Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions among Australian children. Some believe one in three. Despite that, prescriptions for medications have doubled in the past decade.
Martin Williams' daughter Nicole was diagnosed with ADHD at seven by a school guidance councillor because she was having reading difficulties. “The teachers would just put her in the back of the classroom and just forget about her -- too hard basket”, Martin said.
Refusing to drug his child, Martin got a second opinion, to find Nicole actually has dyslexia and now 4 years later it's not just her reading that's improved dramatically.
Being ‘zombied out’ is just one of the side effects of ADHD drugs. Karen Morgan's son Bradyen has been on ADHD medication for 11 years. Now he has a serious heart condition which will kill him. The 17-year-old's heart is slowly shutting down and Karen says Brayden's doctor admits the ADHD medication is responsible. “Since Brayden was five he's been on Dexamphetamines, Ritalin, Ritalan LA, Clonidine, Risperidone, Melatonin and he got put on a new one called Concerta”, Karen said.
“I think the ADHD label should be thrown away”, said Martin Whitely who is one of the world's most outspoken anti-ADHD child drugging campaigners. He says almost 63,000 children are on prescription ADHD medication in Australia.
According to his research, NSW, Qld and Tas have the highest rate of diagnoses, well above the national average. SA & Vic have the lowest. WA is just below the national average. SA - 47% below national average.
And a study out of the US has found little evidence the drugs actually improve academic outcomes for children who have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Whether your child is put on ADHD drugs, depends on where you live. Martin says it comes down to your local paediatrician. This makes it a difficult balancing act for parents. Medicating children means exposing them to drugs that can stunt their growth, make them hallucinate and increase their heart rate and blood pressure. But un-medicated, children with ADHD can be uncontrollable, at times impossible to live with.
For Kim medication is the only option to treat her son Joshua. It's been almost 15 years since we first met them: Joshua was the little Houdini -- every night Kim would have to lock him up so he wouldn't run amok through their home. “You couldn't stop him doing anything, if he wanted to do something he would break locks, he would break windows, he would break whatever was in his way to do it”, Kim said.
“When I take the tablets I concentrate more at work and when I was at school I concentrated a bit more at school”, Joshua said.
Joshua has been on Ritalin since he was five. Now at 19, his mum credits it with helping him hold down a job and get his driver’s license.
“Clearly our whole social system is failing children and parents”, said child psychologist Professor Jon Jureidini.
Professor Jurejdini believes ADHD is a simplistic, convenient label for paediatricians... and the medication masks the symptoms of the underlying cause. “If a young person presents with distressing behaviour the task is to try and make sense of that and to do a better job than just giving it the convenient label of ADHD”, he said.
Professor Jureidini says paediatricians hold the key; they need to be better educated so children are diagnosed properly. As for the treatments, they need to be tailored to suit each child but at the moment, most aren't. “I think that anybody who thinks they've got a single treatment for ADHD is missing the point”, he said.
It’s a point that could prove life changing. “I'd go and get second, third, fourth opinions”, Martin said.