Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is perception the same as reality?

I was talking to the dad of a student of mine today, and then subsequently listening to my FAVORITE podcasters, The Manic Mommies, and both were discussing ADD/ADHD. 

I was talking to the dad of a student because this student, who is usually doing his best Tigger impression all over the un-amused Rabbits of my classroom, and generally speaking, most calls to his family are about what rotten, bad thing Tigger did in school today.  Well, Tigger has been taking his meds for the last few days in prep for our Big State testing, and is a different child. He can sit quietly for more than 20 seconds.  He does not get involved with every conversation around him.  He has not pounced on anyone in 2 days.  He is focused.  He completes he work.  Did I mention he was quiet?

So I called Dad to tell him how great Tigger has been, and got about 25 minutes of discussion over the benefits and drawbacks of medicating a kid.  Totally get it.  Agree, we over medicate our population of young people.  But in my professional yet admitedly NOT medical opinion, kids like Tigger NEED meds. His behavior in class does impede his ability to access the general curriculum, because on a typical not-medicated day, this child is distracted by the sound of his own breathing. Which, unfortunately for him, he does often.  This is the kid who cannot finish a complete thought.  Clearly, a good candidate for meds.

Not that all kids are a good candidate for meds.  I look at my own son, Middle.  Middle's teachers, as early as Kindergarten, (Thank you, Mrs. Drill Sergeant) suggested without saying so (because we as teacher really cannot recommend a kid get tested.  We leave that to the admin) that we have Middle evaluated for ADD/ADHD and possibly medicated.

Now, I know my kid (same battle cry from ALL parents, right?) and while he IS, without a doubt, the absent minded professor, his behaviors are NOT causing an impairment in his academics.  He may be causing his teacher to go home and drink heavily, I get that, but it is NOT getting in the way of his learning.

And therein lies the difference.  As Dr. Rob said on the Manic Mommies podcast posted yesterday, the kicker for most doctors and psychologists, is they fail to adhere to the premise that this distractability needs to be causing an IMPAIRMENT for the child so significant as to limit his function, either socially or academically.

Tigger's social and academic life are impacted.  Kids can't stand to be around him because he is so impulsive you never know what he is going to do - yell, throw something, jump on them... and he can't even remember his own name half the time.

So, clearly, most of the issues are with the teachers, not with the students.  If the kid is still learning and progressing, why should we care of he needs to pace the room to do it?

Because class sizes have gotten much bigger over the last several years.  What used to be a room of 18 or 22 kids is not bursting at the seams with 35 kids.  We keep cutting budgets and cramming kids into classrooms, and while the kids are the same (overall), and the curriculum is the same (overall) and the teachers are the same (overall), the incidence of kids being referred for ADD/ADHD evaluations has skyrocketed.

And it is mostly boys being evaluated.

I think what has happened is this:  The over crowding of our classrooms has made what used to be 'typical boy' behavior now simply intolerable.  A teacher cannot keep order in the classroom with Tiggers, or even Middles, in their midst, so when all else fails, they recommend to the school psychologist that the student be evaluated.  And, unspoken goal here, MEDICATED.

For parents like me of kids like Middle, medication is out of the question.  As a parent of a child who is gifted, who is succeeding academically, I say if the teacher cannot handle him, that is her problem.  I will not shove needless medications into my kid to make her job easier.  However, I believe I would feel very differently if my child was NOT learning, was NOT progressing academically, did NOT have friends.  Whole different ball game, then.

For teachers like me with students like Tigger, I can totally understand why we push the medication route.  This is a different child this week.  I'd love him to stick around, both because I would end up with fewer grey hairs, but also because I think in the end, Tigger would be more successful academically.  I think he is missing out on a lot because he just cannot attend to the material.

But medicated or not, Tigger is a smart kid.  As he ages, matures, develops, his ability to control his behavior will, God willing, improve.  He will be a successful man, of that I have little doubt.  And whether or not his behavior drives me insane when he is not on his meds, that's as much MY issue as it is his. 


Kim said...

You are a wonderful writer!! KDW

TJW said...

My son's teacher practically volunteered to drive him to the pediatrician for the evaluation. Mostly because she is an inflexible, impatient teacher, I have since learned. Regardless, he got the eval and the diagnosis. He is taking Strattera for now, but we hope that in middle school he can develop enough coping skills to quit taking it. Like many boys, he's focused on a career in the military and needs to be off the medicine to join. I firmly believe he takes medicine because the current school system does not match his learning style. But I know it won't change and he has to in order to survive. I'll just say school is NOT his favorite thing, and that makes me sad.

qqtpie said...

There are tons of non-medicine ways to help adhd kids. I wonder how many of these parents are willing to take the extra hour a day it would require to implement these strategies. People love the soap box. Are they willing to do the legwork to back up their ideals?

If only my youngest could jump-rope while taking tests, lol. Things did get much better for me, socially, by junior high.

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

You make some good points. I hope that all the parents facing these challenges take the time to figure out what works for them instead of being pushed into handling one way or another.

Erin said...

Thanks for this post. It was so great to read your perspective!