All four-year-olds are pretty active. Jumping around, flitting from story-time to play-time to a tantrum, spacing out, it’s all part of the preschooler territory. Is it ever appropriate to medicate kids that young for attention deficit disorder?
Some doctors think so, while others don’t.
In the U.K., a growing number of very young children are being given Ritalin and other ADHD medications in defiance of NHS guidelines. The Guardian ran a piece on this over the weekend.
U.K. guidelines are that behavioral and family therapies should be the first treatment for ADHD, with medications used as a last resort and only for children over 6. Why do doctors defy those guidelines?
In part because the medications work. They get a fast, clear response that can take years of behavioral therapy to match. Still, given side effects like stunted growth and loss of appetite, one wonders if they’re ever appropriate for very little kids.
I’m a huge fan of Ritalin. It’s a wonder drug for people with ADD who need to get things done. I couldn’t function half so well without it, and I took it from first grade all the way up through school. But not in preschool, where my main job was to run around.
On the other hand, I know too well how hard it is to live with ADD. The Guardian article derisively points out cases where kids are on medication to help their mother’s handle them better, but having a peaceful home life is a real need. Kids with ADD are more likely to be abused by their parents and caregivers, and more likely to dish out abuse to siblings. If a child, even a very young one, has a real behavioral disorder, medication might well be the safest path.
While the Guardian article criticizes U.K. healthcare providers for handing out drugs like candy, they got a stern response from readers. A letter published today reminds the Guardian and its readers that millions of children benefit from Ritalin and other similar medications. While overuse is a real concern, so too is the risk of failing to treat a largely treatable disorder.