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No Long-Term Benefit Of ADHD Meds?
ritalin does no good, ADHD not helped by drugs, no benefit to attention-deficit drugs, what really helped ADHD,

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Want to cause a ruckus? Criticize attention-deficit meds.

Over three million U.S. kids take these drugs to help them stay calm and attentive. Parents may not be thrilled to dose their children but they are following expert advice to improve behavior and school performance.  They tend to see results. And they don’t need to be judged.

But it helps to pay attention to what works for parents who don’t put or keep their kids on meds. My son was diagnosed with ADD when he was in first grade.  There was a great deal of pressure from his teacher to put him on medication. As many parents do, I struggled to find ways to alleviate the problem without drugs. We found significant improvement when we changed his diet but that wasn’t enough to make the school setting truly work for him. The way he learned best and the way he flourished simply didn’t fit in the strictures of the school environment. He wasn’t wired to sit still and pay attention for hours. Once we began homeschooling we discovered that without classroom and homework pressure, what appeared to be ADD symptoms largely disappeared.

The newest studies of attention-deficit disorder medications now indicate that the calming effect of these drugs don’t necessarily indicate that those who take them have any sort of “brain deficit.”  As L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology at the Universityof Minnesota’s Instituteof Child Development explains,  such medications have a similar effect on all children as well as adults. “They enhance the ability to concentrate, especially on tasks that are not inherently interesting or when one is fatigued or bored, but they don’t improve broader learning abilities.”

Research shows the effect wanes in a few years without conferring any lasting benefit. Dr. Sroufe writes,

To date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve.

This isn’t to say that drugs such as Ritalin are useless. It’s important to remember that studies cited by Dr. Sroufe are limited to children with ADHD, not concomitant diagnoses such as oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar disorder, or autism. Even when facing ADHD itself, parents need support that extends beyond what the mental health system, insurance company, or school district willingly offers. Some states provide advocates who help parents stand up for the child’s right to appropriate education, including extra time to complete assignments, smaller class sizes, and the kind of counseling that helps ADHD children internalize behavioral standards and respond appropriately to social cues. Parents also turn online for support. The blogosphere is full of information and empathy from others raising ADHD children, including the following:

Easy to Love, Hard to Raise

ADDitude Magazine ADHD parenting blog and education blog

ADHD Awareness

Edge Foundation

A Mom’s & Dad’s View of ADHD

Life with ADHD

While Dr. Sroute looks for a mental health answer, I think it’s a much bigger issue. It asks us to look at how today’s children are restricted in movement, have less time for free play, and are exposed to unnecessarily early academics.  It asks us to look at the quality of the air, water, and food in the lives of today’s children. It asks us to support all families as they are, recognizing that one-size-fits-all guidelines don’t embrace diverse ways of being. To me, particular hope lies in research showing that free time spent playing in natural settings significantly improved the behavior and focus of ADHD children. The more natural and wilderness-like the area, the greater the improvement.

Are our wonderfully distractible, messy, impulsive children trying to tell us something?

 

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending as well as Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm with her family where she's working on her new project, Subversive Cooking.com. and blogging optimistically.

8 Comments
Patrick G.

February 1, 2012 10:45 am Reply

For most people this isn’t medication, it’s a performance enhancing drug.

It works on children and adults, on healthy people and those diagnosed with ADHS.

Want to be better: pop a pill.

For adults I guess that’s a lifestyle choice.
But for a million “ADHS” kids’ parents, it’s running away from responsibility:
what do you do to quench the kids’ natural thirst for activity: how much outdoor activity do you do with them, how much walking/hiking/cycling/climbing etc. have you done with them?

Driving your kids everywhere, parking them in front of the TV/console and giving them medication to balance the negative effects is maybe time-saving and convinient, but is it good parenting?

(And sure, there are some kids who need ADHS medication, but millions? How did they manage to raise any kids in the 19th & 20th century without those drugs? Well they did!)

    Brian

    February 1, 2012 1:34 pm Reply

    Way to knee jerk Pat. every time an article comes out about dealing with or treating ADHD some armchair doctor starts blaming the TV, lazy parents, and video games. There are different ways to treat this problem, and drugs may not always be the answer (as this article suggests), no one is the same and sometimes medication is necessary. To generalize everyone who needs medication as lazy or the result of bad parenting is itself lazy.

    In the 19th and 20th century, they labeled kids with ADHD as either hyperactive or disruptive. they either pushed them through the system, or left them behind. You might be surprised how many adults are now being treated for the ADHD they still have from when they were a child.

Helene McLaughlin
Helene McLaughlin

February 1, 2012 11:49 am Reply

I’m sorry, I have to disagree. The world has changed since most of us were small and ADHD wasn’t medicated as frequently.
Kids need to succeed in school or schools lose funding, teachers work hard to teach all learning styles, but ADHD isn’t just a learning style, its a true chemical imbalance of the brain. It doesn’t just go away with a different diet or a different environment. ADHD(when it is a true diagnosis and not just a guess) needs to be treated as much as depression, bipolar, anxiety, etc.
ADHD is diagnosed more these days, because we have advanced in our understanding of the symptoms and the side effects. Are there ways to get around some of the symptoms, sure, but why wouldn’t you want to treat the root cause.
ADHD meds aren’t meant to be taken on their own, they are meant to be taken under the supervision of a therapist or someone in the know of the condition so that in conjunction with the meds the child(or adult) can learn coping strategies to get them through their daily activities.
Teaching a child that its ok to be allowed to move more and not focus for long periods of time isn’t a solution that will allow them to succeed as adults. The working adult is expected to stay on task, work hard, focus on what they are being paid to do. By simply saying that the rigidity of school is just not the right learning environment for my active child, isn’t a solution, its a cop out in my opinion.
I think as a parent its your job to help your child work through their daily routine and expected tasks, if that means they need meds to focus then so be it, if that means they need to have a regimented schedule then so be it, if that means they need to work with a therapist so be it, if that means they need special accommodations then so be it.
Our kids are our priority, no doubt. As kids we were expected to behave in school, or we were punished. Well lets help our kids rather then just saying that the schools can’t provide them what they need.

