- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

Trusted publications like Scientific American, reputable columnists like Mona Charen, and even level-headed clinicians like the American Enterprise Institute's Dr. Sally Satel all seem to agree: An accelerating epidemic is striking young children attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD-ADHD). Symptoms include inability to concentrate and lack of focus. "Hyperactivity" adds a deleterious mix of social ineptness, impatience, absent-mindedness, disruptiveness and nonstop energy, supposedly rendering sufferers nearly dysfunctional without medication.
First popularized in the early 1950s as a bona fide disorder, tolerance of the phenomenon's more irritating manifestations waned as schools consolidated and class sizes swelled, as parents became dual wage-earners and as day care became ubiquitous. Left with disinterested caretakers from near-infancy, kids returned to their homes nervous, excitable, and clamoring for attention.
Few questioned whether the new holding-tank environments might be over-stimulating youngsters, whether kids were becoming overly dependent on "pre-fab" games, or if staff were requiring youngsters to complete anything or put toys away.
Dissenting medical doctors among them, pediatric neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman, pediatrician Dr. Karen Effrem, and nutritionist Dr. Mary Ann Block point out that not a single organic anomaly marks ADD-ADHD until a psychotropic drug is introduced. In particular, long-term use of Ritalin shows X-ray evidence of atrophying brain tissue. A groundswell of mad-as-hell parents is embarking on legal action.
Children diagnosed with ADD-ADHD frequently are prescribed a panoply of mind-altering drugs, many countering the effects of the other. It's not uncommon to see youngsters taking anti-depressants like Prozac, stimulants like Ritalin, tranquilizers drugs like Valium and anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax at different hours of the day. Schools literally disseminate substance-abuse surveys with one hand and dangerous drugs with the other.
As a youngster in 1950s Washington, I was one of those precocious kids on perpetual overdrive. If there was trouble afoot, I was the first (and most likely) suspect. Impressed with some TV doctor show, I tried to "inoculate" the whole third grade with the "syringe" from my Playskool doctor's kit except that I replaced the plastic "needle" with a hat pin and carried it around in a jar of goo.
Was I out of my mind? Not really. In my child's view, the hatpin looked more realistic than its "dumb" Playskool counterpart.
When our fourth-grade class broached the topic of World War II cryptography, I concocted a "code" that had my classmates twitching in their seats, making wild gesticulations and weird faces for two weeks until teachers nabbed my code book.
How disruptive! Did I have ADHD? No, just an active imagination.
Then there was my first piece of "real" jewelry. Captivated by what I perceived to be its intricacy, I brought boxes full of straight pins, gimp and beads to school and spent every spare moment crafting and selling well, lots of sparkly junk. Inevitably, pins landed on the floor and the play yard.
Yes, I was a real pain in the … well, you get the point. But, alas, I got no excuses for my trouble. My elders only called me "naughty."
If the term "hyperactive" had been in vogue, I would no doubt have found my niche. But thanks to no-nonsense parents, and educators who reinforced their efforts, I learned to channel my energy and put business first. First off, they insisted that I finish one project before starting another. There were consequences when I failed to finish chores; no arguments about TV on school nights (my parents unplugged the set and kept the cord).
Today, I laugh when people say how "organized" I am. Because I still have to remind myself: "Finish the dishes; then you can write your article." My "problem," quite simply, boiled down to bad habits, not "disorders."
Within a mere 30 years, however, the concept of self-discipline has been abandoned, and schools are subject to horrors never previously experienced. It was only after psychologists started launching counterproductive philosophies of child-management that bizarre behaviors spun out of control.
The mix of bad advice, irresponsible entertainment, and psychiatric drugs exacerbate these incidents. But once there's a shooting, suddenly parents are blamed for failing to do all those things experts admonished them against.
Our legislators need to ask some tough questions before they allow schools to intimidate any more parents into drugging their kids into submission. Questions like: What kinds of kickbacks are pharmaceutical companies making off of these "disorders"? Are school psychologists and counselors helping to create killer kids?
Looking at my own childhood in the rearview mirror, I'd say it's time to stop legitimizing so many "disorders" and give the mental health industry a leave of absence from our nation's homes and schools.

B. K. Eakman is executive director of the National Education Consortium and the author of "Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education."

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