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
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
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.