Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ritalin: Thoughts About An Urban Legend

A co worker was at a wedding and heard this story from another guest who said she heard it from the boy's mother. Isn't that how a lot of urban legends get started?

A boy was in yeshiva who had a nonexistent attention span. He practically had a seat with his name on it in the principal's office. His rebbe (teacher) was on the phone regularly with his parents.

"Get him tested." the rebbe said. "He needs to be on Ritalin. He's hyperactive."

The parents were reluctant to put their son on medication. They handled their son and the phone calls with tact. They finally got a call from the principal.

"I can't keep your son in my school". the principal said. "If he is not evaluated and given medication, I can't see any grounds for another chance."

With no alternative, the parents took the boy to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Ritalin, or something like it.

The prescription called for the medication to be administered during school hours. No one thought the boy was mature enough to take it on his own. The parents didn't want the boy to be the subject of gossip if he took the pill every day in class.

The principal came up with a solution.

"Don't worry." he said reassuringly. "No one will know that he takes medication. Every day at ten, have him come to my office. No one will see him taking the pill."

Reluctantly, the parents went along with the principal's plan. Every day at ten, their son would go to the principal, who would give the boy the same instructions.

"Go bring me a cup of coffee and take this little white pill."

Every day, the boy did as he was told. He and the principal would have a brief chat, not over disciplinary infractions but over whatever came up. Then the boy would go back to class.

After two weeks, the parents got together with the principal and their son. The reports from the teacher were superb. The boy had made a 100% turnaround. He was sitting quietly in class. His grades were up. He was much less wild at recess.

They asked the boy what was different about the previous two weeks that he was so well behaved.

"Every morning at ten o'clock, I go to the principal." the boy reported dutifully." He has me make him a cup of coffee. It's the same thing every day. He has coffee light with two sugars and that little white pill."

The most interesting urban legends have a hidden moral. There is one urban legend in which a man comes home and finds a strange Mercedes parked in his driveway. He is a contractor who is driving a cement truck. Right away he assumes his wife has been unfaithful. He empties his cement truck on the Mercedes. He walks in the door. His wife wishes him a fond happy birthday and hands him the key to the Mercedes she has bought him for his birthday. The implicit moral is that one should not be overly suspicious.

In the Ritalin story, the boy was being treated differently by people who were watching him closely for medication induced behavioral changes. The principal gave him a daily dose of time out from daily routine and personal attention as well. A close reading of events would lead one to believe that this was the therapeutic intervention that the boy needed. A bit more subversive is the suggested possibility that medicating the principal was just what the boy needed.

My wife read this story on a Jewish site that I was not able to track down. It was told as an amusing anecdote. In looking for the article, I found another article about non pharmaceutical alternatives to Ritalin. The site "Yeshiva World" carried an article about a Psychiatrist named Amnon Gimpel, who prescribed exercises to develop neural pathways that would ameliorate and eventually eliminate ADHD. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The article describes his experience as follows.

"Gimpel teaches new techniques and strategies utilizing targeted mental and physical exercises that have been proven to reduce and even permanently eliminate the symptoms of ADHD in children, teenagers and adults. Through his counseling and seminars, and now with the publication of his new book, Gimpel gives parents the skills to coach their ADHD child to enhance memory, concentration and decision making, and to control hyperactivity and impulsivity.

In Susan’s case, it became apparent that she loved to jump rope. Applying Gimpel’s methodologies, it was suggested that Susan use this passion as an exercise to develop new brain cells, ultimately leading to significantly improved concentration and decreased hyperactivity.

With each new rope-jumping trick Susan learned and each new technique she mastered, her brain was forced to create new pathways to accomplish these challenging tasks. Simultaneously, her behavior improved immensely and she finished the school year at the top of her class, without any medication."

Dr. Gimpel's work seems to shed valuable light on children who have until now been treated with medication. There is, however and additional possibility. Our educational systems tend to place a premium on children who are more manageable, who fit comfortably into a certain range of behaviors and learning styles. Part of our approach to treating children who might not fit in should be to develop an appreciation of their unique abilities.

There are also children who are psychologically troubled. Family problems or trauma could cause a child to act out as a cry for help. There may be rare cases where medication is called for.

It is far too easy to medicate and forget people. Taking the extra time to find a proper answer to the problems a child may face is what parenting and schooling should be all about. I don't know if I believe the story about the principal and the little white pill. But I do believe the truth behind it. Sphere: Related Content

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