Parenting Changed My Perspective on “ADHD”

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When I graduated from college in 1974, I felt well-prepared to work as a speech and language pathologist in the public schools. I knew how to use an articulation test to screen for speech delays and pronunciation problems. Using a variety of standardized and informal assessments, as well as teacher input, I could determine areas where a child was struggling with language comprehension and expression. I easily performed routine hearing screenings to determine whether a child needed a full audiological workup. But what I wasn’t prepared for was making recommendations to parents for children who were labeled as  “hyperactive.”

During my second year of working in the schools, one of my duties was working on a screening committee. The screening committee in my school consisted of the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the reading specialist, the classroom teacher making the referral, and the speech pathologist (me). Children were referred to the committee for a variety of concerns—struggles with reading or math; speech, language, or hearing problems; and “hyperactivity,” which was later renamed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Three aspects of the screening committee’s discussions regarding the children, almost always boys, that either teachers or parents considered to be hyperactive stand out for me. When we surveyed the child’s records, we almost always discovered he had what we euphemistically called a “late birthday” because he was born near the end of the year. That meant that he was usually one of the youngest children in the class. Additionally, when we checked into the child’s home life, we often discovered that his parents had recently divorced or there’d been a death in the family. And lastly, there was always someone on the committee, often the assistant principal or the school psychologist, who recommended that the parent seek a medication consultation for the child.

At that time, Ritalin seemed to be the most common drug in use, and often the parents would comply. When the committee followed up on the child’s progress in two or three months, the teacher typically reported that the child had improved because he stayed in his seat, followed directions, and did his homework.  Complaints about the medication commonly came from the parents because the child had trouble sleeping or lost his appetite. I also remember hearing things like, “He seems to be very irritable when the meds wear off,” or “He’s into everything on the weekends.”

When I asked the school psychologist about the effects of a stimulant like Ritalin, all he told me was that the drug worked differently in someone with hyperactivity, and that it helped them to pay attention in school. And that as long as the parents gave the child a break from medication on the weekends and during summer vacation, problems with appetite, growth, and sleep should resolve normally. Since my introductory special-education classes in college barely skimmed the topic of medication, I figured that was all I needed to know.

My Son Gets Labeled

I stopped working as a speech pathologist and special education teacher in the 1980s after my own children were born. Both of them appeared to hit all their developmental milestones on cue and were beginning to read by the time they entered kindergarten. They loved creating with art materials, building forts in the woods, and riding their bikes. I never imagined I’d one day be called in for a conference to discuss learning or behavior problems.

Connor settled into the kindergarten’s routine but told me that sometimes he didn’t want to do the assigned classroom activities, so the kindergarten teacher kept him in from recess. Still, he did well overall and began first grade enthusiastically. He had lots of friends, did all of his work with ease, and genuinely seemed to enjoy school. So I was shocked when his teacher told me she was unhappy with his progress. When I arrived for our conference, she walked me over to his desk, which was stuffed with unfinished worksheets.

“I think you should have Connor checked for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD),” she told me.

“What? Connor can play with Legos for hours by himself, he follows directions the first time I ask him to do something,  and I don’t have any serious discipline problems at home. I don’t understand.”

“He has piles of unfinished work, and that’s often a sign of the disorder.”

My husband and I were both astounded by what the teacher was telling us. We were moving at the end of the summer, meaning Connor would have a fresh start in a new school, so we decided to ride things out and see what the new teacher recommended.

As we’d expected, Connor adjusted to his new school with ease, made several friends, and seemed to be doing well in class. But one day, he and a friend were playing around in the classroom and Connor stuck out his foot and tripped the boy. His teacher asked me to come to school for a conference. Connor was there waiting in the office, and after he told me what had happened, he said, “I apologized to Mark, Mom. I didn’t mean to hurt him.” From what the teacher said, Mark appeared to be fine, but she wanted the hijinks to stop. I assured her that she’d have no more issues with Connor. The principal caught me on the way out of the building and issued a stern demand: “Get your kid under control. Either you medicate that boy, or I will.”

I’d never thought Connor needed any kind of medication to control his behavior. He was basically a sweet boy, but like all kids, he could sometimes be impulsive. Did he really need medication for that? I spoke with his pediatrician, who gave me two checklists—one for me and one for his teacher. The teacher had more areas of concern than I did, and so the doctor recommended starting Connor on Ritalin to help with his impulse control. I trusted the doctor, so we told Connor he’d be taking some medicine so he could pay attention better in school. After a few days on it, as I was tucking him in for the night, he asked me, “Mommy, will that pill make me better?”

