Raising the Ritalin generation

We’re way too quick to label active boys as hyperactive, writes Bronwen Hruska in Raising the Ritalin Generation.

Will did not bounce off walls. He wasn’t particularly antsy. He didn’t exhibit any behaviors I’d associated with attention deficit or hyperactivity. He was an 8-year-old boy with normal 8-year-old boy energy — at least that’s what I’d deduced from scrutinizing his friends.

But the third-grade teacher suggested an evaluation.

. . .  once you start looking for a problem, someone’s going to find one, and attention deficit has become the go-to diagnosis, increasing by an average of 5.5 percent a year between 2003 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of 2010, according to the National Health Interview Survey, 8.4 percent, or 5.2 million children, between the ages of 3 and 17 had been given diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

There’s no test for ADHD, she writes. Teachers’ impressions —  they’re asked to rate “squirminess” on a scale of one to five — make a big difference.

Will was diagnosed as being inattentive in distracting situations, such as school, and prescribed Ritalin. “It was not to be taken at home, or on weekends, or vacations. He didn’t need to be medicated for regular life.”

He took the drug in fourth grade and had a great year, but quit in fifth grade. He’s done fine without it. “For him, it was a matter of growing up, settling down and learning how to get organized,” writes Hruska. “Kids learn to speak, lose baby teeth and hit puberty at a variety of ages. We might remind ourselves that the ability to settle into being a focused student is simply a developmental milestone; there’s no magical age at which this happens.”



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  1. Genevieve says:

    There seems to be something wrong with our expectations for young students.

    My nephew just started Kindergarten. He has already received two notes home warning that he talks to much and is to wiggly. This happened in the first week of school. His kindergarten includes sitting all day at tables doing academic work. He also has a November birthday, so sitting out school for another year isn’t really a choice.

    His mother is concerned he is already being labeled and judged (she is a poor single mom in a wealthy district). I had spent several years working with preschoolers. As far as I can tell he is simply a normal boy.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      In some (many?) states Kindergarten is optional. Which might mean that, yes, sitting out school for another year *is* really a choice.

      Has your nephew’s mom checked?

      • Genevieve says:

        She has to work so it is Kindergarten or daycare. The state helps pay her child care bill and they don’t pay for child care during the school day if the child is Kindergarten eligible.

        There is also the problem of how old he will be in high school. If he is 16 as a freshman, I would guess that he will have a high risk of dropping out. He already has several risk factors.

        However, if the teacher keeps pushing, they may have to do that. I’m just not sure that so much will change in a year. He will still be a boy in a school district that expects them to sit for the majority of the day.

  2. My old-maid Normal School teachers and my DH’s nuns seemed to deal with boys better than the current crop of master’s-prepared ed school grads. Too many teachers don’t understand, or accept, that boys and girls are different. School is now run on girls’ rules; the choice of books, the ban on competition, the groupwork and the focus on feelings all work against the way most boys operate. They are increasingly seen as defective girls. ES teachers have been female for generations, but they used to understand and appreciate boys more than they do today. No one ever suggested my boys were ADHD. They were simply on the most-active end of the active-boy continuum; the kind that, at ages 7 and 9, decided to run at least one 10k every weekend (without deliberate training), prior to playing the whole game (center midfield and wing) with their travel soccer teams. Their 3-6 classrooms opened directly onto the playground and teachers would simply send itchy kids (mostly boys) out to run a few laps – on their own! Oh, the horror!

    • tim-10-ber says:

      well said Momof4! We so need more men teachers in the classroom…

      I am so tired of how far the pendulum has swung to “protect” the girls…it is high time it swings back to the middle…

      Government education much work for ALL students…

      • I don’t think it’s realistic to expect much change in the all-female ES teacher population; I’d happily settle for female teachers who are willing to let boys be boys and allow a fair share of the classroom curriculum decisions (like book choices, types of assignments – drop journaling & feelings and limit artsy stuff) and instructional methods to reflect their needs and preferences. There are also lots of girls who would prefer that approach; I was one and my daughter was another.

    • You are right, Mom of 4. The nuns were strict disciplinarians (necessary when class sizes reached 45-50) but they appreciated boys as boys. We shouldn’t be surprised that so many boys conclude that school is not for them. And thus the gender gap.

  3. If I’m remembering correctly, the hyperactive/bouncy kind of ADHD is not the only kind. There’s also an inattentive/spaced out variety (which is more of a girl thing). This child may in fact have had the second kind of ADHD.

