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Is ADHD an American Disorder?

In the American mindset I think we often have blinders when considering the reality we create for our kids. For example, this article shared by my friend Tracy Rosen on FB talks about how children in France are not diagnosed with ADHD. If they do have symptoms psychologists in France take the view that it is a psychosocial phenomena. I have long felt the same way. As a teacher I was able to be successful with students who moved onto other grades and teachers and became “ADHD”. Maybe I had my own blinders but I often think kids who struggle with impulse control and attention, when placed into a predictable environment that allows for a certain amount to these behaviors can be successful. The other thing about the French perspective is that all areas of life are considered to contribute to behavior, even nutrition. Check out this quote below.

The French holistic, psycho-social approach also allows for considering nutritional causes for ADHD-type symptoms—specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is worsened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens. Clinicians who work with troubled children in this country—not to mention parents of many ADHD kids—are well aware that dietary interventions can sometimes help a child’s problem. In the United States, the strict focus on pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, however, encourages clinicians to ignore the influence of dietary factors on children’s behavior.

My wife and I decided when my son was 2 years-old that he had difficulty dealing with artificial colors and flavors. There is plenty of artificial ingredients in America but maybe not so much in France? We asked his teachers not to give him fake stuff at class parties. We had a lot of trouble explaining this at first. It did not compute that green frosting on a cupcake could be artificial. Finally we figured out if we told them he is allergic to food coloring and coached him to recognize packaging that was likely to to have artificial flavoring he could manage it himself. Anything that had pictures of fruit on it but said “10% Real Fruit Juice” was not real. He was so sensitive he could figure it out for himself through taste. We went to a function once where there was lemonade, fake lemonade that is. My son had one sip and said, “I can’t drink that, it tastes chemically.” He then had a melt down about 5 minutes later. I suggest this to my students parents who struggle with their kids’ behavior all the time but I think in America we don’t necessarily make that connection between the mind and the body.  This is especially true in high poverty neighborhoods where access fresh fruits and vegetables are rare but more importantly that families in these neighborhoods look for extremely satisfying sensory experiences. I attribute this to the financial relationship between happiness and poverty. If you can’t have the car you see on TV at least you can have the hamburger and it looks so good.

4 Comments

  1. Tracy Rosen says:

    Your first sentence brings it home for me – “…the reality we create for our kids.” We are in control but so often we succumb to group-think about things like adhd (eg. Adhd must be medicated).

    As I wrote on facebook, overcoming childhood … issues … can be really simple.

    Eat well and love each other.

    Somehow, though, the simplest things are sometimes hard to do for many people. Maybe because it’s too simple? Don’t know.

    Also, as you point out, it isn’t always that simple when it comes to the eating well part of the equation.

    Great post, John.

  2. Coad says:

    I know that you may believe this but I grew up with an ADHD brother in the 80 and 90′s. The doctor said same thing and my mother tried that no preservatives etc. for a whole year of my brothers life and it did not work. It was proven after that year after an MRI and CAT scan done that it was my brothers adrenaline gland in the back of his head and he had to have medication. No ADHD child is the same it is medical or pyschosocial. Every child has to be uniquely looked at and then diagnosed to see the cause.

  3. jmholland says:

    Thanks for the comment Tracy. I do believe ADHD is a real condition but there decisions to be made by individuals and society about how we address it. I think that the ADHD mind/body set was likely very helpful at some point in our evolution. It is just against the grain of our culture now, at least in America.

    Coad, thanks so much for your post. That perspective is exactly what I think this study and post points to. We need to consider all the influences in a child’s life including medical like you pointed out. I think part of the problem is ADHD is diagnosed by symptom not by cause which can cause misdiagnosis. Some young kids even grow out of that allergy thing but persistent exposure may set up a cycle. How is your brother now?

  4. Paige Skidmore says:

    Diet and the changing of it can help and sometimes eliminate numerous conditions… It just astounds me how lazy our society has become..it is so much easier to take a pill rather than do research and experimentation and come up with an alternative to medication. It is our responsibility as parents to do that extra work. It is also important for we as parents to teach our children to “listen” to their bodies..

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