Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Medicalization of Misbehaviour

The title of this post was coined by Leonard Sax, writing about the dramatic increase in the use of drugs such as Ritalin by parents to deal with poor attention and disruptive behaviour in their children. Sax says: “In a bizarre turn of events, it’s become politically incorrect to spank your child, but it’s OK to drug him.”

I was talking about this issue with my own 19 year old son recently. When he was in 3rd Grade he was diagnosed as having ADD and Ritalin was one of the options we were given, but which we refused. We felt that with the right sort of support in school, the right sort of classroom management and organization, the right sort of stimulation and interest, medication could be avoided. The school was supportive and offered him a weekly session in social skills, which was extremely helpful. He was also given a laptop computer to help him with his poor writing skills.

I remember at the time having a conversation with the mother of another student in his class who was being medicated. She said that the way she looked at it, if her daughter had been diagnosed as diabetic she would not hesitate to give her insulin, therefore when her daughter was diagnosed with ADD she did not hesitate to give her Ritalin. The implication was that by “withholding” medication that was “needed” this was in some way similar to child abuse.

This summer our son told us how glad he was that we had encouraged him to cope without medication, by changing the circumstances he was in and giving him strategies to cope. He is quite a “sparky” sort of person and he feels that medication would have dulled that spark. I’m very aware that we were lucky: being in the international system class sizes were small, teachers were excellent, problems were picked up and dealt with immediately and extra support was provided. I also bless the teacher who alerted us to the fact that there was a big gap between his ability and his actual performance in class. This support isn’t available to all students. I’m also very aware that some students benefit tremendously from the right medication and that without it those students would be at risk of failing or dropping out of school altogether. However over the 28 years that I have been teaching I have noticed a year by year increase in the percentage of students I teach who do take medication and my question is: do they all really need it and are there alternatives that have not yet been explored?

Photo Credit:  Day 242/365 by thp356

1 comment:

  1. I think the problem here is that medication has become the easy answer. It is easier to medicate a problem away then to look at the deeper reasons that the child is struggling. Sometimes there is so much going on that a child needs medication to help calm the chaos in their minds. But I think a lot of what is happening has to do with the way schools are structured. I just read your girl brain/boy brain post and wonder if a lot of the problems stem from an education system that is tailored toward one sex and even one type of student within that sex. In the 7 years that I have been teaching, I have met hundreds of students labeled "ADD" or "ADHD" But out of all of those students, only 2 come to mind that genuinely needed the assistance of medication. They were both brilliant students but had so much going on all the time that they couldn't tune out and they struggled socially, academically, and even personally.
    I was watching a TED Talk the other day (I'll see if I can hunt it down) and it was about children who were diagnosed as autistic. What they are finding is that their brains are having mini seizures and if you can control the seizure with medication that the symptoms of autism seem to go away. Very interesting. I think that the problem with diagnosing every child as ADD and medicating them all, is that we cease to search for an answer or a different solution. That is the biggest problem for me. Lets seek to define it, understand it, and then do something about it.