by Donna McCollum
School nurse Anita Farr administers one pill twice a day to her young friend, Deverick. It's his only medication for hyperactivity. "And you know that the number one cause of learning disability is hyperactivity," explained Farr as she watched the sixth-grader take his medication.
Deverick recognizes what happens without the pill. "I don't stay on task. I do stuff I'm not supposed to, and I get in lots of trouble by the teachers."
Deverick receives only one prescribed medication to treat his disorder. That's commendable says psychiatrist Dr. Tom Middlebrook. He's all too aware of the trend of prescribing children multiple medications, sometimes as many as six to eight at a time. "I consulted one residential treatment center where children come to the facility on - often, on many medications," said Middlebrook.
Middlebrook is referring to the Nacogdoches Boys Ranch, a wooded haven for neglected and abused children with behavior and psychiatric problems. From January of 2003 to October of last year, the Boys Ranch served 52 youngsters. During that period, 38 (or 73%) of the clients decreased their medications significantly.
Middlebrook said, "I've been able to reduce them to one or two medications and, in some cases, take them off medicines altogether." How is it done? The key is a very structured environment combined with support, social skills therapy, and animal therapy.
"Medicines should never be used to control behavior but, rather, to treat specific symptoms of a diagnosed medical condition," believes Middlebrook. The goal is to help the boys to control behavior as much as possible on their own. Middlebrook said, "I think it's very pleasing as a professional to take kids off of medicines. The main thing is a functional child who is able to meet the demands of daily life at home and school and socially." Like Deverick. The minimal medication helps him make good grades and develop a love for math.
Medicines can reduce psychiatric symptoms in big ways, and have been known to save lives. But other options can work, too. When it comes to children, it's important to consider them all. Misdiagnoses for behavior or psychiatric problems are common. If any doctor suggests treatment, it's advisable to get, at least, a second opinion, including a specialist in the field. When medications are prescribed, research its use in children. Check for side effects, and how it interacts with other prescriptions.