Take Two Ritalin And Call Me in the Morning
Take Two Ritalin And Call Me in the Morning
Twenty years ago the only acronyms floating around the schoolyard were likely G.I. Joe or K.I.T the talking car from Night Rider. The Friday the 13th movies were scary and the number one activity after school was remembering to be home by streetlights. My, how times have changed. Today’s widespread acronyms are abbreviations for behavioral problems such as Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Conduct Disorder and others to numerous to mention. Schools routinely hire staff members to administer student’s medications. Studies across the nation suggest 8-10% of students take mood-altering medications on a daily basis. Newspapers are filled with headline stories about out of control children wrecking havoc. In a society filled with fast food restaurants, instant reward programs, and a pill to cure anything, medication appears to be the ideal fix to controlling our children. A deeper look reveals that young Americans are riddled with behavioral and emotional problems not recognized in the past.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating children with any illness,” according to Robin Goodman, PhD. An estimated 3-5% of children are affected with ADHD; nearly double that percentage is medicated. A Google search of ADHD will return over 39,600,000 hits. To medicate or not to medicate, this debate has many passionate sides. Swarms of professionals blame the increase on America’s hurry to treat only the symptoms, ignoring the source. Dr. Peter Breggin is a prominent spokesperson for, as one author put it, the “much-maligned anti-psychiatry movement.” When Dr. Breggin testified before a House subcommittee, he stated, "by diagnosing the child with ADHD, blame for the conflict is placed on the child. Instead of examining the context of the child's life - why the child is restless or disobedient in the classroom or home - the problem is attributed to the child's faulty brain. Both the classroom and the family are exempt from criticism or from the need to improve, and instead the child is made the source of the problem.” On the reverse side of the argument are countless tales of children the medications have helped.
Modern life has changed, the pace has increased, and students are no longer immune from the pressures of society. Most students have families with mother and father both working full time outside of the house. After school is filled with piano lessons, tee-ball, tutoring, or other structured activities. From sun up to sun down Americans are on the go. Distractions are ever present, from cell phones, to computers, to GameBoys and portable DVD players; children have consummated the ever-busy lifestyles of today. The once simple activity of riding a bicycle is now anything but simple. The rider must find assorted safety gear –helmets, knee and elbow pads, not to mention reflectors, mirrors and such for the bike; and then there’s the question of if mom or dad has time to come outside and appropriately supervise a trip to the corner and back; otherwise the rider is typically confined to his own yard. Is it any wonder that Time magazine pointed out the use of anti-depressants among children and teens increased threefold from 1987 to 1996 in a cover story entitled “Are We Giving Kids Too Many Drugs?” Under all this pressure, children are acting out in ways never imagined. Second graders are having fits, throwing chairs at the principal.
ADHD is an epidemic sweeping our nation. A sermon by Reverend Marilyn Sewell of Portland, Oregon questioned, “If all these kids are suddenly sick—and I’m not sure that they are—then we ought to be asking ourselves, ‘Why?’ What in our culture is making our kids crazy? And we should ask ourselves if we are over-medicating difficult but ‘normal’ children.” Perhaps this epidemic is not new, but only recently recognized. Technology has advanced the Nation’s ability to share news and information. In an article on CNN, Dr. Peter Jensen, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Columbia University brings up this point. "I am actually very pleased that there are responsible, carefully prepared, factually based advertisements," he said. "They inform parents and others about the condition of ADHD. That it's a true medical disorder, that it has serious long-term consequences for children if they're not treated." These regions of marketing offer explanation to why portions of the United States have little-to-no diagnosis and in other locations ADHD runs rampant. In places with a higher number of diagnosed students the symptoms are more openly discussed, public acceptance is widespread. This knowledge dismisses much of the negative stigma associated with being diagnosed.
In a child study conducted at New York University, Robin Goodman, PhD reports that the Surgeon General estimates 10 million children have a diagnosable mental illness; yet only 1 in 5 are appropriately treated. Even though some consider the number of treated students high, this study suggests ADHD is likely under diagnosed rather than over diagnosed. Twenty years ago, the expectations of grade school studies were much lower. Today children in the first grade are routinely taught to decipher pre-algebraic equations. With so much information to learn, in a short period, time is precious. Schools are phasing out recess, physical education, and play time to squeeze in more academics.
The article titled “The ADHD Epidemic Part II” written for the National Association of School Psychologists by Pam Dawson, NCSP, recounts a positive story of how Ritalin has become an entrenched educational innovation. She tells of a small Christian school that chronicled their seventh grade class. This class of students were known for troublesome behaviors, beginning in kindergarten. School administrators experimented with variety of teaching methods: cooperative learning, hands on, activity-based learning, reinforcement systems, and a learning center’s approach. Nothing worked. In sixth grade a frog-dissecting lesson ended frenziedly with frog innards everywhere! The class engaged in a frog fight. One year later in the library, the author viewed the same class involved in a skillful lesson creating the meticulous Ukrainian eggs. These seventh graders carefully pinpricked raw eggs, and delicately decorated their hollowed shells. Dawson asked the principal what had changed?
“The principal told me that half the class (about 6 of 12 students) had been evaluated for attention disorders and placed on Ritalin. In all my years of working with children with attention disorders, this is the most provocative story I've encountered. In this class, half the students were on Ritalin. And the class was going better than it ever had before,” reported Dawson.
There are risks associated with taking any prescribed medication. When the benefits outweigh the risks, it’s optimistic. For many families the medication produces socially adept children who would otherwise fall behind, not just in school but in social development as well. Without medication these children suffer, silently and often not so silently. In a highly publicized news report last year, Florida school administrators were so overwhelmed by an extreme tantrum they requested police assistance. The police decided to use handcuffs to restrain the 5-year-old girl who in addition to being disruptive had already hit the assistant principal. This may seem excessive to some, but children suffering from ODD have such volatile outbursts that a single adult may not be able to contain the child, making them a danger to themselves and others. A quote hanging in the hallway of Hillside Elementary School in New Cumberland PA reads: Being fair is not about giving everyone the same, rather it is giving everyone what they need. According to the CNN Ritalin Debate, "Here in the United States, there is a tendency to over-prescribe in some instances. But it pales in comparison to the under-prescription or under-recognition of these problems in children," said Jensen. "We know from a variety of epidemiologic and other related studies, that as many as half of the children with conditions such as ADHD are not being treated at all."
Perhaps Sheila McDonald, vice president of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation, said it best while testifying at an FDA public hearing in September 2004. McDonald said “Just two days ago there was a posting on our website, and I quote a woman about her 10-year-old son where she says, 'I thank God for each and every pill, each and every day that I don't have to listen to my son, my little boy say that he wishes he was dead.’”
The ADHD Epidemic: Threat or Opportunity for School Psychology, Part II by Peg Dawson, NCSP
A sermon given November 9, 2003, by Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell, First Unitarian Church
Ritalin debate: Are we over-medicating? By Rhonda Rowland, August 29, 2001
Drugging Our Children: Parents Look For Alternative to Ritalin by Cameron Woodworth
Are We Over-Medicating Our Kids? From McMan's Depression and Bipolar Web
All Work and No Play? Make Jack a Drugged Boy! From FlatRock.org