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