Stuttgart group discusses pros and cons of medicating distracted kids
By CHARLIE COON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 26, 2005
STUTTGART, Germany — Adam Dickensheet used to be a problem child.
He goofed off, couldn’t sit still and always was disrupting the classroom. Then he got on drugs and became a model student.
“I can do the class work, I can hear and process everything the teacher is saying,” said Dickensheet, a senior at Patch High School. “Time slows down.”
Dickensheet was one of 25 people Wednesday who attended “Making Sense of Medications and Other Treatment Options,” a discussion led by Dr. Stephen Morris at Stuttgart’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder group’s monthly meeting.
Morris, acting chief of child and adolescent psychiatric services at the Heidelberg Health Clinic, said giving drugs such as Ritalin and Dexedrine and their variants to children has risks and benefits.
“Don’t think [medication] is the total answer,” Morris said. “Don’t fear it. Understand it and make a rational decision.”
Dickensheet said he was first diagnosed with ADHD while in the fourth grade. Through the years, he tried different combinations of drugs and taking them at different times of the day.
Sometimes the side effects, such as feeling antisocial or feeling like the drugs were controlling him instead of the other way around, caused him and his doctors to tweak his treatment.
The bottom line, Dickensheet said, is that the medication helps.
“My grade point average was 3.8,” Dickensheet said, “and then I went off [medication] for one semester — the first semester of ninth grade — and my grade point average was 1.6.”
The drugs are stimulants and are believed to help the brain’s different parts work together, Morris said, adding that the illness might be misnamed. There is no deficiency of attention, he said, but an abundance of it, and the child has trouble screening all the sights and sounds he experiences.
ADHD was given its name in 1987 and is diagnosed by observing how a child behaves in various conditions and locations. If a child doesn’t like school, for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean he has ADHD. The ADHD child is continually distracted, hyperactive and impulsive in a variety of situations.
Military life can exacerbate the condition, said Dr. (Maj.) Alison Ward of the U.S. Army Hospital in Würzburg, Germany.
“It’s also true for children whose parents get divorced, whose dad has a corporate job and has to move, or when a child changes from elementary school to middle school,” Ward said. “All those types of changes at least temporarily changes their ADHD, usually to the worse.”
Ward said military families often can find help easier because of the close working relationship between military schools and clinics.
Christine Sloan, a special-needs consultant for Child and Youth Services at Patch Barracks, said military parents could check with their base’s Exceptional Family Members Program to see if help is available for ADHD.