A Disease Called Childhood


When I started my practice as a child therapist in 1988, I had barely heard of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. The diagnosis had arrived on the scene a year earlier, in the revised third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM-III-R). Despite its codification in the DSM, at the time ADHD was not widely discussed among child therapists, let alone parents, teachers and pediatricians. Until the middle of the 1990’s, not one mother or father asked me if their child had ADD or ADHD. If their child’s behavior changed, parents assumed that something was worrying or stressing their child. They came to me to discover the source of the stress.

I view childhood problems from a family systems and child development point of view. Behavioral problems associated with ADHD, such as inattention or 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. I’ve seen cases of a child changing personality overnight—from angelic to hyperactive and aggressive—as a response to a parent’s illness or injury.

Of course not every misbehavior was rooted in a troubling situation at home. In those days, some degree of naughtiness and wildness was expected in children, especially in boys. Impulsive, distracted kids who occasionally rebelled against the authority of adults were considered naughty but normal. Nobody would have suggested that Dennis the Menace or Beaver cleaver had a mental disorder that required medication. A teaspoon of discipline, not a dose of psychiatric medication, was the cure for naughty children. Most people thought that the only “disease’ that afflicted kids like that was childhood.

By 2012, things had radically changed. 11 percent of American children had been diagnosed with ADHD and two thirds of them were taking methylphenidates or amphetamines. Almost every child who came to my office had been sent by their school to be evaluated for ADHD. Some were already medicated. One seven-year-old girl had been prescribed the anti psychotic drug Risperdal when the more typical ADHD drugs hadn’t been effective. By this time, I couldn’t help thinking that child psychiatry and pediatrics were going insane. The girl’s inattentiveness and impulsiveness were resolved with a few sessions of family therapy.

I began to research ADHD in other countries and found that the ADHD epidemic that was sweeping across the United States was not meeting with the same success in Europe. In Finland, for example, only 0.01 percent of children are diagnosed with ADHD and medicated. In France the number is less than 1 percent. Of course, I ran into studies claiming a higher rate of ADHD in France and other countries; however, a little research on those studies indicated that they were conducted by doctors with financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. So I ignored them. Instead, I began reading the work of independent researchers on the topic of ADHD such as Professor François Gonon at the University of Bordeaux and Stanford University Professor John Ioannidis.

In March, 2012, I wrote an article called “Why French Kids don’t have ADHD” in Psychology Today. The article struck a nerve. As of today, more than 9 million people have read the article. Inspired by reader’s interest and support, I wrote A Disease called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic, which will be published this month (March 24, 2015).

In the book, I tell the story of how Big Pharma, hand-in-glove with Big Psychiatry, created the ADHD epidemic by focusing solely on symptoms and ignoring the true causes of childhood problems. By diagnosing and medicating a child for symptoms alone, doctors silence the child’s story which in many cases is a cry for help. I also dissect the so-called “scientific” studies that claim ADHD is caused by a brain dysfunction and that stimulant drugs correct the dysfunction. As you will see, these studies do not hold up to rigorous scrutiny, nor does the claim that ADHD can be “seen” by brain imaging.

Finally, I offer non-drug solutions to empower parents to help a child who is hyperactive, impulsive, or struggling at school. These solutions are based on my 25 years of experience working with thousands of children and families. One reviewer has called A Disease Called Childhood “part manifesto and part advice manual.” I think that’s an accurate description.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Marilyn,
    It seems to me you are doing work of the highest importance. Would I be mistaken if I characterized Big Pharma as a gas chamber in pill and injectable form and Big Psychiatry as a repository of the biggest spin doctors of pseudo science on the planet ?

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  2. The biggest problem right now is that even if we stop all drugging of kids immediately huge damage has already been done to thousands. People responsible for that tragedy should be in prison.

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  3. I would also like to recommend a book called “Misdiagnosis and Duel Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults.” My child had been abused when he was very young, thus ended up in remedial reading when he was in first grade, which no “professional,” but me, thought was odd.

    My school district and I worked with him, and by eighth grade my son got 100% on his state standardized tests. I was proud of my child for overcoming his trauma, but my school district was confused, since they’d never reported or confessed to the child abuse. I got an odd call from my child’s school social worker accusing me of “keeping my child up late nights studying and pushing him too hard,” rather than a call of congratulations.

