May 28, 2015
Schools’ role in treatments addressed
Photo provided by Homer School Superintendent Nancy Ruscio
Homer Elementary School teacher Caitlin Mack works with a fifth-grade student in the calming room by jumping on a trampoline. This is one of the ways students with ADHD can release extra energy to focus better in the classroom.
The state has seen an influx in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder cases in the past few years and Cortland County educational and clinical officials are weighing whether medication use and diagnosing techniques are the keys to treatment.
Homer Superintendent of Schools Nancy Ruscio said Wednesday morning that the school has not seen a hike in cases of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, but there has been a change in how medications are given. Ruscio noted that medication is now given to ADHD students at lunchtime instead of at home in the morning in order to help the child focus later in the school day.
Ruscio said she does not have an opinion on what treatment is the best for ADHD.
“As for which method is best is really an individual child and parent decision along with their medical provider,” Ruscio said in an email. “We try to meet the needs of all children as they come to us.”
Some of the services the Homer schools provide include teacher assistants who work closely with the students in the classrooms, co-taught classrooms and a calming room which allows the child to release extra energy when he or she cannot focus in a classroom setting. A small trampoline is provided for the child to jump and release energy to help them focus in the classroom.
There has been a spike in the number of children statewide who take medication for ADHD from 2007 to 2011, according to information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers went from 3.9 percent of children being medicated for ADHD in 2007 to 5.1 percent in 2011.
Dr. Mohammad Djafari, a pediatric physician in Cortland, said Tuesday he has seen an increase in the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD in the county. However, he does not think medication is always the right answer, saying it is often used as a “quick fix.”
“Often, there is some pressure to improve academics, so there is a pressure ... that they need to get on medication,” Djafari said. “Sometimes, the parents cannot handle the situation ... and obviously medication will help, but it may not be the right treatment.”
Some of the medication choices for ADHD include stimulants such as Ritalin and amphetamine. Treatment for children with ADHD is difficult because each case is different and it really depends on the severity of the disorder.
Ruscio added there is a plan in place for children who are diagnosed with ADHD to ensure they get the necessary treatment in accordance with national regulations.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 outlines the rights of a child diagnosed with a physical or mental disabilities, intended to ensure he or she gets the same education as a child without a disability, according to information from the National Resource Center on ADHD website.
Although Ruscio has not seen the increase in the Homer schools, the trend of children who are diagnosed with ADHD in New York state has increased over the past 10 years, with more parents being told by their health care provider their child has ADHD, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, 9.2 percent of children ages 4 to 17 were diagnosed by a health care provider. This rose to 9.9 percent of children being diagnosed with ADHD in 2011 statewide, compared with11 percent diagnosed nationwide.
Parents reporting their own child exhibited signs of the disability also increased from 7.5 percent in 2007 to 7.7 percent in 2011.
Djafari said that for children to be properly diagnosed with ADHD, a child would need to have symptoms throughout the entire day, adding that parents sometimes are too quick to diagnose their own kids with ADHD.
“It has to be a close collaboration and contact with school, home and the physicians,” Djafari said, adding school is the most important factor because teachers work with the children all day.
“You can always jump to ADHD and it may be not the best diagnosis,” he said.
Djafari puts much of the blame on kids being put in front of the TV and other electronics which gives them instant gratification, giving another quick fix to a problem that should be treated in another way.
“They need more physical activities, not just sitting around,” Djafari said. “Kids have more energy and need to get rid of that energy.”
Jeff Smartwood, a psychology professor at SUNY Cortland, said Wednesday afternoon that he does not think ADHD is over-diagnosed, but said based on his experience with youngsters over 20 years, there definitely has been a dramatic increase in cases.
However, he said he isconcerned that labeling a child with ADHD could have an effect on the child’s self-image.
“Having the label itself, I think there’s cognitive advantage,” Smartwood said. “But use that word too strongly and children become sensitive about who they are as a person.”
With regards to medication, Smartwood said it is a good tool to use for children and the teachers who have them in the classroom all day. However, medication should be monitored and not be the sole source of a child’s treatment, he said.
Djafari said he makes sure he tells kids who are diagnosed with ADHD that they are smart and they have to focus on their work.
Smartwood agreed, saying the child still needs to be present in the classroom and do the work.
Smartwood added that sometimes parents mistakenly come to rely on medication as something of a magic fix, immediately enhancing their child’s academic performance.
“It doesn’t substitute for something that is going to teach the child,” Smartwood said. “When you provide labels, there’s going to be work behind them.”
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