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The Ritalin Effect


Anne Jakins
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Treatment of ADHD often involves medication. Ritalin is a stimulant which has been used in the treatment of hyperactive children since 1957 and is the subject of much controversy.The specific action that stimulants like Ritalin have on the brain is unclear but it is assumed that they make children more alert by enhancing activity in the central nervous system. The end behaviour can enable the child to focus attention, control impulsiveness, decrease motor activity, improve visual - motor coordination and exhibit more purposeful goal - oriented behaviour.

I am interested in any comments from teachers who work with students who take this type of medication. In my experience their main complaint is that as soon as teachers see their behaviour as challenging they are asked if they have 'taken their tablets'. They can be asked this question several times each day. Students often think that the medication impinges on their perceived cult status and that the reduction of impulsive behaviour will make them less popular with their peers.

Does anyone have any comments on this subject ? Interested to hear from you.

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Guest ChristineS

It is a sensitive subject and I do feel that it is vital to respect the child's right to privacy. It is not my place to question a child as to whether he (usually a he) has taken his medication; at least I don't think so. A head of house or year, perhaps, as they have ultimate responsibility for the overall well being of the child in the school but not every tom dick and harry school teacher that child meets during the day; after all, if the child hasn't taken the medication he needs, then asking him isn't going to actually improve his behaviour, but it sure is going to invade his privacy - and children have the rights to boundaries to keep us out, too. If I have concerns in that area I go to the HoH and ask them to check, I do not invade a child's private business by asking the child directly or even ever referring to the fact they are on medication of that nature. It shows a real lack of respect for that child.

I used to assist a colleague with a class of low ability students by taking away any who were too much during last lesson a day and one boy I regularly took out told me, without prompting, that it was because he hadn't taken his Ritalin. How much of an excuse did his Ritalin become for him not to try and behave?

I teach a lad now whose behaviour has changed markedly since he was put on Ritalin, but I am not happy about it (although I guess it isn't up to me). He didn't want to go on it and I am at a loss at to why he was made to since he was troublesome at time but not that difficult. He appears to have become depressed since he was put on it and I would prefer the troublesome but chirpy lad back myself. His father insisted he was put on it. In this case I feel (and perhaps I ought not to make these judgements) that all he needs is a bit more attention than he gets.

Having said that, another lad I taught until recently really did improve and felt better himself for being on it.

The point about cult behaviour is interesting because of course, these children develop a vested interest in not changing, but if they do not change then they become impossible to manage in our system then eventually their daily dealings with staff and authority become untenable and they face a real lose-lose situation. Once they are out of that gate they can't feel the warm embrace of their peers hero worship! It does make one question if the problem isn't partly a resistance to behaviour modification that becomes ingrained and which good mentoring could, in some cases, help the student avoid needing to take up on a drug. I volunteer to go and spend time in our Mentor's centre and I have watched positive mentoring and sensible behaviour modification techniques calm down and help many a student written off as a potential Ritalin candidate.

Perhaps you can see that whilst I know some children probably do need drug intervention, I have a certain antipathy towards what I feel is it a serious over-use of the drug. (Serious to me if just one child too many is given it when he doesn't need it.)

Edited by ChristineS
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I agree with ChristineS that any child given Ritalin unnecessarily is one too many. I suppose behaviour modification and positive mentoring is adult intensive and therefore not as readily available as it should be. I find that students on Ritalin fo ADHD rarely seem to understand their condition and often appear puzzled and resentful when first diagnosed. Follow up appointments at clinics are infrequent and these young people rarely see the same consultant long enough to build up trust. I wonder how many continue to take medication into adulthood.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Everyone should reread Brave New World.It's message is as true today as it was when first published.With recent politically correct attitudes we could also add Fahrenheit 451 we could have a discussion about ritalin.

Evidently schools cause illness,something known by many observers in the past,and presently practiced by the American airline industry. One size does not and will not fit all,no matter how cheap the solution appears.

In the past educators accepted a very high rate of failure in elementary,secondary and higher education. Leaving no child behind also means not allowing anyone to escape. Devil's Island seems a dream to many children going to horrible schools,filled with irate teachers and students.

Only psychiatric inmates feel less freedom. You shouldn't have to make the schools the place where young people "pay their debt to society."Listen to Calvin more,and give more credence to the concept of gifts,and the other wonderful proverb:

Everyone should serve as an example,even if it is a bad example.

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