Janae B. Weinhold
In the last fifteen years, there has been a rush to diagnose aggressive, impulsive and hyperactive children with psychological disorders such as ADD and ADHD. Parents and other adult caregivers, desperate for some relief from the disturbing behavior of children, have become comfortable with administering Ritalin and other powerful central nervous system drugs as a quick-fix answer.
The production of Ritalin has increased more than seventy percent in the last eight years, with ninety percent of it consumed in the United States. The percentage of children walking out of a doctor’s office with a prescription for Ritalin jumped from 55% in 1989 to 75% in 1996. Only recently has the scientific community begun to ask critical questions about how Ritalin actually works on the nervous system and call for research on the effects of over-prescribing it and on the long-term effects of Ritalin on the human body.
In fact, there is no evidence that it has any lasting effect on academic performance or social behavior. No major research indicates that any of the current medical approaches work on ADD, ADHD and Learning Disorders. Drug therapy is used primarily to make these children more manageable, not to cure them. There is evidence, however, indicating that Ritalin can interfere with a child’s growth rate and that common side effects include nervousness, insomnia, skin rashes, fever, blood clots, anorexia, nausea, dizziness, palpitations, headaches and changes in blood pressure.
Much of the diagnosing of ADD and ADHD is being done by physicians with little or no training in mental health who succumb to the pressure of overstressed parents and teachers. Diagnoses of ADD and ADHD, which are considered mental health problems, can create a social stigma for a child that eventually causes more emotional and social damage. Some mental health care professionals estimate that up to 80% of the children being diagnosed with ADD and ADHD do not meet the clinical criteria required by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the official guide to mental health disorders. This means that many children are being medically abused by unaware adults in their lives. This is tragic.
The problem of hyperactivity in children is complex. It can be related to a host of other factors such as attachment, allergies, diet and prenatal drug exposure. Parents and other adult caregivers, it appears, must shoulder the responsibility for looking at all these factors before they decide to administer drugs to children. Alternative medicine now has a broadly based nutritional program for children with hyperactive behavior that includes vitamins, minerals, herbs and energy therapies such as biofeedback, magnets, polarity therapy and Reiki. Parents who use these non-invasive therapies with their children find many of them to be quite helpful in addressing symptoms of hyperactivity.
Diagnosing children with stigmatizing mental health disorders and administering powerful drugs such as Ritalin are no substitute for informed parents and care providers, for better child care facilities and schools, for creative teaching and for parents who have quality time for their children. The ultimate goal is to provide real support and non-invasive interventions for children who are having difficulty coping.