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Ask the Experts

What Do I Do When a Teacher Says My Child Needs Meds?

By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant

Question:

My daughter gets in trouble at school. The teacher says she is in high speed all the time, doesn't watch where she is going, knocks things over or trips over stuff. Her teacher says that she doesn't pay attention to her work, she does it fast all the time and it ends up messy.

The teacher would like me to put her on medication to slow her down, but I refuse. I have told her teacher that I give her worksheets and reading to do at home, and she will sit down and do the homework, and does a fine job.

What do you suggest I do?

Answer:

Some teachers make a quick diagnosis and push parents toward the medication route without having gone through a thorough process of evaluation.

However, experienced classroom teachers have seen hundreds of children over their careers, and if they have a concern about a child, I would be willing to have the child evaluated. This normally means that your pediatrician or a specialist in ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) evaluates your child.

This will likely include a questionnaire for the teacher and parents to fill out, along with observation and feedback from those persons who interact with your child the most. After the initial evaluation, your doctor could offer several forms of intervention that might include medication but also some strategies for parents and school personnel.

Teachers regularly encounter children with ADHD and can provide several accommodations for children who exhibit the symptoms you described. If your child turns out to have this disablity, the CHADD Web site can be of great assistance. It also lists several accommodations and strategies to help your child get the most out of school that don't include pharmacology.

Lastly, the fact that your child can sit and focus in the home setting is not really comparable to a classroom where there are numerous stimuli and distractions.

My advice in a nutshell: Have your child evaluated and then make a decision that you and your doctor are comfortable with regarding the interventions.

One last note, although there has been a huge media blitz about the dangers of ADHD medications, thousands of children each year benefit from them and are able to focus and concentrate on their schoolwork resulting in higher self-esteem and academic success. Your doctor should counsel and advise you on the benefits and drawbacks if you decide to utilize medication as an intervention.


Dr. Joseph Gianesin is a professor at Springfield College School of Social Work. He has more than 25 years of experience as a child and family therapist, a school social worker and a school administrator. Along with his academic appointment, Dr. Gianesin is a program and behavioral consultant for public schools in Massachusetts, helping them develop and manage programs for children with significant mental health problems.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

