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Should We Be Medicating Our Young Students?

I know some children really need the help of medication, but I also know that teacher training is often minimal, and teachers need skills to help their students, not pills.
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I am aware of many reasons that parents, teachers and therapists want to medicate children in their early years. I will discuss many of these reasons later. I am also sure that there are many of the above mentioned people will take offense at my opinions, but I feel compelled to share some of them because I am still being called upon to evaluate young children. There are those professionals who are sure that medication will take care of a child's issues such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or even classroom disruptiveness in general. I am not going to bore you with clinical definitions, nor am I trained as a therapist; however, I do have forty-five plus years of teaching experience behind me along with raising a son and a daughter (which I think is the most intense training of all!).

When I was a young teacher, I was not challenged as often about medicating children, because there were only a few medications available. Ritalin was something brand new, and it was said to be a miracle for children who were having focusing issues in the classroom. Medication had to be prescribed by a doctor, licensed therapist and then approved by the child's parents. It is not much different today, except that more adults seem to be looking for a quick fix for their little ones.

There were years in which I recommended that medication be avoided, while I searched for ways to create clear boundaries and new strategies for my students. Sometimes the parents were not ready to take the suggestions of those who did testing, while others were in a great hurry to try it so that their child could conform to the requirements of the classroom teacher. In all of my years of working with children, I only concurred three times with the advice of therapists, and all of those times brought enormous changes to the child's classroom success.

Recently I was asked to evaluate a little girl who was in second grade. Her teachers felt that she was not able to absorb the information given in class, nor was she able to focus during lessons. Her parents were going through a difficult divorce, and her mother wanted her to be given medication, and her father did not want that to happen. I had occasion to watch this child interact with a group of adults who were playing a game, and she was able to participate with them and focus for well over an hour. I also noticed that she loved to read books, but she did not appear to be generally happy. I spent a little while working with her and listening to her thoughts. It appeared that there was a child at school who was bullying her, and she was being humiliated in front of her peers by this child. She told me that it was very hard to pay attention because she kept thinking about how to protect herself from the bully. She tested fourth grade, seventh month in reading, and her vocabulary and comprehension was excellent. When she approached simple math problems, however, she had no clue as to how to apply any strategies at all. She told me that her teachers were putting pressure on her to do the same math as her peers, but she did not understand it. She had no knowledge of simple math facts, and her eyes filled with tears when she told me that she just didn't "get it." Instead of learning math, she was worrying about the bully outside, and instead of focusing in class, she was worrying that her teacher did not like her because she couldn't do math. I had a conference with the child's father, and I explained that his daughter needed to go all the way back to the beginning of math. I shared the information I had, with the little girl's permission. I hope that she can be helped by some careful listening by those around her. She needs to be empowered, so she can learn to defend herself.

I know some children really need the help of medication, but I also know that teacher training is often minimal, and teachers need skills to help their students, not pills. If a district stopped publishing new books for a few years, perhaps the funds would be better spent on helping new teachers learn how to help more students, even the ones that don't conform to the classroom.

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