Book Review:  A Disease Called Childhood, by Marilyn Wedge

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.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Disclosure:  I have no financial links to this book or to any books/materials endorsed on this site.

  • Zoe

    Excellent! The growing diagnoses of ADHD amongst children is extremely worrying. I have friends who work within pre-school settings, who have told me that children as young as five queue up during the mornings for prescriptions of ‘Ritalin’. As a parent, I feel deeply saddened by this.

    Young children are indeed hyperactive for many reasons. Particularly when faced with difficult circumstances, or when they have ingested foods/drinks containing e-numbers. Sometimes, when they don’t get what they want, or when they are seeking attention. It’s alarming that children are being medicated, and diagnosed with a ‘disorder’ at such a young age. So very wrong.

  • Zoe

    Excellent! The growing diagnoses of ADHD amongst children is extremely worrying. I have friends who work within pre-school settings, who have told me that children as young as five queue up during the mornings for prescriptions of ‘Ritalin’. As a parent, I feel deeply saddened by this.

    Young children are indeed hyperactive for many reasons. Particularly when faced with difficult circumstances, or when they have ingested foods/drinks containing e-numbers. Sometimes, when they don’t get what they want, or when they are seeking attention. It’s alarming that children are being medicated, and diagnosed with a ‘disorder’ at such a young age. So very wrong.

  • Zoe

    Excellent! The growing diagnoses of ADHD amongst children is extremely worrying. I have friends who work within pre-school settings, who have told me that children as young as five queue up during the mornings for prescriptions of ‘Ritalin’. As a parent, I feel deeply saddened by this.

    Young children are indeed hyperactive for many reasons. Particularly when faced with difficult circumstances, or when they have ingested foods/drinks containing e-numbers. Sometimes, when they don’t get what they want, or when they are seeking attention. It’s alarming that children are being medicated, and diagnosed with a ‘disorder’ at such a young age. So very wrong.

  • all too easy

    “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 (CORRECT-IT IS CALLED ADHD) unless – either extreme trauma, like abuse or poverty, or something more typical, like a lack of discipline or a difficult family transition is the cause– Those things must be ruled out before a diagnosis can be made. . Children are not fully developed mentally or behaviorally.”

    Ms. Wedge, by all means, offer the scientific support for your point of view. Nothing new in your oft repeated and misleading list. The biological proof stares you in the face. Antis can’t see what is perfectly obvious. You asked Dan Gottlieb if having his mother sit next to him while he did his homework would have helped him concentrate. My mother went to school with me and sat next to me all day and I had absolutely no idea what was taught. She must have told me to pay attention at least every few seconds. I tried. I kept trying. I could not.

    ADHD is a disorder. It doesn’t respond to will power. If someone has a problem paying attention, she does need to try harder. A person with ADHD cannot try harder and expect improvement. Obviously, she has an organic deficiency that makes it impossible for her to affect change on her own.

    What you and your ilk fail to understand is just this: denying medication proven to be safe and effective that is what deprives a kid from having a full childhood. That is the truth. That is the whole ball of wax. That is what you don’t get.

    No qualified M.D. treating kids with ADHD wants to suppress childhood energy and a developing personality.

    Let me suggest you interview adults with ADHD who were not diagnosed ant treated as kids. Pick a few dozen people who lived with undiagnosed ADHD throughout their youth and then received proper medical intervention later on when they were fully grown up. See what they have to say.

  • Phil_Hickey

    Zoe,

    Thanks for coming in. It’s tragic indeed, as is so much of what psychiatrists call treatment.

    Best wishes.

  • all too easy

    “…most so-called ADHD children are not receiving sufficient attention from their fathers who are separated from the family, too preoccupied with work and other things, or otherwise impaired in their ability to parent. In many cases the appropriate diagnosis is Dad Attention Deficit Disorder (DADD)”. Phil’s pal, Breggin.
    Breggin, let’s see your evidence that these ADHD kids are not receiving sufficient attention from their fathers. I am holding my breath.
    You are a disgrace.

  • cledwyn slip slap n slide

    Have a day off, “all too easy”. You don’t have to be annoying everyday of your life.

    Proven to be safe and effective? Not true. Whatever short term benefits the drugs might be said to have, they are overborne the ravages of long-term usage.

