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ADHD and medication-risks vs.benefits

ADHD diagnosis, meds aren't best solution


Having spent 10 years in the public school systems as a school psychologist, I am disturbed by the upward trend in the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Even more troubling is the estimated 6 to 10 percent of students who receive stimulant medication as a form of treatment.

ADHD is widely defined as a developmental disability manifested in problems with sustained attention, impulse control and maintaining appropriate levels of activity. To many parents' surprise, there is no specific "test" used to identify who has ADHD and who does not. Furthermore, it is argued by many psychologists that the means and measures used to make the diagnosis are far too vague and subjective.

Many parents seek psychostimulant medication for their children. At a recent luncheon, I overheard a mother openly and enthusiastically discussing her child's long awaited ADHD diagnosis and consequent daily dose of "the magic pill." She was thrilled that her son's teacher reported that he had "completely changed his personality" and just "sits quietly during class" since the medication. Ironically, in the same conversation, this mother was complaining about the horrible drug and alcohol problem in their high school.

There is no quick fix for distractible, disorganized, "free-spirited," at times exasperating children, nor should there be. We need to embrace the differences in our children and not expect all children to sit quietly and listen.

I would argue that all children fall somewhere on the ADHD continuum at different points in their development. Sure, there are some extreme psychiatric cases where Ritalin may be needed, but certainly not for 6 percent of our school-age population. For parents who struggle with children who have high levels of activity and short attention span, there are many ways to help them without Ritalin.

Parents and educators working together in a truly collaborative manner to teach these children will demonstrate not only their strong level of commitment, but the value of perseverance, communication and hard work. These are the problem-solving skills we should be teaching our children. Taking a drug to "fix it," on the other hand, is a dangerous lesson to teach.

Suzanne C. Hackett is a licensed school psychologist. She has studied at Case Western Reserve University, the College of William and Mary, and the University of Cincinnati. She is an adjunct faculty member at Xavier University and a homeschooling mother.


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