Just when I thought it was safe to never again write a column about Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and the abuse of medicating millions of American children, another study comes out that proves what many of us have been saying since the ADHD term was coined 30 years ago. Only this time it is worse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that more than 10,000 American children 2 and 3 years old are being prescribed medications not approved for toddlers. So I wonder, if you need to medicate your child because you can’t handle him at age 2 or 3, what are your plans for when he is age 16 or 17?
The ADHD diagnosis is not a valid diagnosis for children under the age of 4, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And many, including myself, have questioned the validity of the ADHD label for any age.
I don’t mean to pick on parents, and I understand that a very few number of children really do have significant disabilities that impact their ability to learn appropriate social skills. But when I read that 14 percent of male school children are taking various medications to correct inappropriate behavior, we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
In many cases, a pill has taken the place of effective parenting. While much of the blame for this problem rests with the physicians prescribing these medications inappropriately, an equal amount of blame falls squarely on the shoulders of parents who shop from one doctor to another looking for someone to medicate their toddlers.
In addition, millions of other children between the ages of 3 and 17 are labeled as having ADHD in America. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that rests on a questionable diagnosis and label that rests solely on the judgment of a physician, frequently after a 10-minute office visit and without a proper assessment of the child’s environment.
There is no medical test for ADHD, and the questionnaires and interviews completed by parents, psychologists and educators that supposedly identify ADHD are as invalid as the diagnosis itself. For example, one such assessment question asks the parent if their child is noncompliant. But the questionnaire doesn’t determine why the child is noncompliant. In my experience, most children are noncompliant because they have learned that it is not necessary to listen to their parents. Parents teach their children this by telling them to do things more than once without following through and without consequences for not listening the first time.
The problem is not that the child can’t be compliant because he has a disability, but that the parents are not consistent with their expectations and consequences. The solution is not medicating the child, but teaching effective parenting, including how to develop structure, rules and routines for children at home.
For many of our nation’s children, these basics are sadly lacking in their life. In most cases, their inappropriate behavior is not a sign of a disability, but a sign of environmental issues that are not being addressed.
I have worked with hundreds of children and adults with a laundry list of “disabilities” in my practice who have learned to control impulses and behave socially appropriate after a simple behavior plan. A behavior plan, for parents and child, resets the rules and consequences for their behavior. The key to any behavior plan, however, is consistency, and this is the number one problem I see in parenting today.
We need to stop the medicalization of behavior and focus our attention on supporting parents (and teachers) and helping them secure the skills they need to be more effective parents and teachers. We need to stop the needless medication of our children without regard to the long-term effects on their mental and physical health.
Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.