Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

In The News

Chicago Tribune, December 17, 2000
Health & Family; Page 4


By Lynn Brezosky, Associated Press.

The school nurse called during Kyle Carroll's first week of 2nd grade last September. Wasn't Kyle going to be taking his Ritalin?

No, Jill Carroll said, he made it through the summer without the drug and did just fine. She and her husband, Michael, were hoping the Ritalin days were over.

On Sept. 15, the Carrolls say, they got another call. Their 8-year-old son was in the office and the district was threatening to expel him unless the medicating resumed.

Superintendent Steven Schrade, who wasn't with the approximately 1,200-student school district when all this happened, denies the threat and now says the whole situation with Kyle "was from well-intentioned people and just snowballed."

Confidentiality reasons, Schrade says, prevent him from discussing the case or the battle of wills the Carrolls say took place between Kyle and his teacher.

"I think there are a number of other factors that we can't talk about," he says. "Believe me, Ritalin wasn't the only reason that the family ended up in Family Court."

Meetings would follow, with the Carrolls on one side of the table and a team including guidance counselors and special education specialists on the other.

"I just started throwing things at them, why Kyle shouldn't be on Ritalin," says Michael Carroll, a construction worker. "They just kept throwing things back at me, why he had to be. They didn't let me finish a sentence. They were comparing Ritalin to insulin. It has nothing to do with that. [Without insulin] the child dies. Without Ritalin you've just got to give a lot more time."

The law requires that school employees report instances of neglect to child protective agencies. In Kyle's case, someone at the school equated the failure to medicate Kyle with the unexplained bruises or signs of malnutrition that might prompt other calls.

The matter went to Family Court, where a judge ordered the Carrolls to continue giving Kyle medications prescribed by a physician.

"The case as I see it is educational neglect," says Pamela J. Joern, the law guardian appointed to the case. "Your child has a diagnosis, it interferes with his education, a recommendation is made. It is not followed by the parents. It continues to interfere with his education. The parents take no steps to address the problem.

"It's not a pro-Ritalin decision; it's not an anti-Ritalin decision. A parent failed to ensure their child was able to receive an education."

Ritalin is a brand name for the methylphenidate, which is believed to increase a child's alertness by stimulating the central nervous system.

Psychiatrist Susan Abbott says Kyle probably was better able to learn when medicated.

"If unmedicated, you certainly won't learn as much as well, you won't achieve the same grades, you may not be able to follow your aspirations, attend your college of choice," she says. "When the kids in the neighborhood don't play with you and you fall farther and farther behind . . . that's sad."

American doctors are now writing an estimated 11.4 million Ritalin prescriptions a year -- more than double the approximately 4.5 million written five years ago. According to recent studies, the United States makes and uses 85 percent of the world's supply of the drug, and use is now beginning to pick up in Western Europe.

To Dr. Peter Breggin, author of several books on the subject and crusader against psychotropic drugs as a whole, it all speaks of mind control, of Big Brother and ultimately of trampled constitutional rights. Especially when he believes that the malady Ritalin and similarly classed drugs are used to treat -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, often called Attention Deficit Disorder -- is "a fabrication" meant to label certain personality types as diseases. ADD is not diagnosed from the kind of evidence of brain irregularities that doctors use for, say, Alzheimer's disease or strokes, he says. "The diagnosis is if the kid squirms in his chair, interrupts, is sloppy -- a list of things that annoy teachers and make it hard to teach."

Jeffrey Schaler, a psychologist who teaches at American University's School of Public Affairs, agrees.

"There's no deficiency that Ritalin is fixing," he says. "What it's doing is changing a behavior so the child complies with expectations and behaviors expected of him." You drug the child and get him to comply by drugging."

On Ritalin, the Carrolls say, Kyle is a zombie. He barely eats or sleeps; Michael says he senses him lying awake in his bedroom long into the night. When the parents went to school to view the children's projects, all the other children ran around excitedly. Kyle sat at his desk, staring off into space.

"We'd rather have him hyperactive than 'duh . . .,"' says Jill, who works as a store clerk.

Side effects like Kyle's are often attributed to Ritalin; the drug has also been associated with stunted growth and irregular heartbeat.

The Carrolls, who have three other children, believe the school would rather drug Kyle than take time with him.

Says Abbott, "I think in a world where each child can have their own teacher that would work. But in a class where teachers spend 33 percent of the time on one child with ADHD, you kind of have to think of the real world here."

After heavy media attention, the Carrolls' doctor has agreed to take Kyle off the drug and he has been enrolled in a special education program in another school district.

GRAPHIC: PHOTOPHOTO: Kyle Carroll sits with his parents, Jill and Michael, on a dock at their home in New York. AP photo. Chicago Tribune, December 17, 2000 Copyright Chicago Tribune, 2000