His question unsettled me, and I decided to find a child psychologist who could offer more guidance. He laughed off the diagnostic survey of symptoms, saying, “You certainly need more than two people offering their opinions on a checklist before you start giving your child Ritalin.”  He met with Connor several times over the next two months, as well as with me and my husband, and assessed Connor’s school achievement. His conclusion? “Besides being a little bored in school, Connor’s a well-behaved, normal kid. I’d recommend he be given a few enrichment activities to do when he completes his regular work. And you can stop giving him Ritalin.”

Connor’s difficulties with school continued, however. Looking back on those years, I realize now that because he wasn’t challenged, he saw no point in doing certain assignments. He was learning what he needed in order to pass, and the rest he just ignored. He graduated from high school without distinction and then waited a couple of years before starting college. When he got his first-semester grades, he had earned As in all of his classes.

“Connor, your grades are wonderful. What’s different between now and your grades in high school?”

“Simple, Mom.  College counts.”  It would take me quite a while to unpack that lesson. Connor told me he cared about his college work because he was taking classes he was interested in and he knew that if he did well, his success might land him some good internship or job opportunities.

My Return to the Classroom

After a 20-year hiatus, I returned to working as a special education teacher in 2000. My credentials were in high demand, so I had no trouble getting a job. I taught at a few high schools, both public and private, as well as in a psychiatric hospital’s high school program. The schools looked much the same as when I’d left in the 1980s—a teacher’s desk at the front of the room, one or two blackboards, and the students’ desks lined up neatly in rows. Some teachers even had tape on the floor to indicate the desks’ placement.

With my dual certifications in English and reading, I was often paired with a classroom English teacher in what’s called a co-teaching model. Usually, this involved supporting the special-education students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs). I helped them to write their papers, organize their notes, and complete assigned projects.

But while the classroom layout and many of the methods of teaching hadn’t changed over the years, I had. Especially in the way I viewed the students (again, usually boys) labeled as having ADHD. Because of my experiences with Connor acting up or not completing his work due to boredom, I now saw my students in a softer, less judgmental light. Connor had helped me to realize that I’d been trying to make him fit into a traditional model of school achievement; thankfully, his success helped me to value alternative learning paths.

Instead of seeing kids who wanted to disrupt the class, I saw kids who were either bored or in over their heads. Behaviors like rolling a pencil back and forth on the desk and then dropping it and tipping back in the seat to retrieve it signaled to me that the student either needed an alternate activity or was embarrassed to ask for help. The student who continually called out the answers or made loud jokes in the middle of the lesson was often frustrated because something in the lesson wasn’t clear. And when a student rocked a lot in his chair or walked back and forth to the trashcan or pencil sharpener repeatedly, it usually meant he needed a way to burn off energy–so I’d invite him to do a couple of laps around the building with me. We had a chance to talk about the class and get some movement in. And while the kids often groaned and complained when I said, “Let’s take a walk,” we usually wound up having a good conversation.  Because of the one-to-one time, the student felt special instead of uninterested or confused.

As I got to know them better, I found that some of my students who had a hard time paying attention or completing their work were struggling at home as well. One boy was living with his aunt and uncle because his parents’ alcohol use had rendered them unable to parent him. He was a bright and creative person who loved to write and played drums.  Another boy’s family had been unhoused until they moved in with his uncle. One day he told me that his family of four was now sharing a three-bedroom townhouse with his uncle’s family of seven. No wonder he put his head down on the desk in the afternoon and lagged behind in his reading skills. Both young men had plenty of reasons to be distracted and wander off task.

One of the biggest lessons I’d learned from parenting that I was able to use in my classroom was the need to teach a child some kind of self-management skills—what to do when they felt frustrated or angry, how to manage anxious feelings, and how to break down a large task into smaller chunks. Since we always had Playdoh in the house, I suggested that the kids pound on a clump of it when they could feel themselves getting angry. My daughter often got very nervous before she had to take a test, so I taught her how to sit quietly, take deep breaths, and repeat a positive message to herself. And when one of the kids had a long-term project like reading a book and making a poster presentation, I worked with them to make a list of what they needed to do and then schedule time for the different tasks in their homework planners.

These parenting tools and my experience of raising a son who was bright and creative but didn’t fit the mold helped me to approach my students more compassionately and creatively. Even when one boy, a ninth-grader I’ll call Tommy, called forth all of my patience. Tommy was taking some kind of stimulant medication, but by the end of the day, he seemed about done. Tommy called out all the time, made jokes, and randomly got up and walked to the back of the room to sharpen his pencil—all the while managing to avoid the classwork for the day.

