The Trouble with Marilyn Wedge’s Analysis

I am not French, nor am I psychologist, but I am the American mother of three American children, one of whom has received an American diagnosis of ADHD and takes medication dispensed at an American pharmacy for this condition every day.

Marilyn Wedge, Ph. D., in her article in Psychology Today entitled “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” has inspired over 240 comments at this writing; so I don’t imagine I will add anything new to the conversation.  But because her article has invaded the internet with a vengeance, I am compelled to comment—for the sake of my son, for his peers who battle this condition daily, and for the American parents who are being flogged as permissive poisoners of their children’s bodies and minds.

I’ll start with acceding the fact that there are probably some things the French do better than us—speaking French comes to mind and, well, let’s be honest, cooking.  But beyond that I don’t think there is much productive about pitting one culture against the other—unless, of course, you take the next leap and remember that French parents are raising their children to thrive in French culture while American parents have to prepare their children to be successful here.

Wedge describes what she sees as the American propensity “to ‘pathologize’ much of what is normal childhood behavior”; and while I agree that many of the markers of ADHD (inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness) parallel those attributes of early childhood, it is disingenuous of her as a scientist not to examine and explore the cultural reasons why American parents are more apt to acknowledge ADHD in their children than their French counterparts—if that is indeed the case.  These reasons may, in fact, explain her opening statistical salvo and conclusion that ADHD is some kind of curse that “has completely passed over children in France.”  Perhaps it’s not so much that ADHD has “passed over” France but rather is not something readily or comfortably admitted to there.

And perhaps therein lies the author’s agenda.  In her article, she refers to children who exhibit ADHD symptoms as “troubled”; in fact, the name of her book is Pills Are Not for Preschoolers: A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids. Troubled—a word that is just a hop away from “disturbed,” “difficult,” and “unfortunate”—and not remotely the way I would choose to describe my son, the way he would describe himself, or the way society—least of all a children’s therapist—should be describing anyone.

And it doesn’t take a Ph. D. in psychology—French, American, or otherwise—to understand that.

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18 thoughts on “The Trouble with Marilyn Wedge’s Analysis

  1. Samantha, thanks for writing this. I would add to your term ‘disingenuous’ the term ‘irresponsible’. There seem to be many of these pseudo-scientific articles proliferating on the internet these days. Unlike the celebrity gossip that also proliferates the internet, these articles have the capability to do real physical harm. From articles about the negative effects of vaccines (completely disproved in the respectable medical community) to articles blaming parents for ADHD, these articles are, sadly, influencing parents of real children. These parents are not the blindly ignorant parents you may think they are (if such parents even exist) but are parents we know, parents who are educated, intelligent and who care about their kids. All too often they are taken in by this medical quackery and will withhold vaccines, or ADHD meds from their children and will directly harm their children by doing so.

    Because her article is so lacking in any scientific basis, I choose not to even enter into a discussion of the issues she presents. I would say shame on Marilyn Wedge and further shame on Psychology Today for printing an article that is without scientific backing and is clearly meant to be inflammatory and increase sales. . . .at the expense of American children. The one thing I would wonder is what happens to those French children with ADHD that receive no medication? Do they go on to become doctors, professors or scientists? Do they do well in school? Or are they relegated to non-academic careers and unable to reach their true potential? Funny how Dr. Wedge does not mention this. Maybe they do not reach their full potential. Maybe that is why they are “troubled”.

  2. Hmmm, have played with language a bit, and worked in other cultures a bit, I wonder if the interpreter, translator, choose a word that has one connotation in one language and is just one more word that doesn’t have a direct translation?
    Did she write in English?
    Were “troubled” the word she selected, perhaps “more homework” on its definition is in order.
    Peace,

  3. I’m so glad you wrote a post about this article. There is so much more to examine than Wedge did in her comparison, and the resulting article oversimplifies a complex, sensitive issue. I only hope that many other knowledgeable and professional people write thoughtful rebuttals that keep the conversation about the topic productive.

  4. I read Marilyn Wedge’s article today as someone had posted it on Facebook. I commented that I thought it was irresponsibly written. I am heartbroken that a mental health professional would fuel the stigma that ADHD is about bad parenting. In my search to find out just who Marilyn Wedge is, I found your commentary. Thank you for speaking out!

