I’ve known for a while that there was something off about how so many children are being diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). I’ve been in several situations where a parent warned me that his or her child had ADHD… only to find that this child seems to be perfectly normal. “But that’s because you see that child when he is on his medication,” you might argue. That’s what I used to think as well, but certain experiences have made me start to think differently. I recently delved into the ADHD issue after reading some interesting articles on the subject.
The first one that really got me interested in this issue is called “The Drugging of the American Boy” by Ryan D’Agostino, editor-in-chief of Esquire.com. The article begins:
By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It’s time we recognize this as a crisis.
Sounds like just any other conspiracy theory article, right? However, there’s more. Shockingly, D’Agostino claims that ADHD stimulants can even cause bipolar conditions in a child who had previously shown no reactions of such a kind. I checked – and, yes, it’s one of the side effects. Other side effects include weight loss, trouble sleeping, paranoia, face tics, and suicidal thoughts. And this is what we’re giving to our children.
The amount of stimulants, anti-depressants, and other medication being sold is increasing exponentially. Sounds like a gimmick to get the drug market more money, but maybe that’s just me.
I’ve been reading books on teaching boys… these and many sources written by male educators will often have at least one section on how boys are being punished for being boys. Boys aren’t going to act like girls… and yet, they are being seen as having ADHD or some other disorder, often for just being themselves. From the same D’Agostino article…
“We are pathologizing boyhood,” says Ned Hallo-well, a psychiatrist who has been diagnosed with ADHD himself and has cowritten two books about it, Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction. “God bless the women’s movement—we needed it—but what’s happened is, particularly in schools where most of the teachers are women, there’s been a general girlification of elementary school, where any kind of disruptive behavior is sinful. What I call the ‘moral diagnosis’ gets made: You’re bad. Now go get a doctor and get on medication so you’ll be good. And that’s a real perversion of what ought to happen. Most boys are naturally more restless than most girls, and I would say that’s good. But schools want these little goody-goodies who sit still and do what they’re told—these robots—and that’s just not who boys are.”
D’Agostino is not the only person who sees the ADHD problem. Jerome Kagan, renowned Harvard psychologist, and 22nd place in a list of prominent psychologists (above Carl Jung and Pavlov), believes that the “ADHD epidemic” is “largely a fraud.” He, too, notes that children are drugged for just being slightly more active or having problems in school. Why? Because handing out drugs like candy is the easiest option. A better option, Kagan suggests, would be to actually help children with the issues they are facing, and helping them control their anxiety. Classifying children as being mentally ill only makes these children lose their self-confidence.
A study from the University of Florida shows that children who are diagnosed as having ADHD need to move during school activities in which they are accessing the working memory of their brains. Doesn’t letting children move around during their work sound a lot better than drugging? Sounds like social therapy could help a lot…
Back to the topic of the drug industries trying to make money, it is interesting to note that other parts of the world do not diagnose ADHD anywhere close to as heavily as the United States does. In France, the amount of students who are diagnosed and medicated is less than 0.5% compared to the United States’ at least 9% (x). According to Marilyn Wedge, French doctors prefer to turn to psychotherapy or family counseling rather than medication. They also look at changing diet. The French prefer to look at underlying symptoms rather than putting on a bandaid, like American “doctors” do. It also has to do with how children are raised – to be respectful, have self-control. An analysis on how the French media portrays ADHD notes that “[t]here were fewer articles mentioning medication other than asserting that medication must be combined with psychosocial interventions” (Ponnou and Gonon). From 2000-2009, UK media had a similar view in dominance, pointing to causes such as “inadequate parenting practices and social problems such as poor school systems, excessive TV exposure or high level of premature birth.”
Onto that biological basis… premature and underweight babies are three times more likely to develop ADHD (x). Family stressors and childhood trauma are also linked to the disorder. Children in foster care are especially a case of stress leading to ADHD (x). For such children, behaviour therapy, not medication, is recommend as the first treatment for preschoolers (and is recommended along with medication for school-aged children). The French biological model of ADHD emphasizes “a child’s response to emotional distress or as a defence mechanism against depression and trauma” (Ponnoun and Gonon). Other studies have pointed out links between ADHD and parents suffering from mental disorders, poor relationships between parents and children, and excessive exposure to video games and television. Interestingly, this meta-analysis notes that out of 59 articles on school failure of ADHD children, only 11 specifically suggest that medication can help with this problem.
Anyway, that’s just a few thoughts from me. I’ve only just started to dip my toe into this issue… and I’m sure it’s only just the beginning of going down the rabbit hole.
Curious Mind Magazine. “Renowned Harvard Psychologist Says ADHD Is Largely A Fraud.” https://curiousmindmagazine.com/harvard-psychologist-says-adhd-largely-fraud/
D’Agostino, Ryan. “The Drugging of the American Boy.” https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a32858/drugging-of-the-american-boy-0414/
Dubovsky, Stephen L. “How to reduce mania risk when prescribing stimulants.” https://www.mdedge.com/currentpsychiatry/article/61019/how-reduce-mania-risk-when-prescribing-stimulants
Ponnou, Sébastien and François Gonon. “How French media have portrayed ADHD to the lay public and to social workers.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5510191/
Science Daily. “ADHD kids can be still, if they’re not straining their brains.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170918222249.htm
— “Children in foster care three times more likely to have ADHD diagnosis.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151023083721.htm
—. “Family stressors and traumatic childhood experiences linked to ADHD diagnoses in children.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161011130010.htm
Rapaport, Lisa. “Preemies and underweight babies three times more likely to develop ADHD.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-adhd-preterm-underweight/preemies-and-underweight-babies-more-likely-to-develop-adhd-idUSKBN1EC2P5
Wedge, Marilyn. “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201203/why-french-kids-dont-have-adhd
Anna is a future teacher who is concerned with the pathologizing of boyhood and masculinity in today’s society.