Q: It appears that there is an epidemic of kids diagnosed with ADHD. Is it for real?
A: ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is now estimated to affect up to 9% of school-aged children. These children are taking medication for their disorder. But this high rate of ADHD only exists in North America. In France, for example, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD is only ½ of a percent. How can this be? Are our children sicker or being exposed to harmful toxins that French children are being spared from? No, it appears that the difference is in the method of diagnosis. French child psychiatrists look for underlying issues that cause the child distress, not in their brain but in their social context. They treat what we diagnose as ADHD, not with medication but with either psychotherapy or family counselling. While the French see the problem as an issue of the family and focus on fixing the family dynamics, North Americans pathologize, and see the child as disordered, medicate, and try to adapt the environment to suit the child.
The French adopt a holistic attitude. One difference that many local moms will agree with is that the French consider nutritional causes and believe that certain foods and food colourings contribute to unruly behaviour.
Another reason that French children are diagnosed with ADHD less frequently is that the philosophy of child rearing is different. French children are expected to follow rules and structure and are consequenced if they do not. Congruent with my own beliefs, French parents believe that children feel safer when they have clear boundaries and the expectations on them are high. It would appear that at least in French families this more rigid method of parenting works and saves children from ADHD.