  5. I happened to be searching for information on Marilyn Wedge when I came across your blog post. Your post triggered a couple of questions. First, let me say that I am a special education advocate for fifteen plus years, a masters degree student studying clinical counseling, and mother of a young person with dyslexia. My experience is both personal and professional.
    My work has put in me hundreds of situations where a child is struggling and a school “recommends” ADHD, which I hope we all know cannot be “diagnosed” by the school. The result is usually, 1. A visit to a prescribing dr, 2. No blood test because none exist, 3. an Rx, 4. Glowing reports from the school of the fantastic change in behavior.
    What happens next is almost textbook. About age 15, things start to circle the drain. The meds start to “wear off” and the child begins to either act out or withdraw. Why? Because it was never ADHD in the first place, it was something else entirely. I have never had one client who was successfully medicated and graduated high school without having major issues. I would love to hear more about the family therapy work you did that found there was nothing you could do besides medication. Also, I would love to read the long term studies, say the 30/40 plus years, not condcuted by the pharmaceutical companies that indicate nothing is being permanentely altered in a child’s growing brain. Please share.

    What I find most fascinating is that most people who have children on stimulant medications, do not know that the same people who make the DSM changes all have been found to have stakes in pharmaceutical companies. Doesn’t anyone realize that this is a conflict of interest and that they are directly benefitting from every prescription that is written. Additionally, it appears most of the people who commented on this article, did not read any of her other work that discusses her approach. I love that people are so afraid to explore their own family dyanmics but are perfectly ok with medications. I understand the doctor should be trusted but sometimes they are not becuase they have been jilted by big Pharma.

    I mean, seriously, it doesn’t say anything to anyone that the United States has such a high rate of ADHD and prescription rate? I just don’t understand. I guess it is becuase I see so many kids that have a combination of home and school issues that are the real issue. The last possibility I think about is meds. I suggest everyone go read Mark Hyman’s work, Marilyn Wedges textbook, and the history of ADHD. This isn’t about French parents but American parents lack of desire to examine themselves.

    • Thank you for your comment. I suspect your parting remark is a generalization and not directed specifically to me since you do not know me, my child, my child’s medical history, or our family dynamics. That being said, it is my contention that generalizing in this or any arena borders on irresponsible. As a special education advocate, you understand, I am sure, that every situation has its own unique attributes. I am doing what I feel is best for my son. Others will choose different paths. But nothing productive comes from negativity, sarcasm, and finger-pointing.

  6. Just saw the article today. I agree with you wholeheartedly. As a parent of a child who struggled terribly with ADHD, do believe that those that call these kids troubled, difficult and so on….have never really been in the trenches. What they don’t understand is that these kids don’t want to be this way…they see friends navigating through life, it seems, with ease. This isn’t something you muscle through…just as one wouldn’t say to someone clinically depressed, ” Just think happy thoughts, be positive and smile…” One shouldn’t expect these kids to turn around because mom and dad set boundaries. sigh…. Because as we all know, parents of kids with ADHD don’t set boundaries…what a simplistic view. Thank you for standing up and writing about this on your blog. I am not saying that sometimes this isn’t over diagnosed..I think it is. However, to generalize and say this falls on the shoulders of the parents is just, well, ignorant and mean. To imply that the fix is simple puts the kids in an awful situation. If not treated…and yes, if behavior mod and diet work great… But if meds are needed and not given…these become the lost kids. Schools give up on them, friends give up on them….and worst of all….they give up on themselves.

  7. This is certainly one sided article but most people will miss the point she never made.
    It’s clear from reading the article that she had already decided that her hypothesis as factual. As a researcher I can tell you that the one elementary mistake researchers can fall into is to base their research on personal history/biases that leads them to their hypothesis as factual, and then they go out on a lazy journey to find information to create the illusion of facts. Now that is a clear disservice to the society and over all community.
    My evaluation of her article: Remember, I am not judging Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D. whole carrier by one article, but the article is by the author so it’s important to address what she completely missed.
    How I came to the above conclusion: That is because as an American she lives in a culture/society of hot and cold and we visibly can see it in her rant. We as political America see the world as Democrats or Republicans; we see the poor not getting enough help or poor are the one sucking up all our resources. This is the American psychic.
    Having said that, let’s move to what the article says. It clearly states that ADHD is a real deal and kids can certainly have it. So unlike Dr. Phil of America media, it’s not denying it existence but pointing out that Americans and French “Government” and “Power politics” deal with it differently. (Or perhaps French have a hard time admitting it?)
    Bias sets in: The author undoubtedly has a bias approach and it displays when she identified that kids diagnosed with ADHD are “Troubled”. As Americans we can certainly relate to her bias thinking.
    How as Americans can we relate? Examples: 1) Fat people are fat because they are lazy. I mean all he or she has to do is get off the couch and lose weight. 2) Poor people are poor because they are lazy. All they have to do is get off the couch, get off the food stamps and go work 3) Immigrants are taking away all American jobs! 4) Poor Americans are the reason we are in so much depth as America.
    Case and point: Calling kids with ADHD “troubled”, French kids better behaved (As if ADHD treatment has anything to do with that) & American parents with ADHD kids do know other forms of treatment but denying kids those holistic treatment. That is short sided for Marilyn Wedge with a PhD. I am certainly all for holistic approach and as a community psychologist I thrive from it and also use it with my clients; but her article is a “bashing approach” and classic case of creating a victim and then “Blaming the victim”.
    Her approach brings up basic facts of cultural and institutionalized differences between America and France but she chooses to use those differences to fuel her bias instead of coming up with an actual holistic response.
    Holistic response such as: 1) deep analyses of the cultural and institutionalized differences between America and France. 2) Analyses that can help her readers understand how culture, power politics and institutionalized pharmaceuticals play a role in American and French society. 3) Evaluation of both systems and how to drive out holistic benefits from these systems and provide her viewers with an evaluation report that will help us to move forward as a society.
    Case and point of my evaluation: Read her last paragraph and then read my evaluation of what her approach should have been. You will then see how she falls into the slippery slope of hot or cold.

