Just say yes to Ritalin!

By Lawrence H. Diller, M.D.



Salon Staff
September 27, 2000 11:18PM (UTC)

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Of course, Ritalin or any other drug for children with ADHD should be given only as a last result. However, every time I pick up a newspaper or magazine I am somewhat disturbed to read more and more articles adamantly opposed to the use of meds that can help children function better and help control the symptoms of ADHD.

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I am a retired special education teacher who has dealt with many ADHD children. I have seen medication such as Ritalin turn children's lives around. I have seen them make several years' growth in math and reading in one school year after being placed on the proper medication. It has been my experience that a TRUE ADHD child can only be really helped with meds. Why do we not hesitate to accept the fact that a person with high blood pressure needs meds, but frown on a child, who probably has some type of chemical imbalance, taking Ritalin?

I would like to see a doctor (or anyone) who is opposed to these meds spend six weeks teaching in a classroom -- all day long -- with a child who has been diagnosed as ADHD. Believe me, when there are 20 to 30 classmates watching his antics and a teacher is trying to alter his actions through often time-consuming behavior modification techniques while teaching AND feeling pressure to raise the test scores of her class, it is a very trying situation, indeed.

I have been fortunate to have help from doctors who would work closely with us at school and help monitor a child's behavior on and off meds. I have never felt any of our children were continued on meds who shouldn't have been. I also have never understood why the public tends to blame the schools for what they see as "over-medication." The educators don't prescribe the meds, doctors do. I have had students and parents come back and tell me how the quality of their lives were improved after a doctor had prescribed medication.

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-- Phyllis Stanley

As the mother and grandmother of sons who took Ritalin, I have lived through two generations of Ritalin kids. As a mother, I was in denial that my son had a problem until he was failing the first grade for the second time. The doctors didn't test yet, they just prescribed Ritalin and it worked -- like a miracle! Testing finally came about in the fifth grade. Ritalin was necessary 'til about the eighth grade. At least my son and then his son were able to keep up with their peers, be able to live down the "Johnny's just a bad boy" syndrome and get on with their lives as young adults.

I think people who do not want to medicate their ADHD kids should home school their children rather than disrupt the classes with their misbehaving kids. They should have the right to raise their kids as they wish, but they should also have to be counseled as to the possibility that they are causing future problems for their kids that may be irrevocable. My son is a great father and responsible human and his son is a really great teenager thanks to the help of Ritalin. And they didn't grow up to be drug addicts.

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-- Jane Schofield

If parents withheld antibiotics from a child with meningitis, most all doctors would be horrified. Yet, when the illness is a chemical, mental one, even physicians won't accept it as real or valid. Medications like Ritalin and Prozac have improved the lives of millions, yet many people consider it "doping" or a "lazy solution." Yes, there are alternatives to medicating children and adults with mental disorders, but Dr. Diller's comparison of Ritalin to illicit drugs betrays him as arrogant, reactionary and prejudiced against those with mental illness.

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Yes, ADHD is overdiagnosed, many times by parents and even teachers who are looking for a quick fix. Yet Dr. Diller fails understand that children with ADHD aren't just behavior problems. They often can't learn at grade level, a far more serious problem than just bad behavior. It's the schools' responsibility to see that a child learns. If a medication can fix the problem, then they should educate parents who are under the mistaken impression that chemical imbalances are character flaws or indicate a lack of discipline.

-- Melissa Nurczynski

I read this article with great interest, being both an adult with ADD and a former educator.

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In my case, I believe that if I had received an accurate diagnosis of my ADD as a child and been given Ritalin, I would have been able to focus in school and would be a more successful adult as a result.

I take Ritalin now and am amazed at how I am able to sit down and deal with a task without all of the procrastination and off-beat "tricks" I had to employ in order to get almost anything accomplished.

I feel that my childhood would have been a happier time if I had been able to behave the same as the other children. I would probably be a more successful adult if I had been able to focus instead of being constantly distracted.

