A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD became an American Epidemic


A disease called childhood book jacket

Child and family therapist Dr Marilyn Wedge talks to Craig Barfoot about her latest book, A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic


Over the course of her career as a child and family therapist, Marilyn Wedge has witnessed an ‘astronomical rise’ in the number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Until 1995 she had hardly heard of ADHD, but over the following decades the number of children on medication for ADHD grew and grew until now 13% of boys and 5% of girls in the US – 6 million children –  are on prescription drugs (mainly Ritalin and Adderall) with that diagnosis.


But this approach is not shared by other countries,  A child in the US is 8 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than in France, and 80 times more likely than in Finland!  Dr Wedge says this is because in those countries, when a child is exhibiting difficult behaviour they look at the context – perhaps the child is unhappy at school, or seeing their parents fight at home – and they address the problem rather than medicate the child.  She points out that in the US a child can be taken to the doctor, and receive a diagnosis of ADHD and a prescription for drugs in 15 minutes, while in France the observation and consultations are likely to take 8 hours.


Why? because ‘biological psychiatry has taken over the field of psychiatry in the US’  says Dr Wedge.  The view that the problem is in the child’s brain or nervous system, rather than in his or her environment was set out for the first time in DSM 3 in 1980, and Dr Wedge points the finger at the pharmaceutical companies for this approach.


Dr Wedge argues that psychiatry needs to completely change it approach, and look at the child’s environment, offering help to parents through parenting classes etc.


Website mentioned in podcast:



Marylin’s blog on Psychology today:



Photo:  Family Portrait by Jörg Schubert