12/8/2011:
"I am going through the same thing. Good news is the teacher can not tell or ask you to put your child on meds. This is a violation of civic rights. You eed to speak with your school board. This person is a teacher not a doctor. "
10/24/2011:
"Hi, I am a special ed teacher and have been for 12 yrs. First, I am sorry to hear that your child's teacher would be so quick to think that she is qualify to diagnose your daughter (unless she has a MD behind her name...) We, as teachers, should not and cannot go around suggesting parents to put any child on med. I agree with the professional opinion offered to you by Dr. Gianesin. In addition, I would speak to the school's adminitrator about her comments. Lastly, I think the real issue here may be her and her classroom management style (or should I say, the lack of...) She really needs to start treating her students as of they are her own children - otherwise, she should consider a career change - I am sorry, but it really makes me mad when special ed. teachers are in the field for the wrong reason. Good luck! Personally, I do not believe in drugging children with meds (unless it is absolutely necessary) "
07/22/2011:
"While I agree that you should make your own determination on the situation, i would start with having your child evaluated for vision issues. This doesn't just mean the typical eye-exam, but more like an Occupational Therapist for Vision. I was told in a meeting by the Principal that i should consider medication for my son. What the Principal failed to realize (even though she had the report) was that my son had double vision and difficulty focusing on his work simply because his eyes were not functioning well. We have seen HUGE improvements in his school performance and he's more relaxed. Often vision issues are mistaken for ADHD. Might be worth your while to explore this possibility "
04/8/2011:
"Please, don't medicate your bright light! Children who appear to have attention disorders are often just victims of environmental disease. Unfortunately modern schools are not able to meet the needs of extremely bright, creative energetic young beings and medicating them as children changes their brain chemistry and creates an artificial environment for growth, plus a lifetime of medication. Seek alternatives."
02/14/2011:
"As an elementary school teacher, I see both sides of this argument. Before I actually got a job in a school, I was very anti-medication. But I have taught several years and seen children do a complete 180 after getting on medication. I don't think it's the solution for every child. A lot of behavior problems can be solved without it. But I have seen children who literally seemed like they were ready to jump out of their own skin. I had a kindergarten student two years ago who seemed angry all the time, fidgeted constantly, and would chew on his shirt to the point where it was soaking wet when he would leave class. He was held back, and his parents took him to the doctor. He is now in first grade and a totally different child. I would agree with the previous poster who said that a teacher should never recommend medication. It IS true that teachers do not have medical degrees, but experience is a great teacher. So if your teacher has consistent issues with your child, you might want to listen and work together to try to help your child. "
02/23/2010:
"Unless the teacher has an Phd. in child behavior or something like that then maybe she can tell or check, if there is something mentally or physically wrong with a student. A doctor knows, but a teacher observes and has no right to tell a parent the child needs medication."
11/2/2009:
"My son has ADHD and through the years has had some teachers that have no clue on how to deal with a child with ADHD. He had this one teacher that would always would tell me you need to put your child on medz. I had already went that route and had a bad experance with the medz my son was having convoultions would vomit didnt eat right was like a veggie and I promised him I would Never put him on medz for ADHA and as a parent you have Alot of rights that are unknown just do the research it may seem never ending but at the end it's worth it...In alot of states it is against the law for a teacher to tell you to put your kid on medz."
09/10/2009:
"My 6 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD at 4 years after being expelled from a VPK program for his behavior. He was diagnosed by a neurologist, pediatrician and psychiatrist. We tried the medication route and found he had more problems on it than off. On the medication he was experiencing easily provoked tantrums, trichtellomania (obsessesive dislike with hair), OCD and anxiety. He was then placed on low dose anti-depressant to help. It didn't, it made him worse. He became lazy, unable to focus, unaffectionate, never smiled, almost zombified. Since taking him off the anti-depressant he went back to his regular behavior before it only on the ADHD meds. Since removing him from all, he does better on his school work, smiles, participates, interacts and his tantrums fizzle out as quickly as they come on. He's whinier, but what kid isn't whiney? I love getting hugs from him, and seeing him happy. He may be very animated, but that's how God intended him to be!"
07/7/2009:
"I was in the exact same situation. I fought off the idea of meds until summer going into 5th grade. My son had to go thru remediation because he failed the Leap 21 test. We started meds at the end of May09 and its been the best thing I could have done for him. He is on a very low dose and it has made a world of difference in him. I had the teachers telling me everything from he has a behavior problem to he needs a psychologist. I advocated for all the modifications/accommodations I could but I just noticed his self-esteem begin to go down along with his grades. So that was a big part of my decision. We did have a private evaluation which was also a big part of the final decision. You really have to evaluate your child and see what type of affect its having on him/her and definitely be open with your pediatrician. Honestly I wish I would have done it earlier. This article is right on point."
05/15/2009:
"First of all this country is too quick to put everyone on medication and second we need to let children be children and stop them from growing up to fast. I believe we are doing too much too fast when it comes to education. We are not going to be like China or North Korea for we are a different culture just as they are different. This is what makes us unique. The majority of children that I see coming out of high school now have absolutely no work ethics what so ever. They will never go above and beyond for they think everyone owes them something. In my generation we work hard and always go the extra mile and in the end we are awarded in one way or another. I believe the parents are the experts when it comes to their children and the educators need to stick to teaching reading, writing, math and history as they have in our time and leave everything else up to us. "
