Concept of the Month -- August 2008

The Alleged Relationship Between Attention Deficit Disorder and Criminality

I have seen numerous attempts both by professionals and lay people to link attention problems to criminality. Unquestionably, a person can have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and commit crimes. This does not mean there is any causal linkage.

Youngsters with character disorders and adults with personality disorders are often said to have problems focusing, paying attention.

One must consider whether there is motivation to pay attention or whether there is truly an "inability" or physiological handicap. Take a youngster diagnosed with a conduct disorder and watch him in a classroom. He may have no interest whatsoever in the academic proceedings. He is distracted and distracts others. Put him in front of a videogame requiring concentration, and he performs beautifully. He can pay attention for hours at a time. No medication or other treatment for attention deficit will interest him in what he finds dull and boring.

Attention deficit disorders are overdiagnosed in the general population. They rarely apply to youngsters with oppositional defiant disorder or other conduct problems. Appearances should not be taken as symptoms of an underlying disorder The underlying personality makeup of the individual is the critical issue!

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