When I was in my twenties, I taught at a special education school and one of my young students was on Ritalin. As her teacher, I was responsible for reminding her to take the drug during the day. It bothered me to give her the drug as I am a supporter of the natural way and I presumed, in my youthful arrogance, that she didn’t really need the Ritalin, that I knew better than my student’s parents what was best for her.
Today we are still debating the ethics of prescribing drugs like Ritalin to children. On Sunday, October 16th, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) lowering the minimum age of the diagnosis from six to four years of age.
I realize since I have been a parent that things are not so black and white as I believed them to be as a young teacher. When I listen to recordings of my four children playing together when they were all ten years of age or younger, I am shocked by the speed of my one son’s speech. It makes me nervous just listening to him. Yet at the time I was accustomed to his behavior and made every effort not to label him, not to say he was hyperactive, not to make him a problem.
Maybe I went too far in trying to protect him, but I saw that we were starting to scapegoat him as a family and while I knew that his behavior could be stimulating I also believed he would grow out of it; he did. The very physicality that drove his intense behavior as a child matured into the talents that he now uses to make a living as an adult.
The AAP itself says that it’s difficult to diagnosis ADHD in children younger than six. According to “ADHD and Your School-Aged Child” symptoms of ADHD include behavior
that makes it difficult for the child to function at school, home and social settings on an ongoing basis,
more severe than other children’s of the same age
that is long-term and ongoing.
Officially lowering the age of the diagnosis allows for medication to be prescribed for children as young as four.
Some suggest that parents drug their children because their behavior is inconvenient to them; I’m not so sure. Most parents try everything before they resort to drugs, but often they don’t know what else to do or are being pressured by family members or professionals. Here are some of the things I did try or would have tried with my son if I knew then what I know now.
A child with an active mind and body needs a calming environment with plenty of time and space to run off steam, to explore and to wear himself or herself out. I once asked a friend whose son had just been diagnosed with ADHD if he would be a problem if he lived on a farm. She said, “No.”
Kim John Payne, educator and consultant, suggests that parents look at eliminating or mediating the many over-stimulating influences in a child’s life. A movie, for example, is something we think of as relaxing when, in fact, it is stimulating. Think about limiting or eliminating television.
Look for ways to create a calm, ordered environment for active children. Have meals and bedtimes at the same times every day. Create routines to help children focus on regular tasks.
Start with food. Many children have food sensitivities or allergies. Watch out especially for food dyes, additives and sweeteners. Keep food simple.
Integrative therapies like herbal medicine, homeopathy, and acupuncture can be explored before drugs are considered or can be used as complements to drug therapy. How does one know where to start amidst all the choices?
I like to start with biochemistry. There are affordable blood tests that can give us a unique look at our child’s biochemistry so that we can approach integrative therapies with specific knowledge of the needs of our particular child. The Pfeiffer Medical Center, a nonprofit medical research and treatment facility specializing in research and treatment of biochemical imbalance, is one place that helps with these kinds of tests.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
In the eighties when ADHD first began to be mentioned to any degree, we published the groundbreaking work of Thomas Armstrong in Mothering magazine. Armstrong has long been a vocal critic of the medical diagnosis of ADHD and proposes fifty non-drug strategies to improve behavior and attention span.
I know that children all learn differently, what Howard Gardner calls Multiple Intelligences, or what Donna Markova calls Patterns of Natural Intelligence. I also know that parents make the best choices we can with the information we have. I have compassion for parents who struggle with a diagnosis of ADHD or any other “diagnosis” and hope some of these resources help.
Tags: AAP, ADHD, American Academy of Pediatrics, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Biochemistry, D. Dawn Markova, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner, Kim John Payne, Ritalin, The Open Mind, The Pfeiffer Institute, Thomas Armstrong