'Should I Medicate My Child?'

CAROUSEL - Actor Don Cheadle, left, and actress Scarlett Johansson, right, wave to fans at the end of a panel for their new movie "Iron Man 2" at Comic-Con International 2009 convention held in San Diego Saturday, July 25, 2009. The annual comic book and popular arts convention attracts over 100,000 people and runs through Sunday July 26. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
AP Photo/Denis Poroy
As parents are buying "back to school" supplies for their kids, many are refilling Ritalin prescriptions, on the advice of teachers, therapists or family doctors. Psychiatric drugs prescribed for children have increased an estimated 500 percent in the last few years.

In his new book, "Should I Medicate My Child? Sane Solutions For Troubled Kids With -- And Without Psychiatric Drugs," pediatrician and therapist Lawrence Diller helps parents decide the matter for themselves. He visited The Early Show to talk about it.

Dr. Diller's first book, "Running on Ritalin," earned him a great deal of press and thrust him into the national debate on using the behavioral drug on children. The latest book answers the question that many parents are asking themselves: "Should I medicate my child?"

"I think what parents want to know is not so much whether their kid has a disorder, but how to help their kids solve a problem, and they want to feel that they explored other alternatives before they use medication," says Dr. Diller. "Unfortunately, when parents don't know other choices, they turn to medicine first. There's no specific way to diagnose a disorder. For each kid, and each doctor that they go to, that line may vary."

Dr. Diller says it is important for parents to consider if their child has received a decent evaluation, and to be involved in the process by making sure that the doctor has talked to the school, as well as finding out if there is some kind of program set up at the school for the child.

"Too often," says Dr. Diller, "we underestimate the effectiveness of solid discipline, not just for hyperactive children, but even children who have fears and anxieties. What they can do is then go to their doctor. When a parent speaks up, the doctor will listen. If you don't, you might get an evaluation that involves just a standard checklist."

"As for accommodations and special services in school, it's not a matter of rich or poor; it's a matter of law. Public schools in this country are required to provide for children with learning disabilities," says Dr. Diller. So it is important for parents to keep up the pressure on school personnel is important.

In the book, Dr. Diller gives parents eight questions to go through in determining whether or not their child should be on drugs. Each chapter focuses on one question.

  1. Does your child have a disorder?
    The word "disorder" like the term "chemical imbalance," is charged with several assumptions that often go unexamined. In this chapter, you'll learn how we arrived at the current biological model of childhood mental illness, in which the behavioral or emotional problems are viewed as symptoms of a disorder.
  2. Has your child received a complete and ethical evaluation?
    You may already know from experience that brief evaluations are the norm these days. Unfortunately, this sped-up process often leads to thoughtlessly prescribed medication or to serious problems like learning disabilities being overlooked. When you know what a complete evaluation looks like, you are in a better position to demand one from your practitioner. This chapter also includes tips for helping you find the best doctor or therapist for your child.
  3. When time-outs don't work: Have you tried these strategies for effective discipline?
    One of the many ironies of parenting is that challenging kids are those who need the most order in their lives. They're also the ones who resist it most aggressively. This chapter shows how one family used methods for limit setting, structure, and -- yes-- time-outs to help their children, although those approaches had failed before.
  4. Beating Mrs. Bossy and defeating Darth Vader: Can you externalize the problem?
    Here you'll discover a nondrug approach that helps families reframe their child's problem in a way that offers them more power and hope. It often works surprisingly well, especially for kids who are dominated by fears, obsessions, or sensitivities. It doesn't work for every child-- nothing, not even medication, can claim to be 100 percent successful-- but it can be a rejuvenating exercise for worn-out families, and I have seen it help many children avoid medication altogether.
  5. How can teachers and schools help?
    This chapter covers the options available within the regular classroom and in special programs.
  6. When is enough enough?
    In most cases, it is wise to look at all your options before coming to a decision regarding medication. But sometimes a child's mental state or unavoidable circumstances call out for the particular help that drugs can bring. This chapter helps you identify these conditions.
  7. How will the medication affect your child?
    This chapter describes the classes of pharmaceuticals most likely to be prescribed for children, along with their known an potential benefits and risks. You'll learn how to decipher pharmaceutical claims, and I'll share with you my observations from twenty years of watching how children's bodies and personalities react to certain drugs.
  8. What if your child won't swallow the pill (and other day-to-day questions when your child is on medication)?
    This practical chapter anticipates the daily challenges that may arise when psychiatric medications are used. What do you tell the child about the drug. How can you tell if the child no longer needs medication?
  9. (Excerpted from "Should I Medicate My Child? Sane Solutions For Troubled Kids With -- And Without Psychiatric Drugs.")