Jennifer Roback Morse

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control reveals some interesting patterns about the prevalence of hyperactivity. Kids from lower income families are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.  Almost 15% of boys from families below the poverty line have a history of the diagnosis, while only 10% of boys in families at twice the poverty line do. I have some theories about this, both as a policy wonk and as a mom.

What are my credentials to speak on this topic?  I don’t have a medical degree, or a degree in psychology.  My Ph.D. is in economics. So I do know something about how to interpret data. But my real expertise on this particular topic is my M.O.M. degree.

I’ve been working on my M.O.M. degree since 1991,when I had two children in six months, (a record of sorts, even for a Catholic.)  We adopted a little 2 year old boy from Romania, and gave birth to a little girl, six months later.
Because our son had some special developmental issues, we accumulated a lot of information about a whole variety of disabilities, most of which he turned out not to have.

We decided all that knowledge about childhood trauma and unusual disorders was too valuable to waste on only one child: (economies of scale and all that.) So in 2003, we became foster parents for San Diego county. We’ve had 7 foster kids in our home, and seen lots of others come and go, if you count all their siblings in different foster homes, and then all the foster siblings of our foster kids’ siblings. (Did you follow that? There is nothing simple about the simple demographics for foster families. Even the simple question, “how many children do you have?” takes more than a sound-bite to answer.) 

Anyhow, the point is: I have seen more than the usual number of kids that moms see. And most of “my” kids have no genetic relationship to one another.  So although I have only seen a small sample of children “up close and personal,” it is probably a larger sample, and more statistically meaningful sample than most families get to see.  I have some definite opinions about “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

I have to tell you: I am not an Anti- Medication Absolutist.  I have seen kids who do really well with medication with almost miraculous improvement.  On the other hand, I am not a Pro-Medication True Believer. I have seen kids who were positively harmed by medication. And by harmed, I mean a child who became more irritable, more unmanageable and even violent.

Jennifer Roback Morse

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at

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