To the Editor:
In his Commentary on the overprescription of medications for children considered to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Julian Weissglass makes a number of good points on the need to respect children for who they are (“Why Are We Drugging Our Children?,” Sept. 27, 2006).
But in his list of possible reasons for the fact that Americans consume nearly 85 percent of the world’s methylphenidate, a primary element is missed. Classrooms that use effective instructional differentiation to address students’ range of learning styles tend to be more successful both academically and behaviorally. Effective teacher training, administrative supports, and school priorities are much more likely to lead to success than shifting responsibility to children or their families.
Mr. Weissglass also communicates a misunderstanding with regard to the presence of disruptive and “tantrum” behaviors in children when he writes that no person “teaches a child to cry … or have a tantrum.” In fact, there is extensive instructional literature in the area of positive behavior support that clearly identifies that problem behaviors are very often taught, however inadvertently, in much the same way as are more preferred learning outcomes.
As a behavioral educational specialist, I know from experience and the literature that there is always a reason for disruptive behavioral events. And if there is an identifiable reason, there is also an identifiable and instruction-based solution. I also feel that some of the suggestions listed at the end of the Commentary would be difficult to target in teacher-training and supervisory venues.
The key is to understand the literature around principles of behaviorally based instruction and related instructional practices. Providing for emotional release is important. But assessing for, identifying, and responding to the reasons a child is struggling behaviorally, socially, and/or academically, through an instructional model, should come first. Such an approach could greatly reduce the perceived necessity to medicate learning needs.
A version of this article appeared in the October 18, 2006 edition of Education Week as Schools Play Key Role in Moderating Behaviors