I was assigned to be his case manager, which meant I coordinated with all of Tommy’s teachers on helping him, kept track of his progress, and communicated with his mother, who I’ll call Mrs. Miller, on a regular basis. One day, Mrs. Miller called me and was clearly out of patience. After she rattled off all the ways Tommy was a problem at home and in school, she said, “I’m going to up his medication. He’s just out of control.”

I still didn’t know much about stimulant medication, but I knew that more meds weren’t the answer to Tommy’s learning and behavior issues.

“Mrs. Miller, I can hear that you’re frustrated now, but there are lots of other options for you and Tommy. Why don’t you come in for a conference and we can work out a plan?”

Mrs. Miller came in later that week, and I’d had time to put some ideas together. I began our conference by telling her some of Tommy’s strengths as a way to help her see her son with fresh eyes. “He’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s always kind to the other kids in the class.”

That bit of praise for her son went a long way to smoothing the path for my suggestions.

“Mrs. Miller, Tommy’s a creative kid, and that means he’s filled with all kinds of ideas and possibilities. That’s his gift, but it’s also a trait he needs to learn to manage. I’d like to help him learn some self-management techniques because whether he continues with medication or not, he needs to learn how to successfully juggle his responsibilities.”

Together, Tommy and I agreed on a four- or five-item plan that he kept in a folder on his desk. A few things he needed to work on were putting classroom handouts in the “Notes” section of his binder, working on a task for at least ten minutes before getting up to sharpen a pencil, and using a graphic organizer to help him structure paragraphs for short essays. If he needed a reminder to refocus, I’d tap his chair instead of calling out his name. We talked about how he was doing almost every day, and I think he was ultimately successful because he’d been involved in deciding what he needed to do. Because he had agency in the process, he felt ownership. Any tangible “rewards” his mother gave him were secondary to his growing confidence and stronger executive function. Tommy’s success helped his mother to feel better about his behavior and school achievement. But the real reward was helping Tommy see himself differently because he was learning how to channel his attention and energy in more productive ways.

Finding a Better Way Forward

During all of my years in college, graduate school, and working as a special educator, I never had any in-depth classes or workshops that explored the positive and negative effects of using stimulant drugs to improve attention and control behavior. I’d also never looked into them myself –I probably read the package insert when Connor briefly took it, but he never had problems, so my curiosity stopped there. And yet, among all of the teachers and psychologists I worked with, stimulant use was widely, almost casually, accepted and rarely questioned. It wasn’t until I’d left the public schools and began teaching in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Maryland that my education around the use of stimulants began when I read The Anatomy of an Epidemic by MIA founder Robert Whitaker.

The book provided several pieces of information I wished I’d known when I was teaching and when confronted with an ADHD diagnosis for my son. For example, it would have been important to understand that over time, stimulants often affect a child’s self-esteem because they believe that there’s something inherently wrong with them that needs to be fixed with a pill. Meanwhile, there’s no evidence that using stimulants results in long-term improvements in a child’s behavior. And while stimulants reduce what many teachers might call short-term “annoying behaviors,” like finger tapping, off-task behavior, and classroom disturbance, there’s no evidence that the drugs improve academic achievement in the long run. Herbert Rie, one of the researchers Whitaker cites, found that Ritalin failed to improve “students’ vocabulary, reading, spelling, or math, and hindered their ability to solve problems.”

But for me, the most disturbing information was in a chart in which Whitaker compares the side effects of stimulant drugs to the symptoms of bipolar disorder. (Editor’s note: You can view that chart here.) Alarm bells went off in my head when he explained what the numbers of kids diagnosed with either disorder meant in real-life terms: “If a society prescribes stimulants to 3.5 million children and adolescents…it should expect that the practice will create 400,000 bipolar youth.” And a diagnosis of bipolar disorder most likely will lead to a lifetime of psychiatric drug use.

Even with all of these alarming findings on the harmful effects of stimulant drugs on children, many doctors continue to routinely prescribe them, and the general public views them as basically harmless. I believe we need to address the casual use of these drugs by, for example, providing more in-service training for teachers on alternative behavior management. Teachers also need a much deeper understanding of the research on the effects of stimulants so that they can understand the pitfalls of the all-too-available chemical cure. Teacher preparation programs should include a unit on the harms of using stimulant drugs. And most importantly, parents deserve fully informed consent when presented with the option to medicate their child. I believe that if more teachers and parents realized that the drug companies’ offer of a magic pill is really more of a poison apple, they’d look for a better solution.