    You implore people in the recounting of your life-story (refracted, perhaps, by your desire to abdicate responsibility for having allowed the modest faculties of attention and concentration, apportioned to you by nature, to atrophy through disuse, eprhaps because of the inordinate amount of time you lavish upon activities such as arguing over the internet, as well as others that do not put too great a strain on said faculties, or that do not require their investiture at all) to show more understanding for you and the disease you suffer from, yet you spend a huge amount of time attacking people who you claim to be suffering from an illness.

    So let’s just say we do have this illness you keep imputing to us, where is the compassion and understanding you expect from others for your disease? If you believe that our opinions are symptomatic of an underlying illness, then we are not to blame, anymore than you are to blame for your problems. You are like a person who attacks a man with cancer, being fully cognizant of his disease, for being fatigued.

    The truth is, you know that we are not ill, you are just making such diagnoses because you have fallen into the nasty habit of putting the language of medicine to perverted usage in your many conflicts with others, a habit whose roots, perhaps, like the negative habits of thought and behavior at the root of your so-called disease, extend back to your formative years, and which have now become almost impossible to uproot, reinforcing the attitude of fatalistic resignation that allows you to continue evading responsibility for your evidently poor impulse-control and leaving you free to continue indulging your principal avocation; to wit, indulging with abandon in ceaseless activity to escape yourself, contemplation whereupon might lead to the development of a sense of shame even the incipient stirrings of which are not to in evidence in your effusions of adolescent sentiment.

    You keep on demanding others furnish you with evidence for their claims, a standard you do not yourself abide by, so this can’t be taken seriously. The burden of proof rests squarely on your shoulders.

    Even Thomas Insel, the head of the leading research institute NIMH, in a rare moment of honesty, conceded that psychiatric diagnostic categories do not map onto discrete disease processes.

    I’ll leave you to have the last word here, resting safe and secure in the knowledge that you will only further indict yourself. Anyway, arguing with you, apart from providing a lesson in the futility of argumentation, would be pointless, and if I wanted to be reminded of our species’ ancestral origins, I’d go and see the chimps at a zoo, instead of arguing with one over the internet. You might find that a bit harsh, but this is merely in requital of the many unprovoked attacks to which you have subjected people in your ever-proliferating comments on this website.

  • all too easy

    Lack of father’s involvement? What’s up with that? What about mother’s lack of involvement, Peter? Marilyn?

    No evidence. Why? You want evidence. Me too.

    You have nothing. But, we love you, anyway. We forgive you. Just stop spreading lies. Can you do that? Well, try anyway. You cannot succeed in a revolution without telling the truth.

  • all too easy

    They are not loosely defined. They are clear and emphatic. They are damaging. Persistent, uncontrollable, lasting at least six months before age 12, and nothing else can account for the presence of these traits. That is scientific, folks. Overcomplicating this disorder doesn’t cut it either. Old fashioned common sense is all it takes. Like Phil says. Openmindedness is necessary for some who refuse to see the obvious.

    It makes no difference whatsoever if eleven percent of children are diagnosed with it or eleven kids. It matters not what is used to treat it. It makes no difference if the DSM includes it or not. It has no bearing on the reality of the disorder, at all.

    Of course it involves a problem of the brain. An earache doesn’t produce those problems. Missing your pinkie toe doesn’t. Brains are only human. They get sick, injured, tired, stressed.

  • all too easy

    How do you know I don’t have to be annoying?

    Overburden ravages? Clovis, you kill me. You have no proof. I get tired of repeating that. Aspirin is far more dangerous.

    If your brain was half as powerful as mine, would you want to abdicate responsibility for it? Modest faculties of attention and concentration? Try way less than modest. Pal, without meds I could not read what is posted neither could I write what I do. Your comments are symptomatic of a boob. An hilarious boob, but a boob, nevertheless. You see, you have nothing with which to support Phil’s diagnosis that I need discipline because i am a bad fella. That, dear cloverpuss is your problem and all your friend’s problem.

