Prescribing Drugs for Kids for Better Academic Results
When I first read the article, I had to check to see if it had originally been published in The Onion. Except it wasn’t really funny.
I’m talking about the NY Times article that appeared in Tuesday’s Health section. The title is, “Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School.”
The gist of the story is that some physicians who work with children in low wealth schools believe that they can offset school problems associated with poverty by prescribing medicines usually for attention deficit disorder whether the children actually have the condition or not. Drugging the kids helps them focus, and makes them less aggressive the doctors say, allowing them to settle down in school, stay out of trouble, and get better grades.
Says Michael Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Georgia’s Cherokee County, “I don’t have a whole lot of choice. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” It was that comment towards the beginning of the article that made me wonder if this whole story was a joke. But it turns out that Dr. Anderson is serious. He believes that ADHD is “made up,” but it serves as an “excuse” to prescribe drugs like Adderall to improve poor academic performance. He believes he’s a “social justice thinker” who is giving kids an even chance despite their poor school environment. Some parents think the whole idea is just great.
I am horrified.
I’ve written about ADD and ADHD before from the standpoint that school people, especially teachers, are often too quick to encourage parents to get their kids labeled with a form of attention deficit disorder so they are less disruptive in class and more focused on their work. For some kids, the drugs seem to work. For others, it’s a disaster. Of course, it’s easier to drug kids than it is to work with them, to modify the learning environment, to focus on each child’s individual needs. In addition, there are side effects to some of these medications; one child treated by Dr. Anderson began hallucinating and admitted to feeling suicidal. The doctor switched his medication.
The article drew nearly 600 comments, many of which were from people who were aghast at the idea of changing the kid rather than the school environment. Some raised the point about long-term effects of attention deficit drugs. Still others questioned the professional ethics of doctors who routinely prescribe for behaviors that fall into the broad range we call normal. Dr. William Graf, a pediatrician in New Haven, doesn’t have a problem with a physician prescribing drugs for non-ADHD kids if the side effects are closely monitored, but points out that the increased used of stimulants can threaten “the authenticity of development.”
I cannot get my mind around prescribing drugs as a study aid for kids who don’t conform to established ideas of behavior or accomplishment. I worry that with the constant pressure for kids to do well in school, to test well particularly, that we are losing the concept of kids developing at a rate that is normal for them. With increased stress on teachers to produce good test scores or lose their jobs, will we see teachers and administrators encouraging more parents to give kids prescription drugs to increase their performance? Will an ever increasing percentage of kids – especially young boys – diagnosed with ADD or ADHD be another unintended consequence of the national testing mania?