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Ann Bracken
Ann Bracken’s 22-year teaching career includes work as a speech pathologist, special education teacher, and college lecturer in professional writing. She has published three books of poetry, a memoir about her journey from overmedication to recovery, and serves as a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review, a Maryland literary journal. Her advocacy work promotes using the arts to foster paradigm change in the areas of emotional wellness, education, and prison abolition.

39 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder if our timeline is the only one where adults say —without a hint of shame —- “addict that kid to meth like stimulants or I will because I want my job to be easier.”

    Buy a kid a beer and it’s jail. Force meth down their throats and you’re helping them.

    All those drug users the police arrested over the year most be confused about the cognitive dissonance.

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  2. Thanks, Willoweed. Once I learned more about what the drugs actually did to kids–and adults–I became even more convinced that we shouldn’t be using them, especially for kids. I do hope more parents and teachers will begin to question the wisdom of using the chemical cure for things that could be handled with kindness, understanding, and behavioral interventions.

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  3. Glad you put “ADHD” in quotes, as inconvenient thought and behavior is not a disease (or “condition”). In most cases so labeled it is a reaction to the stultifying nature of the indoctrination labeled “education.”

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    • Thank you, yinyang. The more I think about my trajectory as a teacher–and what my daughter is now experiencing as a teacher–I’m struck by how boxed in we are in our thinking. Teachers need to be able to see the children in their rooms as little people who may need something different from sitting all day in rows and doing work on paper. That not all bright kids want to do their work–like my son Connor–who saw no sense in doing tasks he already felt he knew.
      But honestly, teachers and parents need a deep-dive into the effects of stimulant drugs and the actual results of using them. Bob Whitaker and all the folks at MIA are a wonderful resource for beginning that journey.

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      • I remember someone here comparing the tasks imposed on schoolchildren to “low grade clerical work.”

        MIA is definitely an excellent resource for “beginning the journey.” However it tends to repeatedly highlight the myriad issues with so-called “mental health care” without coming out and saying the obvious, that psychiatry needs to go. This to me is the actual beginning of the journey — recognizing that the conversation should not focus on whether to eliminate psychiatry but how.

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  4. OK, I’m an older man. I hate to admit the truth. Yes, I AM old enough to be a grandfather. So yes, I’ve seen my share of parents & kids over the years. That’s to give some frame of reference to my comments here. Ann, your college education was excellent. Supposedly. Deficient in any discussion of neuropsychopharmacology, but, that’s NOT your fault….
    Your experience and success in the schools, I say, is not due to your education at all.
    You did so well, and have such keen insight, because you are a NATURALLY GOOD MOTHER. It’s just how you are as a person, and as a professional.
    I will say that so-called “ADHD” is 100% FRAUD. There’s no such thing. It’s an imaginary “disease” that was INVENTED to serve as an excuse to sell drugs to children, thus making life-long customers out of them. Hook ’em while they’re young….
    Let me repeat. So-called “ADHD” is PURE FRAUD. No such thing….
    Those descriptions of boy’s behavior, – they are all NORMAL, given their circumstances.
    The real problem is both unrealistic expectations, and exaggerated expectations on the part of teachers, school admins, & parents. Plus, PhRMA marketing convincing naive & gullible parents that their kid has some “disorder” that only drugs can fix. Schoolkids NEED times during the day to move, exercise, and run around. Expecting 8, 10, 12 year old boys to sit quietly & attend to paperwork for hours a day is stupid & unrealistic…. Look at what worked so well for you, in your direct personal experiences. I can still remember my 4th grade teacher literally tying me to my chair with a jump-rope, to prevent me getting up out of my seat, and walking around the classroom! Before she got back to the front of the classroom, I had untied her sloppy knots, and was standing next to my chair, holding the jump-rope over my head in victory! That’s when she fell off the cliff of outrage, and became psychotically angry at me! WHOA! It was all fun and games to me, until she turned bright red as steamed poured out of her ears! I made it all the way to 10th grade before I was captured by the slavers of the pseudoscience of psychiatry & psych drugs….
    As a side-benefit, drugging million$ of $choolchildren has fueled the “opioid cri$i$”, and created million$ of adult DRUG ADDICT$, all needing co$tly medical care….
    See how cleverly the whole scam is constructed?….and perpetrated?….
    We need YOU, Ann, to be Professor Emeritus of your own Teacher’s College!
    How many MORE OF YOU, can you help train, educate, and produce?….