05/8/2009:
"I am a parent of a 5 year old child who worked with MRDD since he was 2 years until he got handed to the school district. He was and is still on IEP's for speech/language Delay's and had behavior issues. I was blind sided in a parent/teacher conference that involved the teacher, the school Phy. and even the principal who personally stated to me 'Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to' This was in regards to claiming my son was ADHD. So I took thier advice and put my son on Adderell and come to find out after a month of an out of control 5yr old that regressed to a 3yr old. The teachers who obiously do not have a medical degree misdiagnosed my son. He has autism and unfortunatly for my son's sake the Adderell brought the Autism symtoms out full force. My only advice is NEVER follow a school diagnoses on your children. My childrens doctor never did an eval. of their own but wanted to get him to a specialist, unfortantly I had to wait to get my child seen, so the Docto! r decided that we could try the Adderell and see how it worked for him. It was the biggest mistake I have ever made. Yes it's been said that the Autism would of come out on its own anyway but It would of been down the road. Now I have little to no communication with him he goes into absence siezures where he basically goes to his own little world. Its hard for me because its all the time today. where before the Adderell it was only once in awhile."
03/23/2009:
"I am not sure about other areas, but both in Tennessee and in Florida, if a teacher even HINTS at suggesting meds for a student, they can be (and are) reprimanded - sometimes severely. We are not doctors and have no right to diagnose or even mention a possibility of any disorder or medication. I personally must be very careful with this, as I am a teacher of special needs children. My own son suffers multiple disorders and is on several meds that work beautifully for him. However, I am always on the alert when talking with parents - or even peers - that I do not say anything that might be construed as a medical suggestion or diagnosis. Teachers.... please be careful what you say, and to whom! Parents... if a teacher so much as hints at your child needing medication, ask to see their medical degree!! Then go tell the administration about the situation. That teacher seriously needs to be retrained in proper communication regarding students. "
10/21/2008:
"I have 6 year old son who is hperactivity and he teacher and behavioral specailist thinks he needs to see a docotor to be put on some sort of medicine to calm or slow him down. Well i allowed them to screem him for add/adhd and his result came back negative he did not have it. As a parent his biggest problem he is bored because of his intelligent level. I got his report card today for the 1st 9wks of school and had high a's on everything. I personal think his mind is not challege enough. But if there is a problem i am more than willing to get him some help. Some please give some advice i need some i want to make the right decision"
10/13/2008:
"We were pressured to put our child on meds for ADHD. What we didn't know at the time is that he has bipolar disorder as well. It didn't rear it's ugly head until 4 years after the stimulants were started. After a suicide attempt while taking Adderall, we had him hospitalized. He was diagnosed with major depression and put on antidepressants. Then he became manic for the first time in his life. He became so angry, he broke his own hand in the hospital by punching a window. Even though he still has ADHD, we can't medicate him for it. Stimulants throw his moods off too much. He takes a mood stabilizer only now and is having to learn to concentrate without stimulants. If I'd known then what I know now, I'd have never started him on the Adderall. I am a teacher and I know it's easier to deal with a medicated child, but it's not always in their best interest. I would never go to a pediatrician to put my child on meds. I would insist on a thorough psychiatric evaluation by a specialist before I'd even consider it."
08/8/2008:
"I agree that when I was a child, all these health problems did not exist. We have to realize that we also did not have so many preservatives, hormones and God knows what other chemicals they are putting into our foods. We did not eat as much fast foods and we ran around and played outside with our friends instead of sitting in front of a TV with a bag of chips. I do not agree with medicating kids. All medications have side effects. I work with students and I have seen sad cases where they are so over medicated that they cannot even focus. But, this is usually when they are just starting up on the medication and/or until their dosage is adjusted. After that, I see a great improvement in them. I not think a teacher should tell a parent that their child needs mediction. I would suggest to them to see their doctor and find out if there is anything that can help their child focus and let the doctor be the one to suggest medication."
03/5/2008:
"I am a Licensed Social Worker, who, as I call it, has been enlightened and converted away from 'the dark side.' For years I worked with kids. I love children and am passionate about them. After working in schools, residential facilities, psych hospitals and with the foster care system I came away with one burning desire: To educate people on whats really going on in the Mental Health Field. These kids are not disordered, disturbed, diseased or distorted. They are ignored, rejected, hurt, untaught, unloved and unattached. Why is that all of a sudden we have this new phenomanon of drugging our children? It didnt happen a generation ago. Funny how whole 'diseases' are showing up now. When I have questioned psychiatrists about their choice of DX and medication I have actually heard the words 'JOB SECURITY' come out of their mouths!!!!!!! Our nation is brainwashed, lazy and want quick fixes to human problems. So, we pop a pill in the kids mouth and there you have it: a chemical b! abysitter or in most cases a straitjacket. These drugs are robbing childhoods and killing kids!! YES, killing kids. Even if percentages are low, would you risk your childs life to be in that one percent to save you from being irritated by his or her behavior? Its sick. The money that is pocketed is sick, the kickback vacations doctors are taking is sick, the money given to schools based on dx is sick. Its all sick. WAKE UP America. Think for yourselves instead of blinding doing what someone says just because they have an MD by their name. They do not have your childs interests at heart. Love your kids, dont stifle them."
03/5/2008:
"Get over it, I work in a pharmacy and ADHD medications are no more dangerous than antidepressants(which i have been on for years) there are always going to be side effects-there are for any medication. I have done much research on this topic for my masters degree and I believe that the bebefits outweigh the risks 100%, if she needed it i would not hesitate to put my daughter on these medications"
