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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Parents, Schools Face Off Over Ritalin

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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.

And that would have been the correct response, say some experts. "Parents should retain an absolute right to reject psychiatric medications for their children. Drugs are not the answer," says Peter Breggin, MD, who evaluated Michael after he was taken off all medications and says they were not helping him. Breggin, a psychiatrist in Bethesda, Md., is an outspoken critic of some psychiatric medications, particularly when used for children.

Breggin says a parent's first task should be to determine if a child with ADHD or similar disorders has problems only in school. "If they are not doing well in school, evaluate the school," he says. "[Some children] are in boring, overly structured classrooms. They are not getting enough attention. They are not getting enough playtime. They are reacting as any child would. I have seen many a child be uncontrollable with one teacher and not with another. What disease acts like that?

"Many parents might want to go to the extreme of private school or home schooling," he says. "I would take any steps necessary to keep my child off psychiatric medications.

"If the problem is at home, you need to consider what you need to do to handle your child," Breggin says, adding that he believes many symptoms ascribed to ADHD result from conflicts between parents and children.

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