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Restless? Go Climb a Tree
Medicating Children for Being Children
by Wendy Priesnitz

boy climbing tree in nature to work off excess energyOften fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat; often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected; often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate; often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly; is often “on the go”; often talks excessively.

Sound like the kids you know? Then those kids “must” be mentally ill, because that is the definition of hyperactivity found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). If you read it closely, the definition is laden with words that are judgmental, or at least reflect an adult’s – often a teacher’s – preference for quiet and order. And, although hyperactivity and its ilk are referred to as “learning disabilities,” these characteristics seem not really to get in the way of true learning. Rather, they might describe the normally active, curious child!

By some estimates, the number of children diagnosed with hyperactivity and other “problems” such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is upwards of five million. In addition, it has been estimated by the psychiatric profession that 60 percent of children with the “disorder” carry their symptoms into adulthood! Some say that four percent of adults in the United States, more than eight million people, have ADHD.

Some doctors and parents have found that many of the behaviors falling under the Psychiatric Association’s various definitions of childhood mental disorders can be caused by allergies to certain foods, food additives or environmental factors, or by poor nutrition. Studies and clinical trials conducted at Purdue University in the U.S. and Surrey and Oxford in the U.K. indicate that ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia (Clumsy Child Syndrome) may have a nutritional basis.

However, the pharmaceutical industry, which manufactures products like Ritalin and Dexedrine to medicate these so-called illness, has a vested interest in helping doctors diagnose and treat them.

A survey conducted by the Harris polling company for Eli Lilly and Company found that parents report their children have ADHD “symptoms” around the clock but physicians only treat many of their patients for symptoms during school hours. So the push is apparently on to educate doctors about parents’ “need” for further drugging of their children. “Managing ADHD during school is important, but we cannot overlook that managing ADHD during family time plays a critical role as well,” said Richard W. Geller, M.D. of Norwich Pediatric Group, Norwich, Conn., and an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, commenting on the survey results.

Fortunately, an increasing number of doctors and researchers would disagree with Dr. Geller and, using a more nuanced approach, have been coming out against the acroos-the-board psychopharmaceutical approach to the behavioral management of children, i.e. redefining normal but inconvenient childhood behavior as a mental disorder.

Priscilla Alderson, Professor of Childhood Studies at London University, told The Times newspaper quite plainly that legitimate syndromes such as attention deficit disorder was being exploited by psychologists keen to make a quick buck. Some life learning parents would agree with her; there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that when diagnosed kids leave school, its environment, and behavioral expectations for home-based learning their “symptoms” disappear.

Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD has been an adult and child neurologist, in private practice, for over 40 years. He views the “epidemic” of ADHD. with increasing alarm. Dr. Baughman describes it this way, “[Psychiatry] made a list of the most common symptoms of emotional discomfiture of children; those which bother teachers and parents most, and in a stroke that could not be more devoid of science or Hippocratic motive, termed them a ‘disease.’ Twenty five years of research, not deserving of the term ‘research,’ has failed to validate ADD/ADHD as a disease.”

In addition to scientific articles that have appeared in leading national and international medical journals, Dr. Baughman has testified for victimized parents and children in ADHD/Ritalin legal cases, writes for the print media and appears on talk radio shows, always making the point that ADHD is a creation of what he calls the “psychiatric-pharmaceutical cartel,” without which they would have little reason to prescribe its drugs.

The ADHD diagnosis is often made using brain imaging technology. However, the use of brain scanning is, itself, highly controversial. In fact, there seems to be little confirming data to support either the practice or the diagnosis that ADHD is even a biological problem that could be diagnosed that way.

A study published in the Journal of Mind and Behavior looked at 33 studies on brain imaging and ADHD dating back to 1978. Jonathan Leo, professor of anatomy at the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California and professor David Cohen of the School of Social Work at Florida International University in Miami, found that the majority of the studies failed, unaccountably, to consider a major variable – the use of drugs by participants in the studies.

According to the researchers, 93 percent of the subjects in the ADHD diagnosed group were either on drugs, just off drugs, or had been medicated for years. There were no studies that compared typical unmedicated kids with an ADHD diagnosis to kids without the diagnosis, a suspicious phenomenon that the researchers say discredits the diagnosis.

Wendy Priesnitz is the founder and editor of Life Learning Magazine, a well known home-based learning advocate since the 1970s, the mother of two adult daughters who learned without school, and the author of 13 books. This article was published in 2004.

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