Thousands of kids around the western world are needlessly drugged every day. Last week Ms Nicola Roxon, Australian Federal Minister for Health, did something to lessen the problem.
Ms Roxon announced the release of some significant documents from two bodies. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have updated draft Australian Guidelines on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They have issued other information to assist parents and medical professionals to recognise ADHD and treat it appropriately.
The NHMRC and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) have agreed to make available the draft Australian Guidelines prior to formal consideration by the Council of the NHMRC.
There are similar moves being made in the UK, with widespread concern about numbers of children too easily being given medication. There is a National Health Service warning that this could entail “significant risks”.
More than 350,000 Australian children and adolescents have ADHD, the Minister estimates.
But ADHD could far too easily be diagnosed. Symptoms of ADHD include the following: doesn’t listen; doesn’t follow instructions; loses things; talks too much; interrupts others; and always on the go.
I believe most males could be found guilty of all of these, much of the time. Boys would be found guilty of these by teachers a lot of the time. I know this as when I give workshops on boys, teachers come out with a volley of complaints: loud, noisy, rude, won’t listen, won’t write more than a few words; over-active in class…and so on. When we are panicked into medicating all those suspected of having ADHD, we are devaluing natural male energy.
Governments have been concerned for some time that there is a lack of good evidence-based information on this condition. This concern appears to be shared by many medical professionals, parents and educators. Again, it’s been raised in many gatherings I’ve attended on raising boys in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.
Professor David Forbes, Chair of the RACP’s Guidelines Working Group, said that we need to look at more options, rather than just the quick fix of medication. If we do this, he says, we will medicate fewer kids and work with schools and parents to modify behaviour.
Clearly, there has not been careful enough assessment of ADHD. Too often, parents hear from other parents who say their child has ADHD and is on medication. They ask for medication and believe it will improve their child’s behaviour. In addition, it marks their child out as special. Categorically, some children will need medication. But this should not be prescribed as a first solution. And the medication has many unpleasant side-effects.
Good discipline is difficult for teachers and parents in a time in which there are so many warnings and things we must not do.
BUT kids need to be active- look at them in a playground, a preschool or on the street. Watch kids wriggle in strollers. I watch my grandkids raid the rubbish bin and attack cupboards. Activity is normal. We can’t expect kids to “shut up, sit still, and listen” all day. That’s what boys complain that they are told, far too often.
In about 1990 I attended a school camp. It was a middle and working-class State school in the western suburbs of Sydney. “Look at all this medication”, the Deputy said.” The kids are supposed to get this three times a day”. And he kicked the box of medication under the bed. The kids got none of it. They were busy and active all day and they were all fine all weekend. Kids aren’t made to sit still and be quiet. Are your kids like this? Kids need to move, ask questions- “why is the sky blue? Why do people wear pajamas? Why do you go to work?” Don’t leave your precious kids to the idiotic things on the “shut up” box in the lounge room. Kids should be out in the garden, helping Mum grow veggies, helping Dad mow the lawn. They learn by doing and are usually happy to help.
Western society is too fond of curing problems with pills. Compare Chinese medicine, which favours acupuncture and hands-on treatment for back pain, with the local GP who too often prescribes anti-inflammatories or aspirin for the same complaint. The drug companies promote their drugs and try to persuade us all to use more. Pills to wake up, pills to sleep better, pills for everything. We can’t solve all our problems by popping pills. Dosing children needlessly is bad for all of us. It teaches kids that pills solve our health problems.
The vast majority of children treated for ADHD seem to be boys. Of course! Boys tend to be more active. Look at a playground and look at the kids racing around, constantly moving. How many of them are boys? Most of them, I observe.
Behaviour issues in the home are much more difficult when there is no father living in the home. Having a father present, physically and emotionally, helps give boys especially a sense of purpose and belonging. Boys suffer more than girls after divorce for this reason, according to many sources, such as Sebastian Kraemer. But in our post-feminist world, nobody wants to hear that males have difficulties.
There are many implications in all this.
We can expect the drug companies, with all their worldwide resources, to fight this threat by every means they can.
Teachers will need much better preparation for assisting with the diagnosis of ADHD. To my knowledge, most teachers have no such knowledge. I taught teacher education for 40 years and I watched teacher preparation become more scanty every year as subject matter is sliced again and again.
Schools will need help with providing behaviour therapies. Schools will have to move to more active learning to cope with children who are inattentive. But we can’t retain males in most schools past the age of about 35: they move up the promotions ladder or find a better paying job elsewhere. The ones that are left get wearier every year.
But somehow we must adapt the school to the boy, and not make the boy conform to school. The same goes for girls, whose problems can also be overlooked. Active approaches to learning are usually liked by girls as well as boys.
Let’s accept that kids are active. Let’s hesitate before popping pills in attempts to solve our problems. And let’s stop trying to make boys act like girls.
West, P. (2002) What is the Matter with Boys? Sydney: Choice Books.
Kraemer, S. (2000) The Fragile Male.
Roxon, N. (2009) Press Release and Draft Guidelines.
About Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
The UK experience:
Doctors under fire as an alarming numbers of children are given drugs to combat depression and ADHD
The US experience:
ADD & ADHD Health Centre – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Medications
Children taking ADHD medication may be at risk of sudden cardiac death, study finds