No: Bill would hurt efforts to detect kids with attention deficit disorder

Detroit News/October 28, 2001

Michigan's House Education Committee has begun hearings on bills that would affect children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While one bill may protect such children, another could ultimately undermine what progress has been made in the recognition and early detection of the disorder.

The repercussions of House Bill 5085, introduced by state Rep. Sue Tabor, are many. It would not only prohibit school teachers, administrators and even school psychologists from recommending to parents the use of psychotropic drugs for their struggling child, but would hinder teachers' ability to recommend an evaluation.

While the bill states it wouldn't prohibit "school medical staff" from recommending that a child be "evaluated" by a health care provider, it gives no authority to the teachers who spend several hours a day with the child and who are often the most familiar with a child's struggles. Teachers likely won't risk such recommendations out of fear of a lawsuit or disciplinary action.

This poses a real problem because a large percent of children with ADHD have been diagnosed only because teachers brought it to the attention of parents. Spending 35 hours per week with nearly 30 new faces every year, teachers have firsthand experience with behavioral and attention disorders. They have seen the effectiveness of medication in ADHD children. Such experience makes teacher recommendations invaluable.

One of the arguments by supporters of the legislation is that Michigan ranks third in the nation for Ritalin use and therefore it may be overprescribed. But they fail to acknowledge that as of 1990, Michigan ranked eighth in the nation for population, which drastically reduces the likelihood of overprescription.

This legislation could lead to hundreds of children not getting the help they need for their neuro-psychological struggles. Although there has been an increased awareness of the disorder in recent years, many parents still are unfamiliar with ADHD. Others have been exposed to widespread myths.

Already, many states have been targets of a campaign to discredit ADHD and the use of Ritalin and other psychotropic medications. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which was established by the Church of Scientology, has been at the forefront of this campaign, according to Dr. E. Clark Ross, chief executive of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It has spread misleading literature that makes unsubstantiated claims and disregards scientific findings contrary to their views.

There is substantial evidence to support the effectiveness of Ritalin and other medications in treating ADHD. Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics published guidelines for the treatment of ADHD. Among other things, the academy states that when appropriate, the use of stimulant medication and/or behavioral therapy should be recommended by the clinician in treating ADHD symptoms.

In addition, the U.S. surgeon general and the National Institute of Mental Health have recommended the use of a multi-modal treatment program that may include prescription medication as an appropriate method for treating those with ADHD.

For the exceptionally rare instances where it has been claimed that a school district prohibited a child from attending school or school-related events because they were not evaluated or did not take their prescribed medication, House Bill 5084 has been introduced to protect these children. It is worth passing.

Ultimately, no matter what teachers or physicians recommend, it is still the decision of parents whether to treat their child with medication. That is why it is important that the Legislature help fight this disorder and prevent the censorship of information about it.

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