Moliere described ADHD in his play L'Étourdi ou Les Contretemps (The Blunderer) in 1655. However, the concept of ADHD as a serious disorder is still not fully accepted in France, where it is known as "trouble déficit de l'attention/hyperactivité" (TDAH). However, ADHD impacts the functioning of 3.5% of the population of France (Lecendreux, et al. 2011). In addition, ADHD is just as prevalent in other countries as it is in the U.S. (Faraone, et al. 2003).
I interviewed Elias Sarkis MD, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Assocation, to learn more about the prevalence of ADHD in France. Dr. Sarkis lived in France for 10 years, and graduated from medical school from Universite de Lille in Lille, France. He is now the medical director of Sarkis Family Psychiatry and Sarkis Clinical Trials in Gainesville, Florida. His website is www.sarkisfamilypsychiatry.com.
Dr. Sarkis returns to France on a regular basis. He said that ADHD does most certainly exist in France. Not only are there clinical studies showing the prevalence of ADHD in France, but Dr. Sarkis also has a friend, a psychiatrist, whose child has ADHD. His friend's daughter had lifelong difficulties in school, an unplanned pregnancy, and then dropped out of school. Her mother is now watching her child so she can return to school.
Dr. Sarkis said in France there is a "strong negative cultural belief against medication" for children with psychiatric disorders. However, he said, children with ADHD continue to suffer the consequences of the disorder. Regarding the impact of undiagnosed and unmedicated ADHD in France, "the reality is that there are French kids in prison, a high rate of tobacco use, and kids dropping out of school."
Dr. Sarkis said said that if a French child with ADHD receives "excellent parenting, high structure, and clear expectations from parents" it can mitigate behaviors. However, it is "at the price of the child experiencing increased anxiety and internalizing problems." For those children who are not able to receive excellent parenting and high structure, ADHD behaviors can be extremely impairing.
In France it is difficult for parents to get an evaluation and treatment for their ADHD child. It takes eight months for a child to get an appointment with a specialist, and it can take another eight months before a child is prescribed medication (Getin, 2011).
Fortunately, Dr. Sarkis said, the concept of ADHD as a serious, treatable disorder is gaining strength in France. Parents are learning more about ADHD via the Internet, and there are more centers being established to help treat this debilitating disorder.
Lencendreux, M., Konofal, E., & Faraone, S.V. (2011). Prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and associated features among children in France. Journal of Attention Disorders 15(6):516-524.
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