* names have been changed to protect privacy
She watched the children play from behind an open window, coveting their experience. Sophia could still feel the breeze, though had expressed she lost the urge to kid.
“My medicine makes me want to be still. I can do better in school. But... I wish I could play.”
I sat with her in an uncomfortable silence. Who was stopping her? This Sophia was not the same little girl I used to babysit. The one who would do my hair, put on a show or recount her mother’s lovers. It was a sad reality that Sophia had a difficult life, one that I think led to her problems at school.
“Put her pills in the Dora backpack,” I overheard from the kitchen as Sophia descended from concrete stairs and over the living room mattress.
Sophia grew up in the hood. And her newfound indifference to play was not a result of fatigue. It was the Ritalin, which would control her attention and impulses.
There were 600,000 patients diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) in 1990. Since then, that number has increased to 6 million. Of that population, 2 million were young children. Need I say more? Yes – there have been 70 percent more black and brown children diagnosed with ADHD from 2001 to 2010.
This is a booming opportunity for pharmaceutical companies whose goal it is to push more product. With increased marketing budgets and overstated benefits, many families (particularly low-income) believe the only solution to their child’s behavioral problems is medication.
According to a report just released by Center for Disease and Control, medication is not the recommended first treatment. Both behavior therapy and medication have a 70 – 80 percent success rate among young children with ADHD. The problem is that only 40 - 50 percent of children with ADHD receive therapy or other psychological services.
Behavior therapy is the best first step once a child has been diagnosed with ADHD, as it has fewer side effects and harvests longer-lasting results. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that providers guide parents of young children to seek training in behavior therapy with the help of physicians, therapists and teachers before prescribing medicine.
Sophia was only 6 years old when she started taking Ritalin. My family remained close with her over the years, and eventually, she weaned herself off the stimulant. Today she's doing well in school, continues to visit once a week and has dreams of being in the Air Force because she wants to travel.
I propose that if it takes a village to raise a child, we come together to support kids like Sophia – as her cousin, teacher, neighbor or friend. It wasn’t that Sophia’s family had bad intentions (If they knew better, they’d do better, right?). ADHD remains one of the most elusive disorders out there. Parents might be unaware of the benefits of behavior therapy or that it even exists.