    That is the only reason I get under your skin. Truth has a way of rubbing people the right way way. You should be uncomfortable when truth beans you on the brain. Let’s think real hard for a moment. Do you suppose Phil and his gang of boobs would hesitate to shower me with evidence that discipline is the problem if they had any? Hmm? In your desperation to silence me, would you pause even for a split second to blast me with such evidence? You and your fellow boobs get really aggravated because you got nothing. You know it. I know it. I know you know it and you are frightened that I know. Bluster becomes quite the popular technique when one is having his fanny smacked.

    Are you ready? Hmm? Watch this. Go ahead antis, prove it is a problem of discipline and misbehavior that is the cause of ADHD. Let us see all you got. If you can do so, I will disappear. You cannot and you will not.

  • all too easy

    “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.” Wedge
    Ms. Wedge, what does that statement have to do with ADHD? Do kids with sloppy parents get ADHD and those whose parents are firm, reasonable, consistent, fair, etc. inoculate their kids? Didn’t Dr. Gottlieb tell you that he had profound difficulties in school? He said doing stimulants enabled him to make the Dean’s list for the first time in his life. What do you make of that? Did he switch parents as a college student? Children whine and complain and don’t develop ADHD. Kids are compliant and do.
    The antis have repeated this line of reasoning since the early days when Baughman tried to make a big splash. No one has proven poor parenting causes ADHD. Antis shift their emphasis away from the obvious and harp endlessly on “over diagnosis”, the danger of drugs, and that teachers threaten parents to get their kids drugged or Child Protective Services will be making a visit. Can you believe these guys?
    Has Phil interviewed, at length, adults treated successfully for ADHD, ever? Even once?

  • all too easy

    “A serious problem for teachers is that an ADHD diagnosis exempts a child from having to take accountability for his behavior.” (p 91)”

    Ms. Wedge, if you don’t mind, would you please explain why an ADHD diagnosis gives kids a free pass? Why would they be inclined to try to take advantage of anyone in the first place? What about them creates such suspicion so prominently in you? Why would ADHD kids hope to find exemptions for their behavior? Have you considered the possibility that they may desperately long to behave appropriately? And to learn, to devour school material? How about that, hmm?

    Are you well versed in how best to challenge the child with ADHD, based on the literature and all that we know about these battered children? How would you reach this child to inspire him? How would you help him to begin to believe in himself now that he has the priceless gift of concentration? These kids often struggle mightily with school. His woundedness is bound to present you with innumerable tests of your creativity. Perhaps you don’t realize how much these kinds of kids crave encouragement and how much it means to them to sense someone is on their side; that perhaps, just perhaps, someone actually sees through their failures and recognizes their tremendous, innate worth and value, that someone honestly and truly believes in them. ADHDers are endowed with an uncanny, powerful intuition. They see through others instantly with brilliant clarity. Close interaction with a competent adult who manifests utter certainty in the child’s potential ignites in him a fire of will rarely seen.

    You will find these youngsters aching to learn. Just equip them with the ability to focus their attention and just watch. You will be astounded. Instead of dwelling on the vast potential for negative outcomes, you would be wise to begin to concentrate on the myriad ways you can gently challenge and inspire these kids to develop their potential.

  • Sarah

    alltooeasy, I would suggest that you read this book before criticising it. It has been written by a professional through experience. The number of pre-schoolers who queue up in the mornings torecieve their daily dose of Ritalin is alarming!

    You cannot say what the long-term effects of this medication might have on those children, or the side-effects.

    You ask “why are they inclined to take advantage of anyone in the first place?” Although you strike me as stubborn, and undeterred, to defend
    psychiatry to the halt on this forum, and rarely do your arguments make
    much sense, as you never back them up with facts… regardless, you don’t strike me as a complete half-wit. There is some intelligence in there, it’s a pity you don’t use it…

    The reason why ‘they’, the authorities, take advantage, is because drugging people makes companies an awful lot of money. The medical industry is a HUGE business that many people profit from. Which is why so many ridiculous
    disorders, including ‘binge-eating’ disorder, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder, have been formulated.

    Any behaviour that it not the norm, is classed as a disorder these days. But you needn’t fear, because trolling has become fashionable.

  • all too easy

    Wrong! I am a half-wit.
    Yet, the antis apparently are full-wits.
    Unfortunately Sarah, once again, if I want to find out what tea costs in Islamabad, I’ll be sure to ask you.

