Friday, October 28, 2011

Year 2: Week 8 - The Medicated Child

One of the most touching things a student can do is to give you an unsolicited, genuine and host apology.

I’ll never forget the day at my old school when after a music class one of my students came up and apologized for his behavior in class. After pointing out the things he felt he could do better he told me that he was off his medication. I suspected this after teaching him and dealing with his outbursts during class, but now that he told me it all came together.

I had worked with this student all year and had seen the ups and down in relation to the medication he was taking for his ADHD. And it absolutely broke my heart watching him struggle through class and trying to keep it together and not being able to.

When I tell people I’m a teacher one of the common things people ask me about is this idea that we are over-medicating our children. Often this discussion includes some statistics from some article or news show and about the possible harm that these drugs may cause. What is interesting to me is that most people who talk to me about this are coming from the viewpoint that children are indeed over-medicated, and if parents simply did a better job then we wouldn’t have as many issues with kids with ADD or ADHD as there was when they were kids.

First off, kids have always had attention issues; it wasn’t labeled until the past twenty or so years. The treatment for these children who we would now diagnose as having attention disorders was akin to torture for them. I know this for a fact because one of my closest friends grew up with ADHD in the 1960s and being sent of the class and punished because your senses are hyper-sensitive to stimulus really is torture.

When I teach a student and it seems clear to me that they could benefit from some level of medication for their attention disorders I don’t think this because I want to stop them from talking and blurting out in class. Well, would you open a door for a person in a wheelchair so they could get into a building? Of course you would.

I view a child with an attention disorder the same way. If there is a way that they can manage the stimulus and their impulses with the help of medication so that they can be happier and more successful it would be cruel to not provide those resources for that child.

I’ve never met a parent who didn’t hesitate and struggle with the idea of putting their child on medication. However, I’m sure that there are parents as well as doctors who are responsible for over-medicating and wrongfully medicating children.  However I’ve never encountered this in my life and no amount of statistics can outweigh the look in the eyes of students struggling to manage the barrage of outside stimulus and their own impulses.

Our society does have a lot of questions to ask about the issue of medicating children with all kinds of disorders, but we can't let this discussion hinder the positive uses of these medications.  This isn't about making children better students, it's about allowing them to live better lives.

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