Don’t Do the Wrong Thing With Your Hyperactive Kids

When I was a child in school, my parents were called in each and every year to have a conference with the principal about my inattention, underachievement, and disruption of the class because I talked too much – all the things that would have me doused in Ritalin today.

I get way too many calls from mothers that their local school is threatening to drug their child (usually a son) with Ritalin to cure his ADHD, and thereby control his behavior.  I always tell them:  NO.  There are numerous reasons why children (and especially boys) won’t sit still and won’t pay attention.  Sometimes they’re bored, sometimes there is so much turmoil at home that they’re acting out, and sometimes they just have so much energy that they can’t sit still.  Schools have virtually thrown out recess breaks and physical education.  Sometimes, too, they’re just the sort of kids who need more one-on-one attention in order to keep focused.  Of course, there’s also the possibility that there are other problems.

There’s an important (and not surprising to me) piece of news published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:  that stimulant drugs like Ritalin that are used to treat ADHD do not improve children’s symptoms in the long term.

The latest report tracked almost 500 children for eight years, and found that those still taking stimulant medication fared no better in the reduction of symptoms such as inattention and hyperactivity or in social functioning than those who had not taken medication.  The difference was clear in less than two years.

Behavioral treatments are going to have a much bigger benefit in the long term.  It’s easy to find a doctor who will prescribe Ritalin.  However, it takes some time to find a doctor experienced in behavioral intervention, and for many “too busy” folks, popping a pill seems easier and more expedient than ongoing behavioral techniques that will require their time and energies to learn and utilize at home.
Here in Los Angeles, we have The Drake Institute, which is expert in this area.  These ongoing interventions are costly, and not all insurance will cover them, which is, indeed, a problem.

I remember reading on the air an email from a grandfather whose grandson was the child of a two-career household.  The grandfather was retired.  He found out they were going to “Ritalin-ize” his grandson, and immediately took over.  He homeschooled this child and spent the entire day combining school work with structured play and discipline   The child blossomed.  He wrote:  “I sometimes think that it is not the child who has attention-deficit problems, but the parents who give the child a deficit of attention.”

While that may be true in a lot of cases, there are still those children whose impulse control and thinking processes need special attention.  Find a good behavioral therapist with the experience to make a difference, and realize that you, as a parent, will have to spend the time to understand, learn and help your child mature in a healthy and productive way.  Stop with the popping of potent pills as a first and last resort…..please.