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Ritalin is Not the Anwer - But Neither is This Book

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You wouldn't think it by reading the title, but there's more to this book than just an analysis of the problems with using Ritalin as a treatment for attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It's too bad author David Stein didn't stick with his analysis of the Ritalin issue, because the rest of the book has BWBID (bad writing about bad ideas disorder).

Ritalin is not the answer

The arguments that Stein makes against the use of Ritalin by schoolchildren are pretty basic, and pretty compelling. They're all based upon the fact that ADD and ADHD have not been shown to be biologically-based diseases. A few studies have claimed to have discovered such proof, but they have not stood up to the essential test of replication by other scientists. Without any research to show a biological basis for ADD and ADHD, there's no good reason to call them diseases. Rather, they're termed disorders. When psychologists say that someone has a disorder, all they're saying is that the person is behaving abnormally in a manner which causes them problems. By this definition, Newt Gingrich, Tonya Harding and Charlton Heston have psychological disorders -- heck, we pretty much ALL do. Does that mean that we need psychoactive drug treatment? Well, I hope not.

Stein rightly points out that the only thing a pediatric diagnosis of attention deficit disorder means is that a kid is having problems because he or she isn't paying attention to someone in authority. To say that a kid has ADD, as if he has caught a viral infection, is about as accurate as saying that I have SEWISBWDD (surfing Epinions when I should be washing dishes disorder). There are probably drugs like Ritalin (an amphetamine), which could help me focus on my dishwashing tasks, but it would be pretty frivolous to prescribe them for this purpose.

The Caregivers' Skill Program is not the answer

Stein argues that if a child is distracted or hyperactive, the best solution to the problem is to make changes in the child's home environment. I agree with him, but I can't agree with the specific changes he recommends. Stein tries to sell the reader on his Caregivers' Skill Program (CSP) like an old infomercial pro. According to Stein, his CSP will cure ADD and ADHD, and nothing else will. Give me a break -- such self-importance makes even his good ideas sound bad.

As far as I can tell, the CSP consists of little more than charts, graphs, and psychobabble. Since when do we need programs to parent anyway? The experience of many parents of so-called ADD kids is that the best solution is to offer a stable home environment with plenty of parent-child interaction. A program like CSP is only going to get in the way of genuine, nurturing family time.

It's not easy to fix family problems of the sort that lead to kids who are labeled ADD and ADHD. That's exactly why there's no reason to make it even more complicated by forcing families to fit into a behavioral therapy model. If Ritalin is a cop-out, so is the CSP Stein pushes as if it were a cure-all drug.


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