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Drugs instead of better schools?

October 10, 2012

A New York Times article published this week suggests a growing practice of prescribing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs to low-income children who struggle in school.

The drugs, like Adderoll and Risperdal, can increase focus and improve a child’s behavior, but they are also addictive stimulants that can have negative side effects, including psychotic episodes.

Still, some doctors and parents believe it’s worth the risk, according to the article, because the consequences of poor academic performance are so great.

Does anyone have experience with anything like this?

It’s no secret that diagnoses of A.D.H.D have been rising and that many more children are medicated today than in the past. But the idea of prescribing drugs to students who may not really have A.D.H.D. just because it’s cheaper than addressing their behavior problems seems questionable.

Any thoughts?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Pat Crowley permalink
    October 10, 2012 10:38 pm

    This blog post headline shows no relevance to The New York Times Story it links to. When the Times story concludes with the lines

    “We might not know the long-term effects, but we do know the short-term costs of school failure, which are real.” They do not mean a “failing school” they mean when a child fails at school. ” Yet WRNI interprets that with a headline “Drugs or Better or Schools” ?

    • October 10, 2012 11:43 pm

      Thank you for your comment, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with you.

      The headline is intended to be provocative and spark discussion. However, I do not believe it misrepresents the NYT article.

      These psychiatrists are prescribing drugs to patients who do not suffer from A.D.H.D because their schools and/or teachers are either unable or unwilling to address their behavior/focus problems in other ways. You have only to read as far as the second paragraph to see it described as “poor academic performance in inadequate schools.”

      I personally find this use of pharmaceutical drugs troubling, as I stated in the blog post. One also has to wonder where the parents are in all of this.

  2. N. S. permalink
    October 15, 2012 1:52 pm

    I am a parent of a 10 year old boy who was evaluated and subsequently diagnosed with ADHD 2 years ago.

    Fortunately for us, our son is not performing poorly in school but he’s not performing to his potential as he’s very bright and that remains the biggest source of frustration for all the adults around him.

    As recommended by the psychologist we saw, who still maintains an ethical core, our family is working with his school. He now receives extra time for test taking, movement breaks and attends weekly group sessions with a behavioral therapist at school to discuss making better choices to manage his impulsivity. His teacher also breaks up his homework packets into smaller segments so that it’s not overwhelming.

    Even with these adjustments it’s a struggle at times but we would NEVER considering drugging our child into compliance. He may always struggle with maintaining focus and being impulsive at times but the adults around him are trying to provide him with tools to better cope.

    As his parents, we also work hard to provide opportunities for him to develop areas of interest and strength to maintain good self-esteem. He is very active, inquisitive, loves nature and science and is a talented artist who draws constantly. Therefore he participates in sports, we buy tons of art supplies, and we take him to the bay to explore the coastline since he’s fascinated with marine life. We’ve found that he concentrates for long periods of time on things that interest him; including chess.

    It’s hard, it takes work, we still feel that we should be doing more but, all things considered, we think he’ll be fine.

    Somehow, people are surprised that more children are struggling in the classroom, especially little boys, when recess is cut, kids don’t have enough time to play, they have longer days (especially in urban areas) and we’re now in an era of high-stakes testing.

    I’m torn with with longer days as our family needs the after-school programming but some kids have a lot more energy and they need to get it out, and even in after-school, they may not have that opportunity. By the time we get home, our kids barely have time to do anything else besides having snack, doing homework and getting ready for bed and it starts all over again.

    In a society that prefers diet pills to exercise and other quick-fix solutions that never work, why would we needlessly medicate children who don’t need it (I acknowlege that some do) with powerful drugs where the long term side effects are unknown when the FDA doesn’t even properly regulate food.

    • October 15, 2012 3:23 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like your son is an active and engaged child with lots of good support!

      Did you find that medical and/or school professionals tried to push you in the direction of medications once your son was diagnosed with ADHD? Was it difficult to resist?

      • N. S. permalink
        October 15, 2012 4:12 pm

        Well, his teachers kept pushing us to get him tested which we never wanted to do because we guessed that was the diagnosis that they were hinting at and we tended to feel that was a catch all diagnosis given to highly active boys.

        We always worried about how poorly little Black boys are faring in school and didn’t want another “strike” against our son so to speak and didn’t want him tracked into special ed because that’s disproportionately the case. We communicated this to the school as well.

        However, we kept hearing some of the same feedback even from preschool to now…can’t sit still, challenging to redirect, drawing all the time, difficulty focusing and the like. Thankfully though, he was fine academically.

        There were some behavioral problems but they tended to be managed but issues still cropped up from time to time which we couldn’t ignore any longer. After thinking hard and reflecting on advice from a very close friend who is an education advocate in another city, we decided to put our fears aside and get the evaluation.

        She stressed that such a diagnosis meant he would be eligible for more tools to help him succeed and as parents, we have the final say in what course of action to take.

        As for medication, we were very clear with our pediatrician and the psychologist that medication was not going to be an option unless things became dire and chose to go the behavioral route. They also didn’t think medication was necessary.

        I’m just grateful that we have good insurance (too many people don’t) to take advantage of these resources.

        Bottom line, parents have to advocate for their children and it is daunting. You know your child best and if the physician doesn’t share the same values, find another one. The best solution is not always the easiest, and it’s still challenging for us.

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