“Speeding up” the third grade


By David Joel Miller.

There must be a connection between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Bipolar Disorder and behavioral problems like Disruptive Behavior Disorder. If they are not connected why do I see so many children who progressively get all three diagnoses?

Recently a child was referred for assessment. The parents were concerned their child might have ADHD. They had been sent by the third-grade teacher with a stern warning that they needed to get this child help before it was too late. The teacher pointed out that she had been teaching for a great many years, she had seen many ADHD children and that she knew a child with ADHD when she saw one. She was certain that this child had ADHD and needed medication. The teacher had told the parents she was sure of this because the child was in the bottom third of the class.

This troubles me. Now I know that there are people who suffer from ADHD. I have worked with adults who were unable to stay focused enough to succeed on a job without their medication. I have seen children with ADHD who have been struggling in school and then they get put on the right medication. It can work miracles. But this was different. If we are going to refer every child in the bottom third of the class for medications what does that say about us and our educational system? Really does that mean one in three children have ADHD? I find that hard to believe.

Now if this was an isolated incident I could explain it away. But this sort of thing is happening more and more.  Another parent shared with me that they were pressured to have their child evaluated for ADHD. The school had said that the child did not stay in their desk or do their work. Further, the parents were told that if the child continued to ignore the teacher and not do their work they might have to be placed on home schooling. This parent took the bold step of talking to other parents in the class. Turns out that in this class of about thirty students more than half were on ADHD medication, most of them referred by the teacher and principal.

Have we reached the point where test scores are so important that we need to put a third of a class on stimulant medication to get their test scores up?

And if taking pills to get smarter really works, if drugs make kids smarter, than why only the bottom third? Aren’t we then cheating the top third by not giving them the drugs so they can do better also?

What also bothers me is the number of children who are diagnosed with ADHD who are subsequently suspended, sometimes expelled for fighting and violent behavior. I know from my work with substance abusers that when they abuse stimulants they are more likely to become violent or otherwise act impulsively. So could a stimulant ADHD med increase the child’s level of violence and result in him being expelled for behavioral problems? I asked a couple of psychiatrist about this issue. I was told that yes a side effect of some ADHD medications is an increase in violence.

On interesting new development in the field has been the availability of several newer drugs that are non-stimulant ADHD medications. While every medication has its side effects, and these meds are no exception, if the medication we are giving a child is making the problem worse not better shouldn’t we consider other options? I would if it was my child.

Now, remember here I am a therapist and not a doctor so if this gets you thinking how about talking with your doctor? And please don’t just suddenly stop giving or taking meds without consulting your doctor.

Here is another example of this problem. A child was referred for assessment. Please hold your CPS dialing finger till you read to the end. The caregiver, an older sibling, was trying to help her younger brother. He was constantly in trouble at school. Did not do his homework, daydreams in class and would not stay in his seat. The teacher (different teacher this time) was sure this was another classic case of ADHD. The sister told me she tried to do what she could but she and her baby’s father were living with friends in a motel room and there was no place for this young man. Still, she was his school contact and she came to help him when she could. His primary care doctor had prescribed ADHD meds, but the minor still was not doing his homework and was not paying attention. His meds had been increased and still no improvement. What to think?

So I interviewed the young man. He reported his father was not around. Bio Father was in prison and would not be released for a few more years. He was staying with his mother but she was in jail right now and would not be released until Monday. So in the meantime, he had been staying with relatives. He had slept on the couch, several different couches for that matter, different relatives on different nights and most of these homes were small and overcrowded. He had not slept well or eaten well since mom had been arrested. He was sad all the time and nothing made him feel better anymore. So was my diagnosis ADHD? Not on your life. Clearly, this young man was suffering, and I do mean suffering, from depression. The end of the story is mom was released, minor and mom found a safe place to stay and the child is in counseling. I hope mom gets some counseling also.

Did I mention the referral for ADHD whose father was just deported and dad will not be allowed back in the U. S.again? He refuses to do his homework, will not listen to the teacher and – Well you get the idea.

In each of these cases and so many, more, the first diagnosis was ADHD because of poor school work, inattention and not following rules, like being out of their seat. Later when the medication did not fix them they get diagnosed with some kind of disruptive behavior diagnosis. But in most cases when we look really carefully there was also a lot of depression and sometimes eventually a manic episode occurs and the diagnosis changes to Bipolar Disorder. Not every child who does not do homework has ADHD.

If you have had an experience with this issue or thoughts you would like to share please contact me. So much for my thoughts on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Bipolar Disorder, behavioral problems like Disruptive Behavior Disorder and Depression.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.

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One thought on ““Speeding up” the third grade

  1. Pingback: Which border is Borderline Intellectual Functioning on? | counselorssoapbox

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