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    • I actually prefer the idea of tying kids to a chair. At least they’re being honest about what they’re doing and can’t pretend it’s “for the good of the child” or some “educational intervention!” But well done for you for defeating that crazy teacher!

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      • I had read a book from “Scholastic Book Services”, about famous magician & escape artist Harry Houdini, which explained some of his simpler tricks. As the teacher was tying the jump rope, I used one of his tricks. The teacher was NOT “crazy”, Steve, and I am insulted for her AND myself, that you would use that laguage. She was “crazy” because I unintentionally drove her crazy, by my actions & intelligence. She was as much of a victim as I was then. Please use your turn signal, if you’re not going to stay in your lane, Steve.

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        • I think you make an excellent point. “Crazy” behavior is almost always a result of someone feeling trapped or used or as if they failed based on someone else’s judgment of what they ought to be doing. It would have been interesting if you and the teacher could have sat down years later and talked about what happened, and maybe understand what was going on for each of you. But I do hold people in positions of responsibility to a higher standard of controllinng their behavior when vulnerable young people are in their charge.

          I apologize for my use of that language and appreciate your feedback.

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      • Hi Steve, yes, you’re absolutely right–we are using drugs to tie kids to chairs. I hope this essay can be one of the little holes in the dike, so to speak, to offer a different take on using drugs to manage behavior. That practice is still very accepted and when I look at the actual research and the potential harms, I can’t believe where we are.

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    • Dear Bradford, thank you for your vote of confidence in both my education and my teaching and mothering skills. I think now that I know so much more about the effects of stimulant drugs on both children and adults, I can’t believe how casually we used to recommend them to parents of kids who were somewhat distracted and didn’t finish work—as if those are real obstacles to achievement. To me, part of the problem is a lack of creative thinking.One day standing in front of a high school class, I realized we had tried to change everything but the actual classroom environment. I see kids with “ADHD” as the canaries in the coal mine, indicators of what’s not working in your classroom. It’s the job of the teacher to bring everyone along, and sometimes that means changing up your lesson plans and imagining new ways to deliver your lessons.

      I’m sorry to hear one of your teachers tied you to a chair, but glad that you slipped her trap so easily. What an awful thing to do to a child. We, as a society, need to lift the veil on our use of drugs–psychiatric and stimulants especially–and investigate their effects and all the harm they can do. If we had truly informed consent, I think we’d use far fewer drugs to “help” people manage their behavior or deal with life’s sadnesses.

      As for teaching in college–Alas, I never earned a PhD, so I can’t get hired as more than an adjunct—and that’s another essay. :))

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      • I have often used the “canary in a coal mine” analogy for the “ADHD” kids. If these kids are having a hard time paying attention, it means that 9 out of 10 of the rest of the class feels the same way, but they are restraining themselves to stay out of trouble. The only “problem” with the “ADHD” diagnosed kid is that they aren’t as skilled at repressing their boredom or sense of frustration or outrage as the rest of us. Hardly a “disease state!”

        I also agree that we do try to change the kids instead of the environment. Some seminal research was done on “ADHD” kids back in the 70s, where two well-matched groups of “ADHD”-diagnosed kids were put half in a standard classroom and half in an open classroom. They then had teachers come in and try to identify the “ADHD” children. In the standard classroom, they were over 90 percent successful. In the open classroom, there was a very slight but not significant trend toward the “ADHD” being picked. In other words, put these kids in an open classroom, and you can’t tell them apart from “normal” children! Now this was done way back in 1978 or so. So why haven’t we created open classrooms for our “ADHD” children? I guess no one profits from open classrooms, while selling stimulants is a lot more profitable. Plus changing the environment means the ADULTS have to take responsibility, while “ADHD” means we can blame the kids and keep doing whatever we want as adults. It’s disgusting to me.

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          • I can’t seem to find it – not sure what I did with my old “ADHD” article copies! I think it might have been done by Dr. Sydney Zentall, because she’s been talking for decades about how changing the environment to create optimal stimulation is best for “ADHD” kids, rather than trying to artificially stimulate them with drugs. But I’m not sure. I’m sad I can’t find those documents! But I assure you, that was the result.

            The other important result, and I can get citations on this one, is that “ADHD” kids taking stimulants don’t do better academically (or on any other outcome measure) than kids who don’t in the long term. So why are we doing this to kids, if it doesn’t even help their long-term academic outcomes????

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          • There are lots and lots of citations re: long term outcomes not differing.