    stacy harrill

    February 3, 2012 9:33 pm Reply

    The schools can’t provide what is needed. That is why I started home schooling. I have a wonderful child whom the school was constantly blaming because he is different. He doesnt deserve that. Also, I work with a woman who is a constant disruption, but we deal with it , she is a part of our team, we grumble, but reality is she is different and we respect her right to be. And yes, schools expect children to behave or they punish them , instead of seeing their desire to and working with them and teaching and helping them

Jay Perry

February 1, 2012 1:16 pm Reply

I have ADHD (and have been diagnosed with it since I was 8), my daughter has it and is currently on meds for it. My mother was a teacher (and thus has seen more than a few children with ADHD), when it came time to try and help diagnose my daughter’s condition I asked her to watch her and tell me what she thought, she came back within minutes and said that she thought the meds might help her. They make a world of difference for her even in social situations and after school activities since it helps her concentrate and focus on what she is trying to do.

My mother tried me on the meds (in the 60′s every other kid was on them she says), and found them to be ineffective in my case. Since then I have learned to deal with it several ways. I am nearly OCD about having a checklist to do things; that way if I get distracted I can go back to checklist and say, “here is the last step I completed, what was next.” Ironically it drives my daughter crazy when I will recite the grocery list a couple of times before going into the store (I hate to shop, to easy to get distracted and spend waaay too much money).

I can see point to comments from other parents that we need to work with our kids to help them deal with their situations but the meds do help sometimes! We have a great pediatrician who is more than willing to listen to our concerns and provide other ideas that he thinks might help. Her teachers have always been supportive and do their best to try and deal with her condition to help her learn. She is extraordinarily intelligent and when she can focus on something displays laser like concentration it. One thing I have found is that due to the ADHD she CANNOT (MUST NOT) multitask! If she is reading then she needs to do only that, music, computers, television sets. or anything else that can draw her mind, even momentarily, from the single task. She hates it but it starting to realize that it works for her.
Jay Perry

Markie

February 1, 2012 1:37 pm Reply

Very true that you’ll draw all types of ire for criticizing the use of ADHD meds.

Patrick G – I think you’re misinformed on the use of the medications. Yes, they can be abused and used as performance enhancing drugs. That doesn’t mean that most people use it so, as you state.

It’s a very difficult path to navigate to provide our children with an environment that challenges them and keeps their interest without over-doing it. I happen to feel our school system is horribly designed for actually teaching, ad more for testing.

Frankly, I wish kids left high school with some very solid life skills and ability to find answers and seek knowledge. I don’t like the template approach to math-focused academia and disregard for arts and physical activity. But my responsibility as a parent requires I address as much of the lack as I can. I don’t have the option to home school, but my kids get more outside time than most of their schoolmates. And they can shoot a bow, and know what sleeping in a tent is like.

But I digress. The ADHD meds are a tool. I have ADHD, and one of my daughters does. Meds work for me, but only make her feel odd. As a nurse, I don’t force the issue even if I think the meds may improve her ability to focus and stay on task. It’s more important she feels empowered and successful, even if she ends up with a “C”. She worked for it.

Think of all the people going around with eyeglasses. If you took them away, you would severely affect their ability to navigate the daily world. They would possibly not be able to drive. They would have to sit in a different spot to be able to see things. The ADHD meds are a form of mental glasses. Everything is simply easier to focus on. It doesn’t mean you suddenly have a supercharged brain or an edge on everyone around you: you simply have the ability to focus that they had normally.

Onion Volcano

February 2, 2012 11:16 pm Reply

I have it. My kids do as well. We’ve never taken any meds.

I always thought of everyone else as “the slow people.” Just sit there, wait until you’re given orders.

Now my kids do too, unfortunately. I don’t know how to tell them that things will improve once you’re finished with school, that nobody in the adult world wants a drone.

They complain that the teachers slow them down. That the teachers are (paraphrasing here) egotists who demand constant attention and praise. It’s not pretty, but it’s familiar. All the things I used to say. Constant anger and impatience.

I try to help them and the teachers. I don’t want to give my kids the meds yet. I do wonder sometimes if I’d taken the Slow People pills, would I be better off?

stacy harrill

February 3, 2012 9:48 pm Reply

so..I started homeschooling..I work..During the day I found a wonderful provider for my 12 year old..she has stage 2 cancer..my son and I already love her..WOW..she is being treated, but WOW…what I don’t have to worry about now is allowing my son to FEEL..fifth grade..I was informed by his teacher that they expected him to behave NO MATTER WHAT..while his grandmother was dying with cancer..and we were up close and personal during the process..NOONE at the school offered support to an 11 yr old child..that is so sad..I pulled him out this year…..I want him to view the world with kindess and love..this is something the teachers and school system are not capable of providing..I feel so sorry for them..they are not capable of human-God given emotions..Now I dont have to live in fear of his disablities and responses to his feelings..he can just be and have support while being

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