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Parents, Schools Face Off Over Ritalin


As early as kindergarten, Michael's teachers were frequently calling his mother to complain that he was "anxious, hyperactive, impulsive, distracting the other kids." Weathers recalls. A school psychologist recommended Ritalin, and Michael's pediatrician put him on it; he took the medication for all of second grade and had an "uneventful year."

But by third grade, Michael was "socially withdrawing and gnawing on things, pencils, his shirt" and being shunned and ridiculed by the other children, Weathers says. His pediatrician switched him to Dexedrine, and, on the advice of the school psychologist, Weathers also took Michael to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed social anxiety disorder and put him on Paxil, a medication similar to Prozac, and urged Weathers not to stop the Dexedrine.

But instead of getting better, Michael worsened. He was up all night, he paced the floors; he said he heard voices in his head. When he mentioned this at school, he was sent home, Weathers says, and the school arranged for a tutor to bring his classwork home. The psychiatrist told her to stop all the medications, but the hallucinations continued for five weeks. When Michael did not return to school after a few weeks, the school called Child Protective Services.

The principal of Michael's elementary school declined to speak to WebMD.

Now enrolled in a private school program that involves two days of classroom attendance and three days of home-schooling, Michael no longer has hallucinations, and while he is still "hyper," his symptoms are manageable without medications, his mother says. Moreover, he has grown three shirt sizes; while he was on the drugs, his height and weight never increased. Weathers blames the school for her ordeal and says she relied, mistakenly, on the advice of people she considered experts.

"It was wrong what they did," she says. "They push drugs, and they have side effects and they made him worse. I thought they were helping me. [Now] he is in private school and they are telling me that he is gifted." Had she been aware that the Paxil was not approved for use in children, Weathers would not have given it to her son, she says.

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