            Just a few:

            https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/32/6/643/1021192 (Just ran across this by chance last night)

            The RAINE study in Australia: read the executive summary:

            https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/Files/Corporate/Reports-and-publications/PDF/MICADHD_Raine_ADHD_Study_report_022010.pdf

            The Quebec study:

            “We examine the effects of a policy change in the province of Quebec, Canada which greatly expanded
            insurance coverage for prescription medications. We show that the change was associated with a sharp
            increase in the use of stimulant medications commonly prescribed for ADHD in Quebec relative to
            the rest of Canada. We ask whether this increase in medication use was associated with improvements
            in emotional functioning or academic outcomes among children with ADHD. We find little evidence
            of improvement in either the medium or the long run. Our results are silent on the effects on optimal
            use of medication for ADHD, but suggest that expanding medication in a community setting had little
            positive benefit and may have had harmful effects given the average way these drugs are used in the
            community.”

            https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w19105/w19105.pdf

            Swanson’s “Review of Reviews” in 1993: https://escholarship.org/content/qt4jr2777t/qt4jr2777t.pdf

            Russel Barkley’s 1978 review: no academic benefits of long-term stimulant treatment – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22418/

            The long-term MTA study results show no advantage to stimulant use over time:

            “The latest follow-up, released in March 2017, further confirmed the association between stimulant medications and reduced height; patients who took stimulant medications consistently were an average of 2.36 centimeters shorter than their peers who had stopped taking medication or who took it only sporadically. But, in a confounding twist, the two groups (those who took medication consistently and those who didn’t) showed no difference in symptom severity — though members of the former had, on average, taken more than 100,000 mg. of stimulant medication over the course of their lifetimes.”

            The researchers do some pretty good pretzel twists to try and minimize these results, but it certainly suggests strongly that there are no long-term benefits to stimulant use.

            https://www.additudemag.com/latest-mta-results-putting-adhd-treatment-data-in-context/#:~:text=The%20Multimodal%20Treatment%20of%20Attention,adulthood%2C%20have%20no%20effect%20on

            Another one I just found:

            https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29530108/

            There is also a comparison study of Finnish vs. US students. Far more US “ADHD” students took stimulants, but there were no differences in outcomes. I can’t seem to find a link to this study.

            So the jury is long since in on this question. There are no long-term benefits of stimulant use for “ADHD” diagnosed kids.

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          • Hi, Ann! My anecdote here is just that: my personal, direct experience. Simply, for well over 20 years now, I have spoken on a near-daily basis with 100’s, if not several 1,000 adult drug users in various stages of their drug usage and addiction. Virtually ALL of them tell me they were prescribed various drugs, for various “diagnoses”, during their childhood. What I’m saying is that drugging school-kids with Adderall, Ritalin, &etc., is almost guaranteed to produce an adult drug-user….
            I have literally NEVER talked to ANYBODY, who, as an adult who doesn’t use drugs, DID use them as a kid.
            See what I mean?
            And, sorry I can’t cite any details, but I clearly remember a BRIEF “blip” of news about a large-scale, comprehensive study designed to answer 1 question:
            “Does the “D.A.R.E.” program actually “work”, to reduce or eliminate adult drug use & abuse”?
            The answer is: NO.
            Any schoolkid who goes through the “D.A.R.E.” program will almost certainly use drugs as an adult….
            The article I saw years ago, confirmed what I already knew from direct personal experience, and from listening to the many, many people I talk to on a daily basis…. drug use leads to drug use. Period.

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      • I’m sorry that I made you think being tied to my chair with a jump rope by a teacher was something that I found “traumatizing”, or whatever. It was a little weird, but no big deal. It’s funny, more than anything, even back then! I saw it as a sign of both stupidity & incompetence on the part of the teacher, plus her frustration. I enjoyed my little “victory” greatly! But I also lost respect for her as an adult, and an authority figure. The “trauma” began AFTER, when she took me out in the hall, and verbally “assaulted” me, telling me that I would “have no friends”, “when I grew up”. I experienced emotional & psychological trauma from the shaming of her words AFTER, more than anything from the actual tying up itself. See my point? You are exaggerating the effects of the tying up, but down-playing the effects of her words on me, afterwards….
        I’m trying to clarify, so you will see more correctly….
        I’m suggesting that any “ADHD” “diagnosis” says far more about a sick, dysfunctional social structure, than it does about a kid….

