ADHD: An American Epidemic, A European Afterthought, A Glimpse At Both Worlds

Many parents experience behavioral issues with their children, but sometimes the issues become so severe and so overwhelming for parents they feel they must turn to a pediatrician or family doctor for help.

But doctors can often jump to label these issues as disorders, and all too quickly prescribe medications without delving further into the root causes.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one such “disorder” which has been diagnosed in American children in record numbers within the last two decades.

Parents may see excessive hyperactivity, impulsive behaviors, or lack of focus in their children.

They may be pressured by physicians, teachers, and friends who tell them there is something “wrong” with their child — and in America today, there seems to be a cure-all medication for everything.

Holistic Squid reported:

Although teachers and doctors who label kids with ADD may have good intentions, it isn’t necessarily to anyone’s advantage to pin a label such as ADD on a child. Once there’s a diagnosis of a “condition,” the next logical step on a very slippery slope may seem to be treatment with medication – a medication that could have many undesirable side effects, and for many children, not resolve the issues.

Consider what schools demand of children – sitting still, staying quiet, following strict rules for everything from using the toilet to speaking out loud – and you may start to wonder if your child’s behavior is really abnormal at all.

Instead of running to the doctor for a magic solution, parents should first take time to recognize their child’s unique way of relating to the world and find constructive ways to adapt to their child’s needs.

ADHD is being grossly over-diagnosed in the U.S., with nearly 10 percent of school-aged children being given powerful stimulants.

Common prescribed drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall, can have serious side effects in children. Prescribed at an alarming rate, they can often mask other symptoms or worsen those already being experienced.

But studies have found there are far better ways to manage behavioral issues in children.

In fact, European countries like France have almost negligible diagnoses of ADHD in children, so much so that it is sometimes referred to as an “American disease.”

Instead of immediately prescribing medication, French doctors first look at possible underlying issues.

Psychology Today noted:

In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5 percent. How has the epidemic of ADHD—firmly established in the U.S.—almost completely passed over children in France?

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.

By looking at the underlying causes, and addressing those individually, French physicians typically avoid the ADHD diagnosis and the unnecessary mind-altering medications on young developing brains.

These physicians also look at physical problems that may be causing behavioral ones and have discovered many therapeutic alternatives to medications.

Occupational therapy can be extremely effective, and techniques can be used by both parents and teachers to teach the child coping skills.

Extremely hyperactive children or those with sensory issues can benefit from calming activities and environments which soothe.

Dimming the lights, playing soft music, squeezing a stress ball, or having a corner where they can take a break from an activity that overloads their senses are some effective techniques for caregivers.

Much of the greatest progress in avoiding medication in children with behavioral issues has been dietary treatment.

Food allergies can be an underlying issue with symptoms manifesting as behavioral or social conditions.

And another inherently American cause to be considered is the relationship between childhood behavior and chemicals in processed and fast-foods.

Food additives, dyes, chemicals, and preservatives so prevalent in the diets of American children are now being identified as a possible root cause leading to a diagnosis of ADHD.

Most notable was research conducted by U.S. physician Benjamin Feingold, who in the 1970s concluded that eliminating these toxic substances from a child’s diet could control symptoms like hyperactivity and inattentiveness in children.

But while it seems French physicians understand that diet and other non-invasive therapies can greatly benefit children with behavioral issues, Americans continue to jump to the ADHD diagnosis.

Psychology Today reported:

French child psychiatrists don’t use the same system of classification of childhood emotional problems as American psychiatrists. The focus is on identifying and addressing the underlying psychosocial causes of children’s symptoms, not on finding the best pharmacological band-aids with which to mask symptoms.

To the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child’s social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis. Moreover, the definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which, in my view, tends to “pathologize” much of what is normal childhood behavior. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)specifically does not consider underlying causes. It thus leads clinicians to give the ADHD diagnosis to a much larger number of symptomatic children, while also encouraging them to treat those children with pharmaceuticals.

It remains for parents to be advocates for their child when seeking help for unmanageable behaviors, whether in school or at home.

Understanding when your child’s behavior changes and examining factors which may influence that behavior are critical.

Diet, as well as therapeutic play, family counseling, and getting a second opinion from a physician who is conservative in prescribing medication are all good ways to avoid the increasingly used American ADHD label.