A veteran clinical psychologist contends that there is a “pervasive tendency in our society to medicalize children's behavior” and “shy away from trusting our own ability to decipher the ordinary human meanings, motives and developmental reasons for why children act the way they do.”
While not denying the necessity for medical treatment of psychiatric disorders, Gnaulati urges caution. He cites instances where simple factors, such as a lag in social and emotional development, have led to a diagnosis of ADHD and a prescription for Ritalin. Recently, Michigan State University economist Todd Elder found a shocking correlation between kindergarteners’ birth dates and their being prescribed ADHD medication. “If a child is behaving poorly,” said Elder, “it may simply be because he's 5 and the other kids are 6.” Gnaulati believes that too frequently, the norm of acceptable behavior for children has been feminized—e.g., typical roughhousing by boys has become unacceptable. Children who speak out of turn, forget their homework and are easily distracted are difficult for teachers to deal with in overcrowded classrooms. It is easier to explain such behaviors in terms of neuropsychology and medicate them than to look for environmental reasons that can be addressed by traditional methods of psychotherapy and family counseling. Gnaulati gives many examples of misdiagnoses: picky eaters prone to tantrums who were prematurely diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders; attention-seeking children who misbehaved; sleep-deprived adolescents who were depressed and irritable. In some instances, the author finds that creative children may be faulted for their independence and out-of-the-box thinking. Gnaulati makes a strong case that an incorrect diagnosis of behavioral problems can be stigmatizing and that prescription drugs frequently have overlooked, negative side effects.
A valuable guide for parents and educators that includes tips on choosing a therapist and parenting strategies.