    • Inasmuch as she starts off with a false statement before she even gets to the first line of the article – it is NOT true that French kids don’t have ADHD – it is clear right from the start that everything that follows must necessarily be taken with a grain of salt

  8. I guess she has a book coming out now so there is more buzz. I’m so glad you’re response is here. You are so much more ‘generous’ than I was when I read her article. I really like your grace and sense of humor here. Well said.

  9. I read Marilyn Wedge’s article on Facebook and thought I’d go in search of alternative opinions, it all sounded far too simple to me. I’m glad I came across your blog post, you give a reasoned counter argument based on your experiences as a parent which I appreciate. I’m a special ed teacher working in an international school, I don’t think medicating kids, especially when they’re very young is beneficial and I worry about long term use of the drugs. Young children are developing so fast that they may simply grow out of the perceived ADHD or they may respond to structured intervention; which is my job. Having said that, I’m sensitive to the needs of the parents such as yourself, who deal with a different person than I do at school. Medicating someone for ADHD isn’t about making the parent’s life easier, as Marilyn Wedge seems to imply, it’s about making the entire family’s life more manageable, happier and in some cases safer. No parent, American or otherwise, wakes up one morning thinking “man I wish I could give my kids more drugs”.

    I don’t get the impression Marilyn Wedge has done actual research into what she’s writing about. It’s all a bit vague; she’s chosen the facts which fit her argument and stitched them together to appear seamless. I would agree that diet is a factor, and routine helps but neither of these are exclusive to French people as the article implies. Are we to assume from the article that North American parents feed their children nothing but tater tots, McDonald’s and TV dinners? I can see how therapy would help a child with ADHD; if it provides them with a greater insight in to who they are and what they need as individuals then it will help them, but it will help any number of people with any number of conditions. Marilyn Wedge oversimplifies something which is far more complex, and should be considered on a case by case basis. She definitely shouldn’t be blaming whole cultures or the parents of children with ADHD for failing, because you haven’t. You’ve stepped up and done (and continue to do) something tremendously challenging, help your children live their lives to their full potential in spite of their ADHD (and nationality if Marilyn Wedge is to be believed).

  10. Wedge is a hack. Period. Out to create a name for herself and lucrative speaking fees.

    Her alleged training is as a “social psychologist.” She has published nothing in the professional literature, only anti-psychiatry screed-like books.

    She is a big fat nothing. A charlatan who has seen how easy it is to exploit public ignorance on a very complex topic: ADHD.

    A pox on her self-promoting house.

  11. Thank you. As wife to a wonderful man who had ADHD as a child, an aunt to a wonderful nephew with ADHD and a teacher who has seen many confused and misinformed parents, I aopreciate your response to this article.

    • I might also add that my personal experience of children diagnosed correctly with ADHD and treated correctly with medication are in no way changed or affected detrimentally by medication, rather they are freed to be their true selves; free to be children.

  12. Samantha, thank you for writing this! I have ADHD myself, I am 45 and I didn’t get diagnosed until I 24. I dropped out of high school, struggled with jobs, and in lived in poverty for many years–so I have a lot of experience with the “deficits” involved with ADHD, and a real stake in the REAL science behind it.
    I had it out recently with another woman of the same ilk as Marilyn–an “educator” named Ronit Baris on the “Family Matter’s” web page who wrote an article called “how to cure a forgetful kid.” She had parents at their wits ends, basically describing ADHD, but she refused to even bring up the topic of ADHD, in fact, when I did bring it up in the comments section, she told me she could “cure” adhd with rules, boundaries, and good “chocolate.” I kid you not. These women make me so stinkin’ mad, I can barely stand it. They are doing disservice to children and adults with ADHD, and spreading pseudos-scientific misinformation about a disorder that seriously affects my life and the lives of others. Grrrrrr! I resent being caught in the middle of this battle for public awareness on the subject. As if I need more people to tell me that ADHD doesn’t really exist!
    Sorry, I didn’t mean for my post to turn into a rant. I just…can’t believe how angry I feel after reading her article.

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