This Issue









Vol. 1, No. 2• Summer 1997

Ritalin: Facts all Foster Parents Should Know
by Teshiu B. Weeks

In the late 1960s, the drug Ritalin was first introduced in the United States as a medication to treat hyperactive children. Today it is estimated that about three to five percent of school-age children, mostly boys, are diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). According to "Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder," the exact number of this population is likely to be much higher, since some 50 percent of children with this disorder are never properly diagnosed. Because Ritalin has proven to be moderately to markedly effective in 75 percent of hyperactive children (improving attention, concentration, and overall cognitive functioning), it is no big surprise that it has fast become one of the most popular drugs to be prescribed to children.

Despite its proven effectiveness, Ritalin has also become a very controversial drug. Opponents to the use of Ritalin question the idea of "drugging" children to get them to behave. Many feel that children's behavior problems stem from poor parenting skills.

However, there are many parents of children with ADHD who would strongly disagree with this viewpoint. Recent research shows that ADHD is not a result of inadequate parenting, but rather is caused by altered brain biochemistry. This indicates that ADHD is a true medical disorder. And like most medical disorders, its symptoms are effectively controlled through the use of medication.

Ritalin is methylphenidate hydrochloride, a mild central nervous system stimulant. It seems contradictory that a stimulant would be used to treat someone who is already hyperactive, but according to experts, it works. Ritalin works by stimulating the attention center of ADHD children, which, due to some chemical malfunction, is not stimulated naturally.

Ritalin helps many children concentrate, become less restless, less hyperactive, and less impulsive. It can be administered in the form of tablets or liquid, and is usually given twice a day. Its most common side effects include difficulty falling asleep, diminished appetite, irritability, and feeling "slowed down." Many of these side effects can be reduced by changing the dosage and the time of day it is administered.

To reduce the chances of the unnecessary prescribing or over-prescribing of Ritalin, parents should make sure that the decision to medicate has been based on problems with inattention , impulsivity, and hyperactivity that are persistent and sufficiently severe to cause functional impairment at school, home, and with peers. Also, treatable causes other than ADHD should be ruled out and other behavioral interventions considered. Before Ritalin is taken, a physical examination should be done. Regular checkups for weight, height, pulse rate, and blood pressure are also necessary.

Though Ritalin is very effective in the treatment of this disorder, it should not be used as a "quick-fix" solution. Rather, it should be used in conjunction with other corrective behavioral techniques. Parents or guardians are encouraged to become involved in the child's treatment plan, including monitoring the administration of the medication, learning new disciplinary techniques, and participating in the patient's appointments for follow-up. It is equally important for parents or guardians to work with teachers, counselors, and other family members to manage a child's behavior. If used properly, Ritalin is a wonderful relief for kids suffering from symptoms associated with ADHD.

Teshiu B. Weeks is an intern with Methodist Home for Children.

Copyright 2000 Jordan Institute for Families