Stop Legitimizing Disorders; Cut Mental Health Industry out of schools.(OPED)

Article excerpt


Trusted publications like Scientific American, reputable columnists like Mona Charen, and even level-headed clinicians - like the American Enterprise Institute's Dr. Sally Satel - all seem to agree: An accelerating epidemic is striking young children - attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD-ADHD). Symptoms include inability to concentrate and lack of focus. "Hyperactivity" adds a deleterious mix of social ineptness, impatience, absent-mindedness, disruptiveness and nonstop energy, supposedly rendering sufferers nearly dysfunctional without medication.

First popularized in the early 1950s as a bona fide disorder, tolerance of the phenomenon's more irritating manifestations waned as schools consolidated and class sizes swelled, as parents became dual wage-earners and as day care became ubiquitous. Left with disinterested caretakers from near-infancy, kids returned to their homes nervous, excitable, and clamoring for attention.

Few questioned whether the new holding-tank environments might be over-stimulating youngsters, whether kids were becoming overly dependent on "pre-fab" games, or if staff were requiring youngsters to complete anything or put toys away.

Dissenting medical doctors - among them, pediatric neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman, pediatrician Dr. Karen Effrem, and nutritionist Dr. Mary Ann Block - point out that not a single organic anomaly marks ADD-ADHD - until a psychotropic drug is introduced. In particular, long-term use of Ritalin shows X-ray evidence of atrophying brain tissue. A groundswell of mad-as-hell parents is embarking on legal action.

Children diagnosed with ADD-ADHD frequently are prescribed a panoply of mind-altering drugs, many countering the effects of the other. It's not uncommon to see youngsters taking anti-depressants like Prozac, stimulants like Ritalin, tranquilizers drugs like Valium and anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax at different hours of the day. Schools literally disseminate substance-abuse surveys with one hand and dangerous drugs with the other.

As a youngster in 1950s Washington, I was one of those precocious kids on perpetual overdrive. If there was trouble afoot, I was the first (and most likely) suspect. Impressed with some TV doctor show, I tried to "inoculate" the whole third grade with the "syringe" from my Playskool doctor's kit - except that I replaced the plastic "needle" with a hat pin and carried it around in a jar of goo.

Was I out of my mind? Not really. In my child's view, the hatpin looked more realistic than its "dumb" Playskool counterpart.

When our fourth-grade class broached the topic of World War II cryptography, I concocted a "code" that had my classmates twitching in their seats, making wild gesticulations and weird faces for two weeks - until teachers nabbed my code book. …