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As a junior high school teacher, I observed students with varying degrees of ADD/ADHD and felt sorry for them, knowing that it was probable that the condition would affect them throughout their lives and conceivably prevent them from realizing their potential.

If taking a pill two or three times per day can help avoid the problems I had as a child and young adult, where is the harm?

-- Dan Taylor

It's easy to say how dreadful it is that children are being forced to take Ritalin. But let's remember the flip side: These are often children who are disrupting classes and bullying other children. If parents don't want to have their children take Ritalin, then they need to take responsibility for their children's actions. That could mean severe discipline whenever the child misbehaves, or even sitting by the child every day in the classroom. I have had my child beaten up by a child whose parent refused Ritalin, and I think my child should have some rights, too!

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-- Eva Freeman

Unless you have actually been an ADHD child and adult, as I myself am, you cannot understand the day in and day out agony that is public school for these children. Sammy's parents were more at fault for resisting special ed than the school was for insisting on Ritalin.

When the same tendencies were noted in my son I had him tested. Though mild and sweet of disposition, he was found to be off the charts as far as inability to concentrate goes. He was put on Adderall, a cousin to Ritalin, and the changes were dramatic. To make a long story short, the most important outcome was that he was finally happy and comfortable in school. I was brought to tears over the transformation, both happy for his success, and sorrowful that this awareness of a chemical aid was not available when I was in school. The way I see it, you've got two choices: Medicate and help them now, or let them self medicate later with cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol, as I did, when living as an outcast becomes unbearable.

-- Scott Bard

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I was dismayed to see the author of this article state that "a child this age never becomes addicted" to Ritalin. I have refused to treat my child with Ritalin, a drug that the elementary school he attended insisted that he needed, because of the extremely high incidence of substance abuse in my family. Ritalin is an amphetamine, listed as an abusable drug in the Physician's Desk Reference. Why would I even want to give this to my child when I am looking at a 98 percent substance (alcohol, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamines) abuse rate among my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins?

My goal as a parent in this situation is to try to teach my children how to deal with this world with resources from within. I have found that counseling and some behavior modification therapy was infinitely preferable to handing my 7-year-old an amphetamine and hoping that he doesn't become addicted to it. A much better statement to make would have been "a child this age almost never becomes addicted" to Ritalin. The family history of substance abuse should always be considered by professionals when prescribing any substance that may be abused.

-- A. Taylor

I was diagnosed with ADD (the previous term for ADHD) when I was in the third grade. I am now a 27-year-old college graduate and a successful designer with a good company. I credit this all to those who supported and encouraged me.

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I feel that the greatest choice my parents ever made was to take me off of Ritalin after six months and teach me to control my impulses on my own. My mother used to describe me as "having lost my spark ... the creativity that made [me] unique."

Ritalin is a drug which is needed by some, but is being used as a crutch/cure-all by a system which seems to lack the patience to deal with the heart of the problem. It instead focuses upon the symptoms (lack of attention, energetic or manic outbursts and discipline issues) by doping up the child.

Having been through the experience of Ritalin and the lack of focus that it causes, I challenge any psychologist or school system to tell me that they know better than I do that there are no real adverse side effects.

I am one of hundreds of cases whose parents chose the harder road of counseling and pushing self-discipline and are leading happier, better lives for it.

-- Alex Therrien

One side of the issue missing from your story is that of parents and homeopathic doctors looking into alternative solutions to Ritalin. My younger brother has battled with ADD for most of his life, and he's extremely talented, bright and creative. Today at 20 years old he's an energetic drummer, studies business and is an expressive writer. My mother, who also has ADD and is a registered nurse did not want to medicate him when he was growing up, and looked into alternatives. A homeopathic doctor suggested giving him a cup of coffee before school, and that has helped him calm down and focus dramatically. He's been drinking coffee since the fourth grade.

To all those parents who would, in knee-jerk reaction, contest that such a beverage might stunt a child's growth, I would 1) attest that my brother is the tallest among my four siblings, and 2) ask them if they have any real idea what Ritalin's long-term effects on a young, growing child are.

