In 2010 my daughter has been identified as having ADD but she had never been assessed by a medical doctor. In our circumstance, it was school officials who had identified her. It started out with what seemed to be her best interest in mind. School officials wanted to provide a better learning environment and services that would help her learn. Like any other parent, my wife and I want the best for our children. When we asked how they determined she was “ADD” they simply recognized it when they see it. Granted, teachers see children across the spectrum and are capable of seeing when a child is not like the others per se. What happened next is what was most upsetting. They began to infer that the natural course for our daughter would be the use of prescription drugs and that anything less would amount to condemning our daughter necessities of life. Our eyes popped. It was a clear threat using language that resembled laws concerning child welfare. I should mention that our daughter does not have the best attention span but certainly not hyperactive by any definition. I can not imagine that any but the overzealous physician would prescribe amphetamine containing ADHD drugs for her.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is the second most common long-term medical diagnosis for children in North America, preceded solely by asthma. By the age of 18, more than 1 in 7 people are diagnosed with the psychiatric disorder, which causes inattention, hyperactivity and restlessness. The treatment for ADHD has been widely debated for years and remains to be somewhat of a mystery to this day.
20 years ago, a study financed by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US recruited more than a dozen leaders in child psychiatry to examine which type of ADHD treatment was most effective in children. The study, containing 19 differently weighed categories, focused on reducing impulsivity and inattention using one of three treatments – medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two. Without disclosing any specific statistics, the findings of the study, when released to the public, deemed medication to be the most beneficial treatment. It was also revealed that combining medication and therapy had little positive effect beyond the medication itself. The presentation of these results made it easy for schools and insurance companies to reject expensive therapy treatments while simultaneously presenting drug companies with a marketing strategy.
After the results were released, many of the study's authors expressed concern regarding the design of study. They announced that the research results, and the way they were presented to the public, demeaned the positive effects of therapy and oversold the benefits of medication. The researchers explained that the medications prescribed for ADHD, such as Adderall and Ritalin, are designed for the “quick fix” of symptoms such as fidgeting and forgetfulness which were heavily weighed categories within the study. This shifted focus away from the importance of the long-term academic and social skills children obtain through behavioral therapy and idealized symptom reduction through medication instead.
The original study was later extended to follow the participants through until early adulthood. Researchers found that the effects of the medication began to dissipate as the children got older. More recent studies have concluded that, with an all inclusive research model where the child is treated “as a whole,” a combination of therapy and medication far exceeds the benefits of medication alone. A few of the same studies showed that behavioral therapy can also successfully replace medication in many cases.
Four years have passed and our daughter is an excellent student. Some days she struggles, some days she thrives. Sounds like a normal kid. All of it without the drugs that were recommended. We owe her progress to a smaller classroom, identifying her learning style and working through her strengths. It turns out she relations on her sense of hearing, “an auditory learner” whereas most people are visual. Indeed our public system will cater to the majority, (visual learning) which makes sense, but in our daughter's case did not.