The Future of ADHD: How Society Can Prevent the Disorder

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Scattered Minds" by Gabor Maté. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does the future of ADHD look like? What role does society play in treating ADHD?

ADHD most often develops in children who live in stressful environments. Even if you aren’t a parent, there’s a way you can help prevent ADHD in children by making society a better place to live in.

Continue reading to learn how you can contribute to preventing ADHD in children of the future.

The Future of ADHD

Beyond healing your own ADHD, Scattered Minds by Gabor Maté says you can also play a role in the future of ADHD by preventing ADHD. In this section, we’ll explore the role society plays in the prevalence of ADHD and the changes society can make to diminish it.

Maté says that ADHD is preventable if you provide sensitive children with a healthy, stress-free early childhood. Instead of developing ADHD, their brains will develop typically, and they’ll grow into functional adults whose sensitivity helps them excel in life, rather than hindering their progress. According to Maté, if every parent could provide this for their children, ADHD wouldn’t exist.

(Shortform note: Maté favors preventing ADHD because he believes that ADHD is inherently detrimental—it makes life harder, so it should be eradicated. However, in recent years, activists belonging to the neurodiversity movement have argued just the opposite: ADHD is a brain difference, not a deficit, and it only seems to impair function because the world isn’t set up to accommodate people with brain differences. Neurodiversity advocates don’t believe that ADHD should be eradicated—instead, they believe that society should make room for everybody to succeed.) 

However, Maté argues that the responsibility for preventing ADHD shouldn’t be left solely up to parents. No matter how earnestly you try to protect and nourish your children, you and your children are likely to experience stress that’s imposed by society. For example, many low-income parents struggle to provide for their children’s basic material needs through no fault of their own. If they have to work long hours to do so, they might become stressed (and stress their children out, too) because they’re juggling too much and don’t have the time or energy to establish a positive, secure relationship with their children.

(Shortform note: The notion that society is responsible for preventing mental health conditions has become more common recently. For example, in Lost Connections, journalist Johann Hari argues that society is responsible for preventing depression since depression is a natural reaction to the way society is set up—for example, you might be depressed because you have to keep a job you hate for the money. Arguments like these are part of a larger theory that the medicalization of social problems is an ineffective way to treat them—the idea is that medical experts pathologize and medicate dysfunction as a means to control undesirable behavior, when we’d be better off addressing the social issues that contribute to people’s dysfunction.)

Maté argues that society has a responsibility to help parents provide a safe, stable, and loving environment for their children by reducing demands on parents and increasing access to support for parents and children. For example, this could mean providing financial support to parents so they can work less and spend more time with their children.

(Shortform note: Formal family support programs aren’t always easily accessible, but they’re out there—for example, if you’re struggling financially and live in the United States, you may qualify for a program like WIC or SNAP, which helps families afford food. You may also benefit from informal support programs, like support groups for parents of children with ADHD.)

The Future of ADHD: How Society Can Prevent the Disorder

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Here's what you'll find in our full Scattered Minds summary:

  • How ADHD is caused by early childhood stress that hinders development
  • Why medication isn't the best way to treat ADHD
  • How society can prevent ADHD in future generations

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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