-- Shannon Moore

You came so close. Go ahead and say it: Ritalin is a substitute for bad, shoddy parenting.

How come my generation, or my parents' for that matter, did not have the need for Ritalin? Why isn't it ever asked, "Why the massive rise of ADHD? Why was this never a problem before?"

The McCormacks chose not to seek family counseling. I'm curious to know how Sammy's parents reacted to the suggestion and if they ever considered it. His observed behavior around his parents said it all.

-- E. Harris

When I was in third grade, I remembered that I had been molested at the age of 4. Hitherto a good student and a happy child, I stopped doing my homework and became irritable and antisocial. I was too ashamed to tell my parents about the molestation, and they put me on Ritalin. When my period began they took me off, but although I am now 20, I still suffer from insomnia, and I am barely 5-feet tall.

Ritalin did not cure the shame, caused by sexual abuse, that made me withdraw from my peers. Learning few social skills as a child, I still struggle with social problems and probably always will. Beset with these problems, I wonder if the adults in my life had really tried to see what was wrong instead of glibly drugging me, perhaps all of this could have been avoided.

-- Name withheld at writer's request

When my son was in second grade, his teacher recommended that we have him evaluated for ADD and consider medicating him with Ritalin. Our son wasn't even a troublemaker. The teacher said he was a nice kid who phased out in class. Turns out our son was very bright and just plain bored with the teacher's unimaginative lesson plans. And she wanted to dose him for it. (By the way, this once "at risk" child is a happy, well-adjusted argumentative high school sophomore who is taking honors courses and making high grades -- and keeping his teachers and his parents and many friends on their toes.)

Some teachers and so-called educators just don't want to bother with the kids. They're eager to drug them so they can have a nice day dealing with compliant kids. Especially, many teachers are put off by lively, high energy little boys. Isn't is just possible that a little child can be disruptive and even be a troublemaker and still not be sick? I think so. If Einstein were in the school system today, he would surely be dosed. I remember reading that he was a difficult case who even picked up a chair and rammed the teacher.

I think it's entirely possible for a child to be disobedient, argumentative and disruptive and still be perfectly healthy and basically a great kid. And, yeah, the teachers need to deal with them at school (or get into another profession) and the parents get to love them and deal with them at home.

-- Noreen Garrison

I found Dr. Diller's description of a child recommended for Ritalin absolutely fascinating because it is an exact description of my grandson when I received custody of him in first grade because his mother had problems. He was almost impossible to handle in the classroom and at home was rude, disobedient and deeply resentful of any attempt to impinge on his freedom. It took a painful year of getting him to accept structure, rules and consequences and proving to him that the way people treated him was largely dependent on his own behavior.

He has now, in grade four, greatly improved, has been allowed to continue in his French immersion stream, and is usually a pleasure to live with. I applaud Dr. Diller for realizing that many of these problems should be solved by treating the parents, not the child.

-- Barbara Gibson

I read Dr. Diller's article about the overprescription of Ritalin with more than a little interest. My 8-year-old was diagnosed with ADD and has, since he was 5, been in school programs for children with "special learning needs." Currently in the second grade, my son is in a class of about 10 children with two teachers. Although I was originally loath to put him in a "special" school for fear of labeling and influence from children with more behavioral problems than my son, I have found that he is happy, healthy and tests at third and fourth grade levels on standardized tests. This from a child that at 5 tested very low in comprehension and language. As parents we were very worried.

The good news is that he has made this progress without using drugs. Each year the teachers at his school, even in this unusual environment, make their case why we should put our son on Ritalin -- and each year I point to the strong gains and consistent improvement in his academic skills. Their point seems to be that he could be so much "better" if he had this help so that he could focus more. My point is that I want him to know, now and later, that he was able to make these strides on HIS OWN -- without a drug dependency. It is harder for him -- and harder for his teachers, too -- but the struggle is well worth our efforts.

-- Amy Stewart


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