Thursday, May 1, 2008

Medicated children

My posts seem to be getting seriouser and seriouser.  Today I will not break that streak. Maybe something funny will happen to me to write about tomorrow.  

I work as a private tutor for a tutoring agency, and most of my students come to me for general study skills and organization help because they have some sort of learning disability.  One of my students in particular I have a keen fondness for.  He's a great kid, he has a heart of gold and he tries really hard to do well.  He suffers from some wicked bad ADHD.  To the point where every week we pretty much go through the same things, he can keep it up for a day or two and then everything falls apart again.  I had tried two handfuls of different approaches to see if one of them would make sense to him.  But his grades keep falling, and worse, his self-esteem and his motivation keep nose diving.  I kept thinking, "This kid needs some meds."  (This is something I have NEVER before thought in my whole life; I strongly believe in the over-diagnosis and over medication of kids.)

I used to teach French in another life.  Just out of college.  I did my student teaching at a middle school and a high school, and then I got a job at an elementary school doing their after school language program.  I realize in hindsight I used to be really tough on my students.  If the work was sloppy or there was no name on the paper, I saw that as thoughtlessness and neglect.  A student acting out in class became a symptom of his not caring about the subject or the teacher, and I would take it personally.

Now that I almost exclusively teach kids who struggle, I see how wrong I was. My ADHD student will forget to put his name on the paper, or will write his thoughts down so fast that he skips words or letters or punctuation - because he can't HELP it.  He comes to me with stories of teachers who react to him much like I would have in my first year teaching.  I realize now how unfortunate that is for kids who really make an effort and just can't quite get there.

As much as I wanted this kid to be on medication that worked for him to help with the (very realistic) goals he couldn't achieve, I am sad to see him change.  He's been on new meds for a couple of weeks, and says they really help and they don't have many side effects except for suppressing his appetite.  He can now concentrate for a normal period of time on a project, and he is doing make-up work to bring up his grades.  His writing has improved, and so has his general organization.  But this is why I hate medication: this kid seems like a shell of himself now.  He doesn't laugh as much, he doesn't seem to enjoy life the same way.  He says his friends have noticed a marked difference in his personality too.

I mean, for a teacher of 28 students at a time, it is SO much easier to have each of them be in control of their impulses and to be able to turn in gradeable work to make giving the student a letter and number grade at the end of the class possible.  And for this kid in particular, he really wanted to meet some very simple goals that he just COULDN'T do on his own.  As a mentor, I see that this kid's issues are linked somewhat with his personality, and medication changes that.  Granted he feels good working on his goals of bringing his grades up - but I wouldn't necessarily say his self-esteem has improved (so far).  

SO, is modifying a child's personality an acceptable side-effect of fitting into a high school classroom?  Is there some other way that we as educators and employers could figure out how people who struggle like this can succeed without having to fit in the cookie-cutter?  

It seems this is an age-old question that will still be debated when this kid's kid is assessed for LDs...

1 comment:

Kate P said...

IMO, sometimes it is necessary to get things under control with medication, to stabilize things for a while--then investigate alternative management. And hopefully there are alternatives. (I did this for myself, but for something other than ADHD. Most days I'm glad I don't have to deal with meds and side effects.) People have to be willing to look for something other than the "quick fix," though.