We’ve Got Issues

As soon as I read about Judith Warner’s new book We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication in a magazine article, I immediately knew this was a book I needed to read. I hoped to find information, but even more important to me was the desire to find validation. You see, my husband and I are parents of a nine year old boy who was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) at the young age of four. We have worked with psychologists and a psychiatrist for all of these years, and he began medication at four and a half years of age. It isn’t easy to make these statements, for fear of judgment and disapproval from others, especially with the too common belief that today’s children are being grossly overdiagnosed and unnecessarily medicated.

And that’s the funny thing about this book. Warner initially set out to write a book that confirmed this public feeling, as she describes in the first chapter:

“It was supposed to explore “fashionable children’s diagnoses”- like autism, Asperger’s disorder, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder- and to take aim at the “overanalyzing, the overperfecting,” and “the overpathologization of America’s children.” Its central argument was going to be that children were, by and large, being overdiagnosed and overmedicated, and that doctors and parents and teachers and school who colluded in labeling kids and treating them with psychotropic medication were taking the easy way out, seeking “quick fix” solutions, and turning a collective blind eye to the pathological aspects of our culture.”

However, once she began talking to actual parents of children with these diagnoses, and to doctors who worked in the field, she began to realize that the evidence simply wasn’t there to support this argument, as strongly as it may be held as truth in the public eye. Instead, her work became a solidly researched, and very accessible piece of reporting on the realities of children’s mental health issues today. She addresses the many complexities behind this issue, because it truly is not a simple subject. Some components include:

  • The supposition that because of the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, depression, Bipolar disorder, and the like, there must be massive overdiagnosing– the “there weren’t kids with ADHD 30 years ago!” argument. This segment of the book yielded perhaps my favorite quote of the book- “The problems existed, even if the diagnoses didn’t… If children had problems like ADHD, depression, or dyslexia then, no one had the eyes to see them. Or the words–or even the concepts–to provide many of the diagnoses so common today.”
  • The public belief (perpetuated by intense media support) that disorders, like ADHD and Asperger’s aren’t real, or the idea that “we used to call ADHD being a boy.”
  • The change in perspective, supported by research, from an environmental cause to a brain-based disorder– children with autistic behavior were the result of cold and unloving mothers to a growing understanding of the roots of Autism.
  • The reality of the challenges parents must navigate to seek mental health treatment for their children.
  • The history of the transformation of the frameworks that have been established for looking at children’s mental health- from the disbelief that children were even capable of experiencing some disorders, like depression, to the evolution of the recognition of others like ADHD and Autism.

I could continue to quote passages that struck home for me as a parent, because my book is marked up like mad. I cannot stress strongly enough how much I want people to read this book. Judith Warner’s presentation is informative, and her assertions here are strongly backed up with research and input from professionals in the field. She shows the reality that there are a great number of children who “have issues,” but aren’t receiving diagnoses, support or mental health care, and she lays out the areas that need to be addressed for children and parents to be able to receive better support- from the intense challenges facing families trying to find and pay for providers for their children, to better regulations on the relationships between pharmaceutical companies and the providers who prescribe their medications.

As a parent, all I can say is that this book speaks for me when it emphasizes that these disorders are real, and that parents who opt to medicate their children aren’t doing so because of their poor parenting abilities, or because they want to get our child undue special services so they can be super-achievers, or because their children are undisciplined and just plain ‘bad.’ We are trying to help treat our children’s illnesses with the options available to us, and all we want is for our children to find success in their educational, personal and familial lives. I am definitely putting Judith Warner’s We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication on our Five Star Reads list, because of its solid reporting, accessibility to readers, and much needed perspective on the state of children’s mental health issues. This is a book that needs to be read.

Parenting a child with ADHD is a topic that sometimes comes up on Dawn’s blog, my thoughts exactly.


  1. Shawna Christine Pullin says

    As a 40 year old woman with ADD and went undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and suffered severe problems with self esteem as a result, this seems like a must read for me. I also have sons with ADHD, for whom we have many more resources than were available a generation ago. This book will be in my hands ASAP.

  2. says

    Thanks so much for posting about this book. As a parent who is struggling with several issues that is addressed, as well as struggling with the idea that medication is needed…it was great to read about the mis-conceptions from someone who set out to prove those mis-conceptions as correct.
    I must read this book.

  3. says

    Sounds really good and I’d like to read it. I wonder about one of my boys, but we live overseas and he’s being educated in the French system, which in many ways is 50 years behind the American system. (That’s not all bad either; overall I’m happy with it)
    I think the idea of overmedication comes because everybody knows one child who lacks any kind of parental control who’s on meds. And so, people extrapolate out and assume it’s more common than it is. But in addition to that one child, who needs some discipline and boundaries in his life and that would have probably been enough–honestly you’d agree if you knew him– I know others who have great parents and real learning issues and who are benefitting from meds and a certain diet, etc. The issues are real.

  4. says

    My daughter’s problem is a speech disorder, not treated with meds. BUT people (strangers and family) were convinced that like so and so, she would start speaking in sentences one day. That’s not the case, though she is overcoming it.

    What people thought was crazy was that we used signs to help her communicate. “She does not need to talk, since she uses her hands.”

    Anyway…thank you for sharing. Lots of real issues out there… ours are mild compared to others, but still real.

  5. says

    I’ve been looking forward to reading your thoughts on this for awhile. I haven’t dealt with any of these issues and so its helpful and insightful to hear from someone who struggles with this on a daily basis. It’s a hard topic, to be sure. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this book!

  6. says

    I have two sons with ADD without hyperactivity. I do not apologize for medicating the oldest beginning in first grade, and the second at age 3.5. Why? Because my kids absolutely, positively needed that medication in order to function. Their father was diagnosed at the age of 45 (after the first kid) and immediately noticed a difference after starting medication. ADD is REAL, not a trumped-up diagnosis by parents who want their kids to be over-achievers. I just wanted my kids to be able to concentrate and listen to the instructions! I just wanted my husband to finish ONE — just ONE — of the numerous projects he started & abandoned. Nobody who has not lived with a person with ADD — or suffered from it him/herself — has any right to judge someone else or criticize them for taking steps to make the life of the person with ADD more manageable.

    I’m definitely putting this book on my wish list! Thanks for the review.


  7. LT says

    I too picked up this book and was excited to read it. I applaud the author, Judith Warner for choosing this subject and trying to help parents validate this very real problem. For people who medicate their children it is very validating; for those of us not choosing to medicate and mask the problem, we wish the book explored the biochemical core of all these diagnosis. They all have something in common, their is either a lack or too much of some type of vitamin, mineral, enzyme, or hormone that creates the symptoms and with careful bioanalysis we can discover which is right for our particular child and treat. There are many people treating their children naturally and having the symptoms, thus the diagnosis go away. It is much easier to give a pill and I would be the first to say that on a short term basis until the right combination is researched for a particular child, then sometimes that is necessary. I hope the author will take up pen again and possibly look into the biomedical aspect of these diseases that need attention and money. Most people have to medicate because their insurance or lack of insurance does not pay for biomedical intervention. LT

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