Teachers' help can hurt

Teachers blocked from suggesting ADD medication for students

Daily Advertiser/October 28, 2001
By Sebreana Domingue

Lafayette -- Laurie Gary said her son, who is 9, is talkative.

"He is not a bad child, and he does not cause trouble," said Gary, who lives in Carencro. "He is just a talkative child."

Gary said that when her son was 7 and attended Carencro Heights, one of his teachers told him he needed to be on medication.

"You don't tell a 7-year-old child that," she said. "Here he was thinking something was wrong with him."

State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard apparently agrees. He issued a directive Oct. 1 to education officials throughout the state, asking public school teachers to refrain from diagnosing and suggesting medication for children.

"No authority exists which would allow teachers or other personnel in Louisiana to suggest or recommend to parents that their children be diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and/or similar disorders," Picard wrote.

Picard's directive instructs school employees with concerns to send a letter to parents recommending a medical evaluation.

Picard wrote the memo after state Sen. Fred Hoyt, D-Abbeville, began a dialogue with Picard on the issue and helped to develop the directive.

Although he did some research and found no documented cases in Vermilion Parish, Hoyt said, he had some information from parents and teachers in Lafayette Parish.

Marie Pace, a former educator based in Lafayette, said many teachers are making these suggestions to parents, and she wants it to stop.

Pace is a member of the Church of Scientology in Lafayette. Scientology adamantly opposes the use of psychotropic drugs on children. Pace said she is concerned about students who are told they cannot attend class if they are not on their ADD medication.

"No educator nor school employee in any capacity should be involved in becoming a feeder line to psychiatry or psychology by suggesting to any parent or guardian that a particular child has a so-called mental disease when there is no proof of such ever existing," Pace wrote to Picard.

James Easton, superintendent of Lafayette public schools, said it is unethical for teachers to imply that students could not attend class for these reasons.

He said no such cases have been reported to his office.

"It is probably not appropriate in most instances for school people to recommend that children get involved with mind-altering drugs," Easton said. "These recommendations should come strictly from the medical profession."

Local doctors said ADD and ADHD are terms applied to children or adults who consistently display hyperactive or unfocused behaviors over time.

Dr. Brent Prather, a pediatrician who treats about 1,000 children with ADD and ADHD from six parishes, said there are three things to look for - impulsiveness, fidgety behavior and distractibility.

"If you see those three things or a combination of those things to an abnormal degree, then a child may be ADHD," he said. "The tricky thing is all kids have these things at times. It is an art to be able to determine the kids that really have it."

Stress is the most common cause of all three factors, but parents should also consider whether a child is eating properly or can't do homework in an hour or so, and they should talk to the child's teachers, Prather said.

A child should be taken to the family pediatrician, a counselor or a learning specialist for diagnosis.

Drugs often prescribed to treat severe cases of ADD or ADHD include Ritalin, Adderall or Dexadrine - all Schedule II narcotics under federal guidelines, Prather said.

"When (drugs) work, it is usually dramatic," he said. "It is like connecting wires in the brain. Their grades go up, and teachers say they have never seen them this focused at school. That is what can happen if you properly make the diagnosis."

More than 2,000 students in Lafayette Parish receive services for academic problems, behavior problems and medical conditions. But no numbers are kept on how many students have been diagnosed as ADD or ADHD, according to Lafayette Parish school personnel.

State officials said no numbers are kept on ADD or ADHD students in public schools.

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