Medicating Children from the Denver Post

Denver Post | Winning with Challenging Children.

GET OUT! Get out of my classroom right now!

I usually tried to hide at the back of the class, but there was no hiding from Mr. Whalen’s angry words. Everyone knew they were meant for me. For the first time in my life, I felt the terrible pain of humiliation. I was 6 years old.

By the time I started school, I had developed into one very strange little boy. I blurted loud, uncontrollable noises and developed peculiar facial tics, grimaces and head jerks. After every third step, I was compelled to spin in a circle, take three more steps and spin again. It took me forever to get anywhere.

That was the start of a long journey. Over the next 2 1/2 years, I was poked, prodded and percussed by seven different specialists. Then, as a hyperactive 8-year-old, I was confined to an adult institution. I was so tranquilized that I was not even capable of spinning to the bathroom and back.

The final stop on that journey was the child psychiatrist. I sat on a small chair outside his office the day of the final visit. I could hear every word through the closed door. “I am very sorry to have to tell you this, Mr. and Mrs. Bardsley, but your son David is mentally retarded.” I was stunned.

My parents refused to accept that diagnosis. Instead, they listened to their gut instincts and had the courage to follow them. From that day on, there were no more doctors, clinics or special training of any find. They knew that if you give someone enough support, encouragement and love, there is almost no obstacle or limitation that you can’t help them diminish or overcome.

This means uncovering each child’s unique abilities, no matter how deeply they are hidden, so they can achieve their maximum potential. That is all we can ask of anyone. My parents had to wait 20 years before a correct diagnosis was made: I have Tourette’s syndrome.

Tourette’s in an inherited neurological disorder about which we know very little. It is often grouped with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, OCD and a plethora of other behavioral and learning disabilities. There is a widely held belief in the scientific community that all of these disorders are somehow caused by a deficiency or imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Even though this is an unproven theory, psychotropic drugs have shamefully become the first line of treatment for most of these conditions. These powerful drugs change how a child thinks, feels and ultimately how they behave — the very core of who they are. The Centers for Disease Control tells us that one out of nine male school children in the U.S. takes Ritalin or Adderall on a daily basis, despite not knowing how the drugs work or their long-term side effects.

The picture is no better for autism, Tourette’s or Asperger’s. These are often treated with powerful antipsychotic medications. Manufacturers list “cognitive dulling” as a major “side effect” of these drugs.

I am not totally against the use of all psychotropic drugs. They have their place. They should be used only after alternative treatments have proven unsuccessful. These drugs should be used short-term and with a clear, definable goal in mind, to help develop a child’s talents and abilities and not simply to control his behavior.

I’m not a neuroscientist or behavioral expert. What I am is the end product of a little boy who grew up in the trenches of dysfunctionality. I know the life-long struggle of always being “different,” and I know what worked for me. It was unyielding support, relentless encouragement, uncompromising love and vigorous physical activity.

Studies show that the only modality that balances all known neurotransmitters is vigorous physical exercise. If it came in pill form, it would be heralded as a wonder drug. What it does for the body is secondary; what it does for the mind is truly remarkable.

No one will ever know your child better than you. Listen to the experts, gather all the information you can, and then trust your gut instincts and have the courage to follow them.

Dr David Bardsley