Honoring an ADHD Pioneer: Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D.
The research and teachings of Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., have changed the world’s understanding of what it means to have ADHD and to treat it effectively. Here, Dr. Barkley’s peers reflect on his impressive legacy.
- ADHD and executive function are inextricably linked.
- Emotional dysregulation is a core facet of ADHD from childhood through adulthood.
- ADHD — especially when undiagnosed and/or untreated — poses serious mental, psychological, and physical health risks that may shorten an individual’s life expectancy.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, thanks in large part to the research and teachings of Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D. Over his four-decade career, Dr. Barkley published more than 270 research papers and articles, wrote 23 essential ADHD books, delivered more than 800 addresses, and changed the world’s understanding of what it means to have ADHD and to treat it effectively.
In late 2021, Dr. Barkley announced he was retiring as clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, and so ADDitude asked his colleagues to share their reflections on his contributions to the world of ADHD — research, treatment, understanding, and acceptance. Here they are.
“I sometimes joke that Russ was collecting data on the attention to task of his classmates in elementary school while the rest of us were playing Wild West! Russ has devoted his prolific career to a singular goal: gathering and interpreting any and all knowledge about self-regulation and self-control throughout the life span. His seminal work has helped accurately define ADHD, its associated risks, adult outcomes, and evidence-based treatments. His tireless effort over four decades has influenced professionals throughout the world and bettered the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and adults. I am thankful for his friendship and support.”
— Sam Goldstein Ph.D., Editor in Chief, Journal of Attention Disorders
“Russ brought hyperactivity/hyperkinesis into the modern world of ADHD through tireless research; relentless advocacy; and evidence-based, yet clear communication with clinicians, scientists, policymakers, teachers, and families. His stature as a scientist/clinician is unmatched, and his abiding interest in disseminating the truth (rather than the prevalent myths) regarding ADHD has marked his long and distinguished career. Throughout, he has formally and informally mentored a host of students, trainees, and new clinicians and investigators — including me, back in the day(!) — in unforgettable ways.”
— Stephen P. Hinshaw, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Department Chair 2004-2011
“Dr. Barkley has been remarkably generous with his time and talents, and his contributions to the lives of children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD are immeasurable. I can think of no single professional in our field who has inspired more clinicians and researchers. Dr. Barkley will forever be an inspiring figure and leader in the ADHD field.”
— Kevin M. Antshel, Ph.D., ABPP, Professor of Psychology and Director, Clinical Psychology program, Syracuse University
“Reflecting on the career of Dr. Russell Barkley is a daunting yet stirring task. It is all too easy to forget that, from the start of his career, Dr. Barkley had a hand in forging the evidence base upon which our current understanding of the experiences of children, teens, and adults with ADHD is founded. What is more, he gave voice and credibility to the stories of those with ADHD and their loved ones, and to effective treatments, often in the face of pushback. Some of the skepticism was fair-play as part of scientific consensus-building, though he pulled no punches in terms of what works and what does not.
“Armed with a keen intellect and unparalleled knowledge of the research and theory underlying ADHD (a good deal of it his work), Russ faced down more vocal and public opposition, at times from sources with indefatigable antipathy towards the notion of ADHD and psychiatric and psychological treatments. When imparting his knowledge to public audiences hungry for accurate information, he paid them the ultimate respect by sharing the facts, figures, and recommendations — including some inconvenient truths — in the same manner as he did in rooms filled with professionals.
“With grace and aplomb, he long carried the mantle as one of, if not the most recognizable, figure affiliated with ADHD. He was always at the ready to furnish a quote to a media outlet, provide a referral, patiently hear out an embryonic research idea, invite a colleague to collaborate, write an endorsement of a new book, disseminate research summaries to colleagues, and any number of ways to support good works that will improve the overall quality of science and services available to those with ADHD and their loved ones. And this guiding principle is likely his noblest legacy that will extend well beyond his retirement.”
— Russell Ramsay, Ph.D., ABPP, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Co-Director/Co-Founder, University of Pennsylvania Adult ADHD Treatment & Research Program
“One of Dr. Barkley’s most impactful contributions to the field was his promotion of the use of evidence-based practices for the evaluation and treatment of ADHD in children and adults, and the world-wide dissemination of these practices. He reached more scholars, teachers, and parents than almost any other mental health researcher. He published first-rate, innovative research; wrote scholarly, readable books (the “ADHD bibles”); produced videos consumable for practitioners, parents; and teachers; gave countless workshops and presentations, reaching all corners of the world, teaching others how to implement evidence-based practices; and devotedly mentored his trainees, who continue to further amplify his work. While Russ is retiring, his work will continue to inspire scholars and the ADHD community for decades to come.”
— Julie Schweitzer, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California Davis School of Medicine
“I cannot overestimate the contributions Dr. Barkley has made to the field of ADHD. He has achieved the ideal in clinical research by turning his voracious curiosity and clinical expertise into a body of high-quality evidence that has shaped the field and made life better for the millions of people with ADHD and their loved ones.”
— Stephen V. Faraone, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair for Research, Department of Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University, President, World Federation of ADHD
“Dr. Russ Barkley is Herculean in the world of ADHD, both as a practitioner and as a scientist. As a practitioner he has given us books and a newsletter that explain ADHD in children and adults, and that teach parents, teachers, and other practitioners how to deal with it. As a scientist, he is a leader in the field who has provided deep understanding and provocative theories about the nature of executive functions, as well as prolific amounts of research on a wealth of topics including mortality rates in ADHD, driving risks, sluggish cognitive tempo, and many others. His active participation in the field will be profoundly missed.”
— Jeanette Wasserstein, Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai Hospital
“Dr. Barkley is truly a towering figure in ADHD, encompassing research, treatment, training, and public education about the disorder. He has made seminal contributions to virtually every field, including longitudinal outcome; assessment; neuropsychology; pharmacotherapy; behavior therapy; adult ADHD; health outcomes; and even the history of the disorder. His personal qualities are equally extraordinary. Ever compassionate, he generously gave his time, counsel, and support to countless patients and families; students, trainees, and colleagues. He will have a profound impact on the field for generations to come.”
— Mary V. Solanto, Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Hofstra/Northwell School of Medicine
“It is difficult to overstate the impact Russ has had on the field of ADHD. His advocacy for those who study, treat and/or are personally affected by ADHD is unparalleled. His voluminous and eloquent writings and lectures about ADHD, as well as his assessment instruments and treatment manuals, have become ‘go-tos’ for countless researchers and clinicians. His outreach efforts have opened the door to science-backed care and changed lives. Russ is a champion of new researchers and has inspired so many with his warmth, grace, and generosity. All of us in the field of ADHD are indebted to Russ. His impact will be enduring among the scientific community and the many individuals and families affected by ADHD.”
— Linda J. Pfiffner, Ph.D., Professor in Residence, UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences
Russell Barkley, Ph.D.: Further Reading
- Read This: DESR: Why Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation is Central to ADHD (and Largely Overlooked)
- Learn: 3 Clarifying Principles for Raising a Child with ADHD
- Understand: ADHD in Adults Looks Different. Most Diagnostic Criteria Ignores This Fact.
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