ADD/ADHD Friendly Education: ‘Medication seems to work: Why avoid it?’

With last week’s article I introduced a new series that will be focused on the needs of children with ADD/ADHD in the educational system. Over the course of the next few weeks we will discuss the various ways in which educators (in the broadest sense of the word) can help children with the condition to achieve their full potential while, at the same time, not neglecting the needs of other children in the classroom (or home) who do not have the same specialized needs. I realize that this might seem like an almost impossible ideal but I am convinced that by following the suggestions that I will make you will be able to craft an ‘ADD/ADHD friendly’ education.
I am sure that at least some teachers will respond to the things I have said above with a single word: Why? Why should we go to extra lengths to find alternatives to the way in which we presently deal with ADD/ADHD (i.e. medication) in the classroom? This is a fair question. Medication seems to be so effective in keeping the symptoms of ADD/ADHD in check that many feel like saying ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ The reality is, however, that the system is indeed seriously broken and actively harmful to children. It exerts, moreover, a powerful negative influence on the educational achievement of entire cohorts (not only those directly affected by ADD/ADHD) as they move through the educational system.
I realize that these are very bold claims but I am also convinced that they are well attested by research and by the experience of teachers and parents across the length and breadth of North America. Here are some of the compelling reasons why ADD/ADHD medication and the classroom should not mix:
1)    Impairment of brain function: The brain is by far the most complex organ in our bodies and ADD/ADHD medicines have powerful psycho-stimulant effects on it. They may act ‘positively’ in the sense that they will initially ‘dampen down’ some of the more obvious symptoms of the condition, but at what price? What will the long term effects on the proper function of the brain be if parts of it is impeded through the use of a chemical substance. This question is obviously a serious one and one of the main reasons that we counsel our children against the use of illegal drugs. Yet, many people see no problem with allowing their children to use legal medications that can have a similar impact on the brain.
2)    The ‘law of diminishing’ returns: At the initial stages of drug treatment relatively small doses are needed in order to suppress the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. It seems, however, that the body will soon ‘get used’ to the level that is administered, necessitating an increased dose. This ‘ramping up’ of dosages can lead to the administration of dangerously high levels with ever decreasing effectiveness.
3)    A ‘Band Aid’ solution: The flip-side of the previous point is that medication is simply a temporary ‘solution’. Medicines may win you a bit of peace and calm for a while but in many cases the condition will be back with a vengeance after a relatively short time. This at the price of pumping dangerous chemicals into the bloodstream.
4)    Risk of addiction: If you have been in education for a while you will almost certainly be aware of the fact that ADD/ADHD medication is now the ‘drug of choice’ on many school and university campuses. This should cause us to pause for reflection. If these drugs are essentially harmless why are they being trafficked? The simple truth is that many drugs are similar in their composition to some of the hard drugs being peddled on street corners. You wouldn’t want the kids in your class to have access to this stuff, why should a fancy label and million dollar ad campaigns change this fact?
5)    Various side effects: ADD/ADHD drugs have been implicated in a raft of serious mental and physical problems. The list reads like a horror script of things teachers and educators would never wish upon the children in their care. Depression, anger management issues, listlessness and even suicidal thoughts are all commonly observed in children who are medicated for ADD/ADHD. To make matters worse, ADD/ADHD drugs have also been implicated in several homicides including some high profile school shootings.
Upon reading all of this you probably think: ‘There must be a better way!?’ Indeed there is and this is exactly what this guide is all about. It is possible to address ADD/ADHD in ways that are natural and that address the underlying causes rather than merely trying to stick a Band-Aid on. Next week we will begin to look at some of the elements of the ‘3 Steps ADD’ approach before going on to apply this on the design of an ‘ADD/ADHD Friendly’ education.