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.