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  5. I think there can be an honest debate as to whether there can be a “diagnosis” of either ADHD or ADD. There even then might be an honest debate as to appropriate treatment to be utilized’ diet, lifestyle changes, vitamin supplementation, etc. And this can be true for both children and adults. However, there should be absolutely no debate as to the use of any “mind-altering” type drug, much less dangerous stimulants that are amphetamine based like Ritalin and Adderall. And I would also suggest other stimulants not necessarily amphetamine based. I am not sure about caffeine as it is so widely used, available, and accepted. Also, the debate should center on how unique and individual each person and that should be reflected in treatment. But, again, back to the stimulant drugs… Why, in God’s name do we think it is alright to give such dangerous drugs that have very illegal substances and can even be the basis of “meth” and “meth labs?” When I was growing up, many girls my age got hooked onto diet pills, a very similar drug; so, I was totally confused when they began to prescribe these same types of drugs for ADHD and ADD. We were told these drugs were dangerous and they are. It is just child abuse to prescribe children these drugs. As far as adults, it is just also a form of abuse. Once, a psychiatrist prescribed Adderall for me. She said it would improve my focus in a very challenging work situation. For me, it did nothing. So, I told her and stopped taking the drug. Children should usually don’t have that privilege and some adults just get hooked and don’t know it. The fact that drugs are prescribed to both children and adults that would be considered illegal otherwise, to me, is beyond the pale. I feel sorry for parents that must confront this in schools by forceful teachers and staff. I know, if I were in that situation, I would definitely consider homeschooling rather than endanger my child, probably for the rest of his or her life. I can say no further. To prescribe these types of drugs to children, especially, but also adults, is nothing less than a Biblical Abomination. Thank you.

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    • I think there can be an honest debate as to whether there can be a “diagnosis” of either ADHD or ADD.

      I can’t believe you of all people would say this. Don’t you realize this is tantamount to saying that “mental illness” can exist, when the entire anti-psychiatry movement is based on the understanding that “mental illness” is an illogical and literally impossible concept? Putting any psychiatric label on anyone is an oppressive act; there are no exceptions.

      I highly suggest going to http://www.szasz.com and checking out what Szasz had to teach us about this stuff — from the horse’s mouth, not someone else’s interpretation.

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      • With all due respect, I have every right to have my opinion and to suggest an honest debate might be appropriate. An honest debate would get us to the crux of the matter and might save lives. Additionally, an honest debate could be very useful in keeping our children and adults from being prescribed these very dangerous stimulant drugs. To not debate an issue is to give in to the psychiatrists’ side. To invite a debate is to clear the air of all nebulous issues. The anti-psychiatry side does not benefit when there is no debate. Only the psychiatry side wins. If we cannot debate our position, we lose, because it reflects that we have no conviction of our beliefs. To bring a debate on ADHD and ADD out in the open would be to clarify the issue for once and for all. I am sorry that you cannot see my side of this. Thank you.

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        • The problem is the “honest” part – those benefitting from these “diagnoses” are not interested in having an honest debate, because they know they have no solid data underpinning their approach. But they have the power to deny any other view through use of their “authority” to suppress actual debate and known research.

          It’s not about debate or facts, it’s about power.

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    • Hi Rebel, I are with you that the stimulant drugs are dangerous no matter what we use them for and they should NOT be given to children. The mindset that says it’s OK to drug kids because they have “ADHD” and they won’t be harmed is the same as the mindset that says you can’t get addicted to opioids if you use them for pain. The drugs have certain fundamental effects no matter who is using them. Honestly, we need a wake-up call as a society—we need to stop looking for “easy” answers in the form of a pill.

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  6. Great article! Thank you Ann!

    I wish you were in my son’s middle school to have helped him! My son did well at school and home except that he had that incredibly motivation to get 100% right for all his schoolwork to the point of punishing himself with self-injury when he was stuck at one single problem, and having panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. The school encouraged me to give him medications. My husband told me the same. My son got a diagnosis from a psychiatrist. At that time I did not know about Robert Whitaker’s book, but I resisted giving my son any pill. I started to read on Mad in America and other alternative sites/writings too. Then I realized that both my husband and I had been perfectionists ourselves either at work or at home. The more I read, the more confident I feel about resisting the neoliberal culture extending from the adults’ lives to the kids’ lives. Over the course of 10 years, I eventually successfully helped my husband wean off his antidepressants of almost 20 years. 9.5 years were spent on helping him overcome the deep fear for the withdrawal symptoms, and the rest of the 0.5 years were spent on having him actually taper off really, really slowly. The un-learning and re-learning process at home also helped us figure out the root causes of my husband’s suicidal thoughts. The neoliberal culture had put tremendous amount of weight on him in the forms of work stress and family stress. Seeing that clearly was the most difficult and time-consuming part; working together to find solutions was a lot easier. Now my son is a high school junior and has been exposed regularly about the nature of the neoliberal culture, how to keep a safe distance from it, and how to use alternative approaches to equip ourselves with. My son has learned and has been practicing skills at coping with negative emotions; we are very happy about his growth with emotional safety.

