co-author of the book Understanding Girls with ADHD (#CommissionsEarned).

[More from Dr. Littman: ADHD in Women and Girls — Why Female Symptoms Slip Through Diagnostic Cracks]

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Rear view of a happy little school boy raising his hand in the classroom

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Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.

The biggest influence on my decades-long dedication to the field of ADHD is not an individual but a confluence of circumstances. My focus on ADHD initially resulted from the passage of what later became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I was inundated by requests from parents to evaluate their child for ADHD and to help them better understand their child's needs. Public schools were mandated to provide supports and accommodations to students with ADHD and parents were eager for their academically struggling children to receive this help. That same year, my preschool-age daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. She was one of the few young girls whose ADHD was obvious. The intersection of the sudden demand for ADHD services, with my growing recognition that many close family members were affected by ADHD, led to a fascination with the field.

Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., is an author and researcher focusing on ADHD in women and in older adults.

[More from Dr. Nadeau: The Fate of Females with ADHD Is Improving Too Slowly]

A Young Man Turns his Headlamp to the Night Sky in Morocco. Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
A Young Man Turns his Headlamp to the Night Sky in Morocco. Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

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Ari Tuckman, Psy.D.

Without a doubt, the person who had the biggest influence on how I understand ADHD, diagnose and treat clients, write, and present is Russell Barkley, Ph.D. His response inhibition and executive function model of ADHD shaped not only how I understand ADHD, but also human nature more broadly. He has been a tireless researcher and advocate, telling the world to take ADHD seriously. People with ADHD and their family members sometimes didn't like what he said because it scared them, but he rarely said something without the data to back it up. And he knew that sugarcoating the truth doesn't help people in the end. I see my place in the field as the bridge, the one who took his brilliant research and made it more accessible and applicable for clinicians and consumers, so it could have an even bigger impact.

Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., is a psychologist, sex therapist, and author.

[More from Dr. Tuckman: How ADHD Warps Time Perception]

Photo by Lisa Fotios: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-newspapers-on-wooden-table-18287623/

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Walt Karniski, M.D.

In 1970, I was a sophomore at the University of Kansas when Professor Hamilton began class by reading us an article from The Washington Post that said 5 to 10 percent of all Omaha students were receiving “behavior drugs” for ADHD. I remember my indignation and, at that moment, I vowed to switch to pre-med and swore that I would be the one to rid the world of this monstrous practice. Much later, however, I learned that the article was in error: 5 to 10 percent of children in special education classes were receiving behavior drugs, not all the students in the school district. This was not surprising, given that ADHD frequently presents with learning disabilities, autism, and other developmental disabilities. This incident spawned my career as a developmental pediatrician. And 40 years later, I look back on a career in which I have treated approximately 5,000 children with ADHD, using what The Washington Post called “behavior drugs.”

Walt Karniski, M.D., is an author, medication expert, and pediatrician.

[More from Dr. Karniski: What Are the Long-Term Effects of ADHD Medication on the Brain?]

ADHD Professionals: Next Steps

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