Avery, a member of Penguin Group USA, has recently published A Disease Called Childhood, by Marilyn Wedge. Marilyn has a PhD in psychology and works as a family therapist.
In 2014, fully 11% of American children had received a “diagnosis” of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is widely believed by these children, their parents, the press, the public, and government agencies, that this loose collection of vaguely defined behaviors constitutes an illness – specifically a chemical imbalance in the brain, which is corrected by stimulant drugs.
Dr. Wedge’s book is a timely reminder that the “science” on which this perspective rests is highly questionable, and that there are alternative perspectives and alternative ways of working with children.
Here are some quotes from the book:
“From my point of view, behavioral problems such as aggression, disobedience, or other behaviors commonly associated with ADHD, such as inattention and hyperactivity, are signs that something is wrong in a child’s life – either extreme trauma, like abuse or poverty, or something more typical, like a lack of discipline or a difficult family transition. Children are not fully developed mentally or behaviorally.” (p xii)
“There is another aspect of ADHD that worries me. As stimulants have come to be prescribed for ever larger numbers of children, our society’s very perception of childhood has changed. Instead of seeing ADHD-type behaviors as part of the spectrum of normal childhood that most kids eventually grow out of, or as responses to bumps or rough patches in a child’s life, we cluster these behaviors into a discrete (and chronic) “illness” or “mental health condition” with clearly defined boundaries. And we are led to believe that this “illness” is rooted in the child’s genetic makeup and requires treatment with psychiatric medication.” (p 17)
“A serious problem for teachers is that an ADHD diagnosis exempts a child from having to take accountability for his behavior.” (p 91)
“Each individual has a unique story that ultimately reveals the true reasons for troubled behavior. A child’s individual story is both a clue to the cause of his troubles and a signpost that guides us to help him.” (p 113)
“And in our medicalized society, deviating from the norm tends to be interpreted to mean there is something “biologically wrong” with the child.” (p 123)
“Using medication to suppress the life story of a child who is suffering from trauma subjects him to yet another form of maltreatment.” (p 137)
“If we realize that children can be overactive and impulsive for any number of reasons, we can avoid reducing their behavior to a simplistic diagnosis of ADHD.” (p 195)
“When parents provide limits and don’t give in to whining and screaming, children learn patience. They learn to tolerate a little bit of frustration, which is an important skill in life. Living with structure from an early age, children find comfort in rules, and parents naturally maintain and evolve these rules as the child develops.” (p 202)
“Medical researchers have not yet found a biochemical cause for ADHD on which they agree. Despite sixty years of heavily-funded research, there is no laboratory test that indicates the presence or absence of ADHD in a child.” (p 217)
“The brain has become the scapegoat for all sorts of childhood problems.” (p 218)
A Disease Called Childhood is a carefully researched and highly readable book. The author outlines the history of the ADHD “diagnosis”, and draws attention to the flawed research, and questionable promotional tactics that have spuriously pathologized and drugged millions of children, not only here in the US, but also overseas.
Marilyn Wedge draws unstintingly, and with evident compassion, from her wealth of professional experience, and stresses the supreme importance of getting to know our children and providing the love and structure that they so desperately need.
I strongly recommend this book for parents, teachers, and physicians who write prescriptions for this so-called illness. The book will also be helpful for anyone who is concerned about the extent to which pharma-psychiatry is systematically pathologizing human existence.
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Disclosure: I have no financial links to this book or to any books/materials endorsed on this site.