Judith Warner points out in We’ve Got Issues , her just-published book about the epidemic of children with learning and behavioral disorders, that many children are experiencing real-life psychological/biological "issues" that psychotropic medications help control. But that doesn’t mean that the "issues" aren’t overdiagnosed, and that children aren’t overmedicated. As Alison Gopnik notes in her review of the book in Slate , it’s "complicated ." The weakness of the book is that Warner can’t discuss the complexity of what’s causing the epidemic and what can potentially stop it in any meaningful way.
There is a large gray area between the clearly ill and troubled children and their parents Warner profiles and all the others-the ones who can’t always sit still in class, who are having some trouble reading, who are somewhat disengaged, who are sometimes oppositional. I would posit a good chunk of the difference could be attributed to something both Warner and Gopnik give short shrift to-our nation’s education system.
Even as our public schools have, under federal mandate, taken on children who, in previous generations, would have been lucky not to be institutionalized, our boys and girls-particularly in the upper-middle-class circles common to Warner and her readers-are under pressure to keep up both academically and behaviorally at ages that would seem laughable to our parents and grandparents. Reading and homework in kindergarten? State and federal mandated testing beginning in elementary school? Harvard or bust?
It’s not surprising that an increasing number of kids can’t or won’t keep up. It’s also not surprising that our underfunded and overstretched schools would rather believe that these problems can be medicated out of existence since, after all, it’s both cheaper and easier to intimate a child needs medication (it’s illegal to actually suggest it) than offer long range tutoring or cognitive therapy services to a child who won’t sit still or acts out in class because he or she has ADHD or dyslexia or the ever-amorphous sensory integration disorder.
That’s a book that needs writing. I wish Judith Warner had thought of it.
Photograph of boy by Photodisc/Getty Images.