    I told her my child never had homework, was constantly playing World of Warcraft, and that I was a mean mother who had her children in bed by 9. I eventually had to be “saved” by a wonderful science teacher who was capable of understanding that high intelligence is a genetic “problem,” when I was subsequently attacked by all my son’s teachers, based upon the school social workers delusions.

    I’m quite certain the psychiatric industry needs to widen their understanding of what is normal behavior within all of humanity, since defaming and drugging all the intelligent children is actually quite extraordinarily inappropriate behavior – and detrimental to humanity as a whole – by the psychiatric practitioners.

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    • In other words, it’s extraordinarily sad to me that our current DSM diagnoses are leading the not very intelligent psychiatric practitioners and social workers to target intelligent children with the voted into existence DSM disorders. This is a disgusting state of affairs.

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      • I think you hit on a key point, Someone Else. I think more often than not the intelligent, astute, observant, sharp, and creative kids are basically the target of jealousy and intimidation by insecure adults. By the same token, clinicians are often more intimidated by their clients than they care to admit. This is where power imbalance has such impact.

        Children, like clients, expect support, trust, make themselves vulnerable…and whack! Simply because some adults cannot stand being mirrored back in a negative way, and will do anything in their POWER to avoid hearing and feeling it. Therefore, it becomes ‘the issue’ of the child or client. That’s how I’ve seen it work, how some are expected to carry the ills of others.

        I love Marianne Williamson’s quote:

        “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around you. We all are meant to shine, like children do.”


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  4. I saw this article on Yahoo this morning and thought about this blog, especially because of the title of it:


    Even the comments below this article all reflect the corruption in CPS and their connection to pediatricians, who can often become ‘overzealous’ causing unreasonable and unnecessary chaos and harm to the family, due to lack of judgment and intuition, and who knows what else? That is so called ‘mental illness’–or whatever anyone wants to call I–just waiting to happen, totally fabricated trauma by ‘the system.’

    At least in some subsets of society at large, childhood used to conjure associations with being a time of fun, play, learning, exploring, discovering, creating, creating friendships, etc. I know this isn’t universal and that people are born in dire environments, perhaps leave the starting gate already with burdensome issues plaguing them.

    But these days, being a kid in just about any circle of life has become dangerous, overly complicated, and rather dark. Why is that? More like…why the hell is that? I don’t like to see kids suffer at the hands of adults, it’s one aspect of our society which is intolerable to me. I see it happening all over the place, every other article I read in the news and the stories I hear on here and elsewhere, and my own experience. Parents killing their own kids!! I so strongly believe which we should leave turn no stone unturned to rectify this, which is why I was glad to see your article, Marilyn.

    I know there are many, many factors, but there has to be something to pinpoint, or a handful of converging factors, which has or have allowed this horrendous and extreme slide in the quality of childhood to occur. We talk about parenting skills, but in the case of this article as with other cases with which I’m familiar, it’s, both, doctors and CPS that seem to have overstepped their boundaries, tragically. Not the first time, obviously. This has been a growing trend.

    I believe that when a child suffers, the adults around them are, indeed, at fault. Who else would it be? At the very least, they would be the ones with the power to help alleviate a child’s suffering, and instead, they so often make it worse.

    The question is: which adults are the ones that either forget or aren’t even aware that the welfare of the child comes first? Because that’s the belief that seems to be missing whenever a child suffers. To me, that would indicate a grave lack of empathy.

    Wouldn’t a parent want to develop a completely empathic connection with their child? Wouldn’t this be natural? Do they cut themselves off from their natural empathy, in favor of another way to guide and nourish the child? I really don’t know, I’m asking.

    I’m not a parent, but I work with a lot of parents, and I’ve had parents myself, so did my friends, so it’s not hard to observe parenting in every day life, and notice a few things. Kids don’t seem to be getting very much of, either, nourishment or guidance these days. They’re shooting each other. That’s insane.

    One thing is clearly certain, at least to my mind: THE CHILD IS PAYING THE PRICE FOR UNAWARE ADULTS. (“Unaware” is the most neutral term I can come up with in the moment, but feel free to fill in the blank with your own adjective).

    I don’t think that’s a trend we want to continue, for a lot of reasons–not the least of which that these kids grow up with baggage and the cycle continues, spiraling downward. Where do we begin to create generation healing rather than generational madness? When will we heal ‘the disease’ of childhood, and make it ‘the joy’ of childhood? which I believe would be the natural order of things. Turning childhood into a “disease,” which, indeed, we seem to have done collectively, feels to me like going exactly against nature. We need to do a 180, somehow.

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