    No one can refute my arguments. I am unopposed. I know more than all the antis combined. Diversion merely amuses me. You got nothing, but you keep trying anyway. I’m happy to correct you.

  • all too easy

    “Using medication to suppress the life story of a child…”

    Ms. Wedge, using the pain of children to make money by spewing nonsense is disgusting, yet you and the antis do so without shame. Eventually, you boobs may find a new tactic to swindle people out of their money. Repeating the same garbage that geniuses like Baughman and Breggjn keep peddling has only so much marketability.

    Try answering this: how do meds help a child behave and to learn? Go right ahead, explain that. Very simple question. But, alas, (as our wordy melancholic, self-pitying, self-absorbed, self-enthralled, comedian would say) you cannot and you will not, neither will the phony profiteers who parrot your very words.

    SHAME ON YOU

  • all too easy

    Well, whad da u no? I dood it again. How did I knowd? Must be a genius.

    “(refracted, perhaps, by your desire to abdicate responsibility for having allowed the modest faculties of attention and concentration, apportioned to you by nature,” palladapuss

    He is so precious. Ain’t he? He cannot be a normal human being and just say, “you ain’t too bright”. O no. He has to sound like a wordsmith, an intellectual heavyweight, to say something that simple. Bottom line is the same. Conspirators always believe 1. we are stupid or 2. we look for excuses to blame for our laziness. It just takes Einstein Palladaspuss thirty-three pages to say it.

    Listen up there genius. You got no proof. You follow the flock that uses those lines, without a single intelligent reason to do so, except you are as vain as the next boob. Nothing sensational about your misery there bucko. Look in the mirror until you drop from the true reflection you see like Don Quixote fell before the blinding light from the Knight of the Mirrors.

  • Dave

    My takeaway from the book is that way too many kids are incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD. After nearly 30 years of teaching, I have to agree with that. I know there are some kids who truly need medication, but I also know that many of them, at least in my experience, don’t. Some years ago, I became known as ‘the teacher who could cure ADHD.’ With an adult witness present, I would take the child in question to a quiet place on the playground and, in a calculated way, ‘go insane’ on him. Get right in his face, scream at him, spittle flying, finger poking at his chest, the whole nine yards. Then, when the tears started and the little guy was scared witless–and when he finally understood that an adult meant what he said–I would lovingly build him back up, very much the way the military does it. By the time our little session was over, the kid understood that I not only cared for him but cared about him, and from that day onward, that kid had no trouble focusing in class, listening in class, waiting to speak in class until it was his turn, being courteous in class, and so on. And the kids with whom I had these little sessions ended up being some of my best students and stayed in touch with me long after they graduated. It didn’t take an advanced degree–which I have–to understand which kids were truly in need of meds and which were working the system, and I only used this technique on the ones working the system. The point is that there were far fewer behavior problems in my school when I did this. The other teachers couldn’t believe the change in these kids. Their parents were pleased at the improved grades and fewer discipline reports. And the kids loved me.
    Too many meds being dispensed to kids working the system.

  • all too easy

    How did you distinguish the true ADHD kids from the hustlers? In which school did you perform your wonderful “cure”? Let’s have its name and yours. You need to write down an exhaustive account of everything, each kid you helped, his age, his specific improvements behaviorally and academically. You must share all of it with a credible scientific publication. Each child who responded favorably should be asked for his input.
    BTW, just in case you really think you are somethin, let me advise you. You will not. You cannot. You have not told the truth. Like I would believe that utter bull. Once again, I guarantee, without qualification, absolutely, positively, the boob who wrote this nonsense WILL NEVER back it up as I’ve challenged him to do. I do solemnly promise, If he does (and here the incentive couldn’t be greater!) I will disappear.
    Hide and watch. Ain’t gonna happen.

  • all too easy

    “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.” Mr. They Need Discipline

    In case you actually have compassion, interview adults with severe ADHD. Find out from them what it is like to have ADHD untreated and treated and LISTEN.

