A friend of mine just made what I feel is a common perception and prejudice- they said something like “Don’t be surprised if your child comes home with a prescription for Ritalin.  Public schools would rather drug than deal with intelligence.”

This touched off a huge nerve with me.  Being someone who was tracked into the “Geek Stream” early on at public school when such things were still the norm, and being the parent of a kid who is also identified as “academically talented”  I have lived this issue.

Let’s start from a personal perspective.  I never knew I had ADHD until I got diagnosed after my kids were.  I wish I had done it years before.  My unending caffeine addiction now makes sense, as does the various hurdles and self-esteem problems I’ve had.

Going through school, I knew I was smart, but I was horribly disorganized, and could never seem to get my act together. The simple things that would have earned me easy points and better grades were simply “stupid” in my opinion and not worth my time, so I ignored them, and didn’t do as well as I might have otherwise.

I suffered for years from what I call the 90-10 problem.  I could get 90% of anything done wonderfully but could never close the deal, leaving the important 10% necessary for blockbuster success undone.  I could never figure out why.  I ended up feeling like a loser, like someone who couldn’t get anything accomplished, and stupid frequently.  Even despite getting into an Ivy League school, and making law review in Law School.   This critical margin made me feel worthless.

This is really damaging to kids and to adults.

Lack of self- esteem and self-value is deadly.  This is what causes depression and chronic underachievement- because if you don’t believe in you, who else will?

My youngest is really smart.  This isn’t just bragging, I have data. He is bored silly in school.  Already in the 4th grade, he is the youngest and smallest and one of the smartest in the year, and we worry about warping him too much by trying to skip him.  He may be a black belt in karate, but it’s hard for little boys to get picked on about being the little guy all the time.  He comes home crying about that, since it’s about the only thing other kids can pick on him about.

Beyond public school, we would need to find a school that could deal with him well, and we are looking again.  We know we’ll need this for middle school.  But it’s a really hard decision to balance pushing a kid academically, and making sure they have a childhood and friends.

We treat the youngest for his ADHD for social reasons only, not academic.  When J is finished with his work, the teacher still needs to teach it to the other kids in the class- they don’t work at his pace.  So he needs other things to do, other things to work on, and the ability to self-direct rather than get into everyone else’s business socially.  (He is a social butterfly as well.)  Without meds, he’s prone to driving everyone crazy, trying to keep himself entertained; with meds he can do it on his own, and we have less sit-com moments.

A boy in his class last year clearly had ADHD, but the parents didn’t go through the whole diagnostic procedure or try meds.  The child was ostracized by his peers for always getting them in trouble, causing problems, being mean and acting out.  At one point, this child sat alone by the teacher all day; later on in the year, the child’s mom actually went to school with him every day and sat next to him in the classroom, like an aide, to help him through the day.   This child is one who is smart and can/could do well, but the social challenges he faces because people aren’t addressing his ADHD is criminal in my book.

I can give you all the references you want to the biological nature of ADHD and the medications.  (Please email me at ldpodcast@gmail.com) There’s a basic issue with kids not having well developed frontal lobes where all those judgment functions reside until well into the teen years.  Kids also can’t self medicate like adults with caffeine and lattes all day.  If there’s something that they really cannot control, no matter what structure or punishments we devise because of an underlying medical/developmental issue, how can we punish them for this?  This is like punishing a kid because they have the stomache flu.  (How could you barf on the floor???!?– I think NOT).

This doesn’t mean meds are right for everyone.  It does mean we have to recognize what’s in a kid’s control and what is not.   But I am unwilling for my child to learn school is a place of critique, punishment and other unpleasant things, to get turned off to learning, because I was unwilling to extend myself to help them.  Learning to learn is far more valuable, long term.

That’s my quick two cents on the issue for this morning.