    • That is possible,in this case, but I am not at all convinced that all the ADD/ADHD diagnoses are justified. I’ve known far too many kids who were simply active. As far as inattentive/spaced out behavior is concerned, it may be reflective of distaste for the material/discussion/task. Many boys will do this when asked to write/discuss feelings, write journal entries, read girly books or do artsy projects.

      • Groupwork is torture for any child with an IQ substantially above the rest of the group.  Journaling and arts/crafts projects are not academic work.  I’ve considered running for school board just so that I could get such things limited or prohibited.

        • YES!

          Groupwork is the pits for quirky, creative kids. If you stand out in any way, it’s a horrible way to work – every idea you have, rather than run with it, has to be “adapted” to the group’s “consensus” – Lord, I HATE consensus – it’s bowing down to the most conforming, bootlicking, mediocre minds.

          Groupwork should be minimal – as for when the teacher has no alternative – such as science labs, when the equipment has to be shared.

    • The Hruska piece resonated with my experience. When my youngest son was in third grade, he was dreamy and inattentive, not hyperactive. But, the school psychologist and principle tried to convince me that he had ADD of the inattentive kind. I ordered a book from Amazon about ADD/ADHD and couldn’t find my son is their list of symptoms, so my husband and I told the school that we were not going to put him on Ritalin and he would just have to take his chances in life. The psychologist and the principle said we were making a terrible mistake and my son may never live up to his potential. We expected him to do what his two older brothers had done – which was do as little as possible until the light goes on for them in the mid-teens and they suddenly decide to TRY! It took our youngest years to clue in and we sometimes wondered if we had been to hasty to reject the psychologists’ advice, but finally in 11th grade he “got” it and eventually graduated from high school in the top of his class. I wish we had been more skeptical about the psychiatric label put on my eldest son, but that’s a whole other story. When did teachers become medical experts?

    • There are two kinds – and safety is an issue with both of them. Think about a child crossing the street or an older child driving a car. The medication makes your brain function better so that you do not space out and get in a car accident. It also really helps with your short term memory. Most ADHD/ADD suffers are very disorganized which directly effects academic success in the upper grades.

  4. Anybody who says there’s no test for ADHD does not know what they are talking about and can safely be dismissed as an ignorant crank.

    • There are tests for ADHD, but they are done by a child psychologist or psychiatrist in an environmental lab. These rating scales, which teachers know how to manipulate, should never have taken the place of a neutral third party evaluation.

      One mother told me her pediatrician put her son reading a book, in a quiet room, and then went in and blasted a fog horn. Based on the intensity of his reaction, he was labelled ADHD.

      Most ADHD testing is similarly fraudulent.

      • Oh now that’s quackery. The funny part is that I’m sitting no more than 6 feet away from a book on ADHD written by a physician who actually knows what he’s talking about. It’s not hard to find accurate information but you have to want to find it.

        • Didn’t say it wasn’t, but in many states ADHD is a medical diagnosis that only licensed physicians can use for eligibility. So lots of pediatricians and family practitioners can diagnosis it for schools but not psychologists and psychometricians.

          I can’t, so we have to depend on the physicians – and some are lacking.

  5. Also some kids who are labeled as ADHD or oppositionally defiant (my son was labeled the latter in 3rd grade) may simply have school related anxiety or anxiety in general. For those in which depression runs in their family, anxiety is closely related. Early diagnosis does not always mean medication, either, rather kids are given tools to help them work through their anxiety.

    My son had anxiety related to school which took time to help him develop coping skills. He was also on a very, very low level dose of prozac for about a year. He is now a well adjusted 16 year old who now has the skills to work through any anxiety he may be dealing with.

  6. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    We take young children away from their parents for a majority of their waking hours, force them to stay more or less in a single room and to sit in — let us be honest — uncomfortable chairs with a stranger — and a new stranger every year.

    And when the kids find this sort of arrangement unsatisfying, when they rebel… we say that there’s something wrong with them.

  7. lightly seasoned says:

    I have filled out a lot of Basc scales over the years — all parent initiated. Sometimes they’ve not been pleased with me because I can’t report that I’ve seen anything unusual. Sometimes a kid does have something going on — but I just fill out a scale; I don’t make a diagnosis. The physician does that. The good ones ask me for follow-up information a few months later.

  8. Big picture says:

    European and Asian countries don’t have ADHD and depression…they have energetic kids and stress. All that is going on here is the creation of a perfect hard working, obedient, and docile race. Street drugs and pharmaceuticals effect the brain the same chemically and they have the same effect in making humans docile and content with unsatisfying situations. Look at the big picture, does your child‘s soul need to go silent so he/she can fit into this society? Genes were modified in chickens to allow them to live in concentrations and not peck at each other or feel pain…that’s what’s coming next