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.