Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

ADHD in America: A Bioecological Analysis

Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

ADHD in America: A Bioecological Analysis

Article excerpt

The mass labeling and drugging of American children has reached epidemic proportions. Currently, Americans are immersed in a linear medical model which promotes the widespread use of psychotropic medications in child populations in order to control undesirable behaviors. While no one has any idea of the long-term results of this giant proxy experiment, many academicians, researchers, and medical professionals are actively questioning the reliability and validity of this reductionistic and deterministic model. This article will explore the ADHD phenomenon using Urie Bronfenbrenner's bioecological theory. Familial, political, economical, biological, medical, contextual, cultural, and historical system alterations will be explored in depth in order to gain new insights into the myth of ADHD. Particular attention will be given to the interactive nature of the various systems proposed by Bronfenbrenner, and integral linkages will be discussed. The goal of this article is to offer a theoretically sound alternative to the current medical model and to challenge the existing ADHD paradigm that pathologizes normal-range child behaviors.

Keywords: ADHD; ADD; behavioral disorders; childhood behavioral disorders

Bronfenbrenner (1999) theorized that development is shaped by various interacting systems, which include the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem. The core theoretical premise of the bioecological model is that human development is a function of the forces from all of the various systems, and the relationships that exist between the systems. Bronfenbrenner (1989) has postulated that the various systems are bi-directional in nature as they are continually influencing us, and we in turn are continually influencing them. According to the corollaries contained within Bronfenbrenner's theory, the systems are intrinsically intertwined; alterations occurring on one level have the potential to affect the entire system (1989). Employing Bronfenbrenner's theory, the following sections will address the linkages that exist between the bioecological corollaries and the epidemic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in America.


The microsystem is defined as "a pattern of activities, roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing person in a given face-to-face setting with particular physical and material features" (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, p. 67). The microsystem is characterized by direct, intimate, interactional processes as familial relationships and close friendships are the cornerstone of this system. Bronfenbrenner has hypothesized that significant others continually influence individual development by altering and/or maintaining particular environments that either encourage optimal developmental processes, or suppress the probability of optimal developmental trajectories (1999).

Over the course of the last century, Americans have dramatically altered their parenting practices. For 99.9% of our time on earth, humans have practiced what I shall refer to in this article as "attachment parenting" (Dettwyler, 1995). Attachment parenting is characterized by long-term breast-feeding, child-led weaning, co-sleeping, and staying in close physical proximity to one's offspring throughout early childhood (Stuart-Macadam & Dettwyler, 1995).

Humans, along with other warm-blooded vertebrates, have been categorized as mammals because they sustain their young with milk secreted from their breasts (Ben Shaul, 1962). Humans, while typed as mammals according to specific and measurable biologic characteristics, are also social creatures who construct and maintain particular cultural customs (Stuart-Macadam & Dettwyler, 1995). For millions of years, breast-feeding hu- : man young was considered a fundamental component of the maternal experience; conception, pregnancy, birth, and lactation were perceived as intrinsically intertwined. Until the early 1900s, the collective human culture dictated that breast-feeding was an integral and natural component of the birthing process (Dettwyler, 1995). …

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