All Roads Lead to Ritalin
When the new school year began I was filled with dread about the phone calls that always started about a month into the school year. And sure enough, I was called by Dylan’s teacher. It was in fourth grade when things really began to fall apart for Dylan as he began sinking under the pressure to perform. I took him to a speech and language evaluation center to be tested and he made low scores on these tests. A meeting about what to do was held and the teacher, school psychologist and principal attended. At this meeting I was told that if Dylan was in another school district he’d probably do just fine. What were we suppose to do? Move to another community? How could a boy be “normal” in one school district and “special ed” in another? I was now feeling more confused than ever, after years of being told about Dylan’s struggles in school. I felt like I was raising an academic misfit.
So I took Dylan to the doctor again for another evaluation. And this time she gave him a prescription for Ritalin. What a relief this was to finally know that it was ADHD all along that was causing Dylan’s academic problems. He took Ritalin before school and at lunchtime with lots of other kids who’d go down to the school office for this purpose. And according to his teacher Dylan was able to pay attention better and get organized more quickly. His teacher was finally happy. It was such a relief to finally know that Dylan was getting what he needed. But I was still terribly worried. Now that Dylan had a disability I felt really desperate to get him all the help he needed. I mean, if he wasn’t normal how was he ever going to grow up and take care of himself?
Since I now had a son who suffered from a disability I attended some monthly meetings for parents of “special needs” children. These meetings were attended by other parents, mostly moms, whose children had ADHD and/or learning disabilities so I felt like I was in good company. I was no longer alone in all of this. It was at one of the meetings that the school psychologist announced that our school district had the highest consumption of Ritalin in our state. For some reason I was alarmed by this but no one else seemed to be.
ADHD is Everywhere
It wasn’t long before I began hearing more about ADHD from Dylan’s friends who spent a lot of time at our house to use the skateboard ramp, jump on the trampoline or just hang out in the basement. Our house backed up to the middle school and that was where sometimes as many as 13 boys would congregate after school. Often I’d overhear them say something like “I’m ADHD” or “I can’t help the way I act because I have ADHD.” Since most all of these boys took a dose of Ritalin in the morning and then at lunch time they didn’t have an appetite to eat lunch. It was only after jumping on the trampoline for an hour or swinging on the tire swing that they felt like eating. And eat they did!!! I spent a small fortune to feed these guys!!!! Since these boys had been Dylan’s friends for several years it was perplexing to now be hearing they all had ADHD just like Dylan.
It seemed that ADHD was all the buzz at soccer games, dinner parties and the neighborhood pool. When talking to another parent the conversation would often turn into a discussion about who was going to see whom for this or that evaluation or consultation. I soon realized there’s no shortage of so-called experts to observe, consult and evaluate children who aren’t performing in school. It just seemed very strange to me to talk to so many people about this.
Seeds of Doubt
Even though now Dylan officially had ADHD and was on Ritalin while he was at school, there was something about all this that just didn’t seem right. So back to the doctor…I told the doctor that I was now skeptical of Dylan having ADHD and wanted to do something different than giving him drugs on a daily basis. I wanted to explore and learn about alternatives or options because having him on drugs just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. I’d talked to other parents whose boys had ADHD and they were trying other treatment approaches like Brain Gym, acupuncture, yoga, ginkgo biloba and blue green algae. I was desperate now and ready to do something else.
The doctor then gave me a copy of a documentary she’d seen on TV, ADD: A Dubious Diagnosis. After watching this 45-minute documentary my perspective on ADHD changed completely. I realized that Dylan wasn’t “suffering” from any kind of disability, disorder or dysfunction at all. What I understood was that he and millions of other children are the recipients of an education system that was quite rigid and inflexible, especially for little boys who don‘t perform and conform the way the adults around them want them to. I learned that by giving Dylan Ritalin his inborn temperamental and developmental traits had been chiseled away and he’d been made into a “square peg to fit a round hole.” All these years I’d been led to believe that unless he was drugged he wasn’t “normal.”
But what I realized by watching the documentary was that Ritalin, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), works as a performance enhancer for anyone, child or adult. It was a rude awakening for me to realize after all these years that what the school district wanted was for Dylan to be "better than well." So we made the decision to stop the drugs and let the diagnosis go. Much to the dismay of the school personnel who told me it wasn't a wise decision to go against medical advice, Dylan no longer had ADHD and wasn't on drugs.