03/5/2008:
"In my school, we are told never to tell a parent that we think a child needs medication. We, as teachers, can relay to the parents the behavior we see in class but should not try to diagnosis a child. I had a child this year who displayed characteristics of ADD. The parent and I spoke and the difficulties he was having were not new to her. She contacted her pediatrician and went through different avenues. The end diagnosis was depression. The child is now medicated and what a difference. However, I would never have suspected depression. "
07/18/2007:
"The only problem with most children this day and time is that they have too much free time on their hands. Way back when they worked in the fields all day beside their families, till dark, they were too tired to act out and get in so much trouble. No matter what the problem per a particular child, it is really none of a teachers buisness as I see it to tell anyone their child needs medication. I don't think it is an instructors job, or that is in their expertise, to tell anyone such a thing about their chidren. We have become comletely disabled by our own laws, for our children in our own school systems. Since when did it become the teacher who knows all that our children need, or who even know our children best? We are way to rapped up in the books, the standards, the end of grade tests, that actually are doing alot more for the teacher and school. That test at the end of the year doesnt say anything about the special abilities a child has, it just says they did or didnt t! est as high as others in their level. Well really people. Dont let that define what you already know about your kids. Dont tag them like that or let anyone do such to them. Find your childs strengths and help them fly with their ideas, and if they have a weekness dont tell them they are no good at it, or that they feel to good, have to much energy, if they drag around with their head hung down then someone else would say they are depressed and need medication for that. GOD, oh yes I said it GOD, and school in the same paragraph, made us all different. We all learn differently. Why are we expected to read and understand the same thing from teh same book? My eldest son, I cant get him to read unless its something he is interested in. He is the hardest child I have ever dealt with to get him to do anything. But give him a science project and his little squirmy, mouthy self calms right down. My youngest, we got him more books on mechanical things, he is intersested therefore he! doesnt seems to need medication as much. lol. Point is in a h! uge clas s with lots of students its impossible I know, to individualize every childs learning abilities, out side of the govermental standard, but if teachers could maybe they wouldnt be so quick to diagnose our children with anything especially when they are not qualified. Its your job as a paren to find what that learning curve for your child is. Listen to your heart, because after all we parents know best no matter what they would have us believe, because we dont visit these children once a day a few hours, we carry them with us in our hearts everywhere we go, so we know them best. "
04/24/2007:
"NOW THAT I READ YOUR ADD ABOUT ADHD MEDICATION BEING DANGERUOS I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT ARE THE CONSECUENCES, MY DAUGHTER WAS DOAGNOSED WITH THIS AND I WAS TOLD LATER THAT SHE WAS BEING MEDICATED, IT DOES WORRY ME MUCH."
01/2/2007:
"I thought the article was very helpful. I think people worry about what others may think or say about a child being on medication. I think you have to do what is best for the child. Is the child failing in school? Perhaps the medication could make a difference. If the child takes the medication and there is no good result you can always stop the medication."
01/2/2007:
"I am in agreement with Dr. Gianesin. It is something that you should look into with your pediatrician. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD there are all kinds of measures that can be taken. Medication can be right for some children. The important thing is to become educated and make an educated decision based on what is best for the child. I have siblings that had to be medicated for ADHD while in school and is helped immensley. They went from C/D averages to mostly A's. And as adults they have been able to gradualy get off the medication and lead very productive lives. I have found with my own children that the easiest way to control behavior is first with diet. Be very careful with sugar and food coloring. Red 4 can cause hyperactivity in many children and is found in almost everything including bologna! A teacher should not suggest medication as an answer. They should always let you know how your child is behaving in school. And in some cases it can be a personality conf! lict. If all adults will act as adults then the problems can be resolved easily. "
12/21/2006:
"I had a similar issue with my second grade son and the teacher insisted that he needs help/medication. At home my son was a totally different child than what his teacher described to me. I went against the teacher's judgment and decided to have my son moved to a different class. And thankfully since that day he behaves like the son I know. His new teacher praises him daily, he is doing exceptionally well in class and is very happy. Sometimes it can simply be a non-compatibility issue between the teacher and the child."
12/20/2006:
"If your child's teacher EVER suggests that you should have your son or daughter be put on medication they are clearly in the wrong! I have a 12 year old son that was diagnosed with ADHD in 2nd grade. He takes concerta to help keep him focused and calm through the day. He is healthy and continues to thrive at home and at school. ADHD and such 'labels' are NOT diseases, rather DISORDERS. The medication is one of many tools parents and educators use to help our children function. If my child was diabetic, I would not deny him insulin. If he were disabled, I would not deny him a wheel chair. I would love to know how many of those against the medication have ever had to raise a child with ADHD and see the difference the medication makes ALONG with behavioral therapy, diet and exercise, lots and lots of love and patients. If you do have to deal with this and decide not to medicate, that is great. But to those who have no idea, don't be so quick to decide that the drugs a! re bad. "
12/20/2006:
"It is unlawful in Texas and otehr states for teachers to suggest a diagnosis or recommend a drug. It is unlawful federally for schools to requre such. More importantly it is severely damaging to children to label and drug them for nonexistent diseases. John Breeding, PhD Texans For safe Education www.wildestcolts.com"
12/20/2006:
"I don't think we should medicate our children simply because we don't know the long term affects on children.The teacher must realize that children make up 1/3 of our population but all our future."
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