Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Magic pills and worldview

Lots of reaction about this article on kids and ritalin around the web.
    When Chad Taylor noticed his son was apparently experiencing serious side effects from Ritalin prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he decided to take the boy off the medication. Now, he says he may be accused of child abuse.

    In February, 12-year-old Daniel began displaying some symptoms that his father suspected were related to the use of Ritalin. "He was losing weight, wasn't sleeping, wasn't eating," Taylor told ABC News affiliate KOAT-TV in New Mexico. "[He] just wasn't Daniel."

    So Taylor took Daniel off Ritalin, against his doctor's wishes. And though Taylor noticed Daniel was sleeping better and his appetite had returned, his teachers complained about the return of his disruptive behavior. Daniel seemed unable to sit still and was inattentive. His teachers ultimately learned that he was no longer taking Ritalin.

    School officials reported Daniel's parents to New Mexico's Department of Children, Youth and Families.Then a detective and social worker made a home visit.

    "The detective told me if I did not medicate my son, I would be arrested for child abuse and neglect," Taylor said.

    A spokesman for New Mexico's Department of Children, Youth and Families told KOAT-TV that they could not comment on the case because of state confidentiality laws. John Francis, a detective for the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety, said that Taylor was not threatened but told KOAT-TV that parents could be charged in situations like his.

    "People can be charged with child abuse, child neglect or various other crimes involving a child," he said.
Susan Madrak's personal take on this resonated with me. Agree with her on these particular cases but but many issues here including these: who is ultimately responsible for the care of a child? Is it the government or is it the parents? If you say the parents are, what if the parents are negligent? What is negligence anyway? In this case, is taking a kid off meds negligence? Whose values determine negligence?

For those who think I may be militantly anti-drug for kids, I'm not. Bipolar runs strong in the inlaw family; if the kindergartener turns out to have those genes expressed, you can bet I'll be right there with the psychopharmacologist.

But I'm against the belief that the cure lies in taking a magic pill. This type of mindset makes it all too convenient to ignore impinging social and family issues, important components of any picture. These problems are undoubtedly the very same ones involved in why some kids score lower on tests: parental alcoholism, chronic underemployment, unemployment, lack of housing, lack of enough food, and so on. It's easy to compartmentalize solutions as attaining higher test scores or proper meds, important to do, yes. It's certainly harder to understand there's a reason why these are problems.

Again and again, this comes up: your worldview makes a huge difference in what you think should be the solution. Lakoff, again. In this case, I would say the authoritarian stance is taking pills is the one and only solution to the problem. Stop it and we'll report you to the mind police, or at least call the authorities. The other stance: the situation is more nuanced. Meds are part of the picture but so are other solutions.