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    • Grace W, you are doing a wonderful job as both a mom and a wife. I believe that all kids need help to learn to handle challenging emotions–none of us come into this world knowing how to handle the crazy that’s all around us. And bravo to all of you for having the courage to look inside and figure out ways to manage feelings of despair and stress. Thanks for sharing your story with me.

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  7. To Steve McCrea: Steve, thank you so much for your brilliant self-harm kit designed for kids consisting of noodle sticks, a feather, a sweet-tasting thing, and other gentle objects. It is actually a self-love or self-care kit. I shared and discussed it during our family meetings. All of three of us were deeply touched by this from you. The two important messages for my son were: 1) self-harm is normal response to life stress; 2) it is best handled with kindness and understanding from supporting adults.

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  8. My sister used to be an elementary school teacher in the “gifted and talented” program of a public school. Other teachers would say, “oh my, how can you deal with [name of kid], he’s out of control with ADHD!” And she’d say, “Not in my class, he isn’t!” They didn’t act up because she kept the kids interested, channeling their creativity and energy into both mental and physical activities. It seems to me such techniques could be used across the board in classrooms.

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    • HI Miranda, your story illustrates my points exactly. We all need to learn how to read our students and children and to provide them with spaces where they can thrive and be successful. My so was one of my greatest teachers, and I think what I learned from him about respecting alternative paths helped me to be a better teacher.

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      • Thank you Ann for telling your personal story along side the exceptionally well navigated professional narrative. So many telling intersections throughout: the principal, Tommy, Connors fate, etc. But I can’t help but wonder how many of these dynamics (bored kid, disorganized or chaotic home, bright, creative-and totally underserved pedagogically) are present with the vast majority of purported ADD Kids? And this is but the tip of the dynamic pool that undermines “individual” development…that can, and more often than not, mimic ADD. FWIW, I can relate to Connor’s boredom and Tommy’s creative mind (this is a profoundly challenging dynamic for children, nevermore so than those from broken homes), having had the Ritalin “cure” imposed on me 55 years ago. So I know rather well the critical role (exceptional) adults like you can play as a watershed in the (psychiatric) fate of a persons life.

        Thank you, too, Steve McCrea for all your input here. Bravo and Ditto. Thank you Miranda too. It really means allot to me to hear in others what I carried alone.-as alienated shame- over my lifetime. Better late than never…

        Lastly, the ADD capture is complete. Psychiatry’s work in the ADD/ADHD diagnostic and treatment praxis is now, having been long ago farmed-out, undertaken by family physicians, teachers, school administrations, media, and self diagnosing parents and adults. I suspect the 8% growth in ADD diagnosed kids from 1992 to 2015 (?) will grow as much or more in the next 25 years. Not sure where the tipping point-collapse is-or how it will arrive, but me thinks it will be an outside-in process. And I hope I live long enough too see it!

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        • Hi Kevin, thank you for your kind words about my essay. I’m so glad that what I had to say was meaningful to you. And I’m equally sorry that you had to endure being medicated with Ritalin during your developing years. We need to shift our perspective in how we view our children and our students. There is no one way to behave and learn that constitutes normal. The irony is that teachers are always directed to “individualize” lessons and create meaningful experiences. We need to see our students the same way–as young individuals with their own particular backpack of needs, worries, hopes, and challenges.

          I refuse to hand the drug industry a victory even though I am well aware of how thoroughly accepted medicating children has become. We need to change the environment to meet the children’s needs, not change the children to meet our needs.

          There are so many of us singing a new song, I just have to hold on to hope!

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  9. Parenting can be a transformative journey, and your perspective shift regarding ADHD is both insightful and relatable. It’s crucial to understand the nuances of conditions like ADHD and recognize the strengths that individuals with ADHD bring to the table. Thanks for sharing your personal insights on this matter.

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  10. There is NO medical, physical, clinical, chemical test, no lab test, no repeatable test for ANY so-called “mental illness”, INCLUDING so-called “ADHD”, “ADD”, “Bi-Polar”, “Borderline”, etc.,
    They are ALL as “real” as presents from Santa Claus, but not more real. The DSM is a catalog of billing codes. EVERYTHING in it was either invented or created, nothing in it was discovered.
    Psychiatry is a pseudoscience, a drug racket, and a mechanism of social control. It has done, and continues to do, FAR MORE HARM than good….

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