How we'd handle William now: Ritalin and a little counselling

By Lunar Loops · Sep 23, 2006 ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    Pigeon-holing your way to the dispensary indeed (not some bizarre beastiality trip, I hasten to add). Interesing read. This from Today's Telegraph (UK):

    How we'd handle William now: Ritalin and a little counselling
    By Rachel Ragg

    (Filed: 23/09/2006)

    William, 10, has just added smashing his neighbour's greenhouse to his extensive list of crimes.
    Other recent misdemeanours include breaking into an artist's studio, turning his sister's best hat into a plant-pot, almost blinding his aunties with a catapult, defacing school textbooks, and locking a particularly awful relative in a shed.
    This particular William is, of course, Richmal Crompton's Just William, back in the days when such behaviour was put down to "boyish high spirits", and merited a hefty slipper on the backside from father.

    But what would happen to Just William: the 2006 Remake?
    That is obvious: he would be diagnosed as suffering from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and given Ritalin until he sat still and reflected on his personal, social and emotional development, as dictated by the National Curriculum.
    In schools today, the boy who can't sit still and careers around the classroom is defined as ''hyperactive" while the reserved one who prefers drawing churches to playing at superheroes is labelled "possibly autistic". Ritalin, the "chemical cosh" is the great beneficiary of these diagnoses.
    An amphetamine given in tablet form to deal with a whole collection of behavioural syndromes, Ritalin was virtually unknown at the start of the 1990s.
    Last year, however, 361,832 prescriptions were written for Ritalin, Concerta and Equasym, the three methylphenidate drugs licensed in this country.
    Are the drugged-up generation more likely to end up in a lifelong cycle of prescription drug-taking?
    A disturbing thought indeed.
    And many experts doubt that these drugs do anything more than suppress symptoms.
    Dr Bob Jacobs, an American psychologist and lawyer, says: "Drugs ensure the conformism that western society demands."
    Today's schooling is part of the problem. Say 25 years ago, children starting school were encouraged to play, to skip and to learn useful skills such as how to carry scissors safely. Now, though, the focus is on reading and writing and the Six Areas of Learning (to quote the Sure Start propaganda, which sounds suspiciously like something from Soviet Russia).
    The National Curriculum suppresses anything that doesn't fit.
    Never mind creativity or invention: homogeneity is what matters. And this begins at the vast majority of nurseries.
    At even the very kindest nurseries, children of two are frequently made to sit on a particular square of carpet so their teacher can lecture them about the importance of diversity.
    While it's not unreasonable for teachers or nursery nurses to devise crowd control measures, you have to question the motives.
    One boisterous boy can disrupt a whole class, and this in turn affects the class's "learning outcomes", which in turn affects the school's league table position — so it is in everyone's interests to drug him into submission. So when you pore over those Ofsted reports with their shiny SATs scores, just think: what price the results?
    But we shouldn't heap all the blame on schools because, for the past decade or more, they have been operating to repair a more fundamental societal breakdown.
    Shifting economic structures have also led to profound changes in the organisation of family life.
    Today, 57 per cent of mothers of children under five are employed outside the home and the vast majority of parents have to live where their work takes them — thus reducing the opportunity for the extended family to be involved in child-rearing.
    Both parents are often unavailable for the children — and when they are physically present, they are all too often so busy checking their e-mails, watching television, texting, or generally multi-tasking that they are to all intents and purposes absent.
    This Government has done nothing except deepen the problem.
    First of all, the Government threw money at the parents of three-year-olds in an attempt to scare them into believing that their child would be socially, emotionally and academically disadvantaged by not attending a child-care institution; now they're targeting two-year-olds.
    Dietary changes, of course, go hand in hand with our changing lifestyles but it's also possible that forces beyond the parents' knowledge are affecting their children too.
    For example, chemicals in the environment such as pesticides, or high levels of lead, mercury or other substances toxic to humans play a role in children's behavioural problems.
    So even if we think we're doing our best to provide our children with a healthy diet, we are likely to be feeding them vegetables grown in over-fertilised and nutrient-depleted soil.
    More generally, parents are ever more confused about their role: they want their children to be independent, but daren't let them out; they want to be the child's "best friend" but find that incompatible with discipline. Discipline itself is a minefield and it's often easier not to venture into it if your child appears to be out of control. Yet a lack of discipline may be the very problem.
    Even if parents and/or teachers do want to discipline unruly children, they increasingly feel inhibited from doing so for fear of the consequences, now that families can be ruined and careers destroyed should the SS (social services) decide to intervene.
    All this provides the ideal cultural preconditions for a growth of the idea that the real problem lies with a medical condition in the child — thus sparing parents from blame.
    This, says Bob Jacobs, is very seductive. "Once you have a diagnosis, you become the victim. Instead of being under suspicion of inadequate parenting, you're a martyr, struggling to cope with a sick child."
    • Rachel Ragg is a former university lecturer and mother of two. The full version of her article appears in The Ecologist published on Monday.

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