October 17, 2011
I am not a doctor, so I do not have the expertise to comment on the ADHD diagnosis becoming a regular feature of classrooms across the globe. But I can’t help but get agitated as kids younger and younger are being given these drugs. The cynic in me suspects that this has more to do with pharmaceutical profits and less to do with responsible medicine.
Children as young as 4 years old may now be treated with medications such as Novartis AG (NOVN)’s Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, under new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The recommendations, the first in a decade, expand the age range of kids who may be prescribed the drugs from preschoolers through 18-year-olds. Earlier guidelines included children ages 6 to 12. ADHD affects about 8 percent of children and youth and is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Expanding the age range will help ensure more children get the appropriate therapy, according to the guidelines. Treating preschoolers may increase their chances of succeeding in school and targeting teens recognizes that ADHD is a long-term condition that may even extend into adulthood.
“Because of greater awareness about ADHD and better ways of diagnosing and treating this disorder, more children are being helped,” said Mark Wolraich, lead author of the report and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Oklahoma City, in a statement.
For preschoolers with the disorder, it’s recommended that parents and teachers first try to manage children with behavior therapy that uses a system of rewards and consequences. If that doesn’t work, then doctors can prescribe medications, according to the recommendations being presented today at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Boston.
I have three major issues with the last paragraph in particular.
1. I don’t believe you can determine such a disorder at such a young age with such confidence as to justify prescribing a Ritalin-like drug to them.
2. The idea that some “behaviour therapy” is all that is tried before a child gets a prescription is just shocking. There should be many steps before a child warrants a prescription. Prescribing drugs to a child should be the last resort. And who checks whether the behaviour therapy was properly administered? How many teachers say they have tried everything, when you know they haven’t even come close?
3. This leads me to my third point. Teachers should not have such a big say in the decision to prescribe drugs to a child. Teachers are often too easily motivated by the need to teach a civil and restrained class. Their need to see students calm and manageable often gets in the way of a more considered approach when it comes to the question of ADHD drugs.
Four year olds on ADHD drugs! Do we really want this to become the norm?