    So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

  • all too easy

    Shucks Dave! I was hoping you would actually challenge me a little. (But, I knew you wouldn’t-couldn’t) Once in a while it is good to be reminded I am but a mere mortal. It is quite a heavy responsibility to be right all the time, day and night, day in and day out, week after week, month after…, year after…, decade after…
    Like a shark and a drop of blood that is miles away, I too detect the presence of liars and lies instantly and from great distances. Notice how no one else even thought to question his bullcrap.
    Busted Cold

  • Barbara Washburn

    YES “all too easy” This is close to my own experience and the same with my son, whose self esteem was nearly destroyed by one school principal who was certain kids who couldn’t concentrate long enough to memorize their times tables were just spoiled brats. We proved him wrong – and he was retired early – but not before COUNTLESS damage was done to at least one hard-trying, frustrated, beloved and well- behaved young man. Ignore the haters responding in a negative manner. THEY clearly haven’t experienced the chemistry of ADHD from inside as you and I have. I BLESS the shrink who identified the chemical imbalance in my son and gave him the stimulants that showed him he wasn’t mentally defective, and the accidental discovery of my OWN ADD (and the frustrating inability to follow through) when, by chance, I was prescribed a stimulant diet pill – and it was like a glowing dawn after a dark stormy night. Neither one of us continued with stimulants once we realized it was chemical and we were no longer as upset by our inability to concentrate. it was just part of us that we worked very hard to try to manage. He never was undisciplined, and the teachers and principals in his last school adored and admired him….even though they noted that he regularly forgot stuff and was never still and couldn’t concentrate very well. They saw and knew how hard he tried and he was given the most improved student award at graduation! He is now a beloved and respected teacher, and I ran a corporation for thirty five years with not one single client complaint in all that time! But it is still a huge and particular challenge to concentrate on complex projects without making errors. I want to thank you for your realistic and honest response to this article – And THAT is what I have to say!

  • Saul Youssef

    Don’t miss The Onion’s take on this subject: Youthful Tendency Disorder:

    http://www.theonion.com/article/more-us-children-being-diagnosed-with-youthful-ten-248

    from way back in 2000.

  • Rob Bishop

    “Smithkline-Beecham says Juvenol, a promising YTD drug, has resulted in a 60 percent decrease in running and jumping among users.”

  • all too easy

    “Dave • 2 months ago
    My takeaway from the book is that way too many kids are incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD. After nearly 30 years of teaching, I have to agree with that. I know there are some kids who truly need medication, but I also know that many of them, at least in my experience, don’t. Some years ago, I became known as ‘the teacher who could cure ADHD.’ With an adult witness present, I would take the child in question to a quiet place on the playground and, in a calculated way, ‘go insane’ on him. Get right in his face, scream at him, spittle flying, finger poking at his chest, the whole nine yards. Then, when the tears started and the little guy was scared witless–and when he finally understood that an adult meant what he said–I would lovingly build him back up, very much the way the military does it. By the time our little session was over, the kid understood that I not only cared for him but cared about him, and from that day onward, that kid had no trouble focusing in class, listening in class, waiting to speak in class until it was his turn, being courteous in class, and so on. And the kids with whom I had these little sessions ended up being some of my best students and stayed in touch with me long after they graduated. It didn’t take an advanced degree–which I have–to understand which kids were truly in need of meds and which were working the system, and I only used this technique on the ones working the system. The point is that there were far fewer behavior problems in my school when I did this. The other teachers couldn’t believe the change in these kids. Their parents were pleased at the improved grades and fewer discipline reports. And the kids loved me.
    Too many meds being dispensed to kids working the system.”

    “Once again, I guarantee, without qualification, absolutely, positively, the boob who wrote this nonsense WILL NEVER back it up as I’ve challenged him to do. I do solemnly promise, If he does (and here the incentive couldn’t be greater!) I will disappear. Hide and watch. Ain’t gonna happen.” all too wonderful

    I amaze myself, Phil. I knew instantly this boob was a lying fraud. How do I do it? I swear I’m not psychic. A genius? Obviously, but most even most geniuses can’t see right through lying punks like yours truly. Remember clodhopperpuss? That boy is disgraced. I can’t help it Dr!

  • Rob Bishop

    Children change quickly and often grow out of traits some call “abnormal”. My son out grew most of his OCD and autistic traits that doctors recommended required medication to eliminate.

  • all too easy

    Why don’t those who know we don’t have ADHD ever inquire of us what our experience has been? Not once have they done so. Imagine that.