Special Education Column

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A new report suggests that negative media publicity about the prescription drug Ritalin may have contributed to decreases in use of that medication to control hyperactive behavior in schoolchildren.

The article, published in the Aug. 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, bases its conclusions on biennial surveys of nurses working in public and parochial schools in Baltimore County, Md. The nurses reported that the number of schoolchildren using the drug, after rising fivefold over more than 15 years, declined sharply from 1987 to 1991. During that time, the report says, the percentage of children using the medication dropped 39 percent.

Through much of that period, the report's authors note, there was a "blitz'' of national and local news reports about possible harmful side effects of the drug, which is taken by a little more than 2 percent of all schoolchildren nationwide. In Baltimore County, some of the publicity had arisen after a lawyer threatened to file a lawsuit against the school system on behalf of parents whose children had been taking the drug.

"School nurses reported that parents were most concerned about medication side effects and that the majority were aware of the adverse publicity,'' write the authors, Dr. Daniel J. Safer and Dr. John M. Krager. Some local doctors became hesitant to prescribe the drug because of the publicity, they note.

Similar lawsuits had been filed during that period in about a dozen other cities across the country. Nationwide, federal drug-enforcement authorities say, sales of Ritalin decreased 13 percent over the same period after rising precipitously for more than a decade.

Children of migrant farmworkers are underserved and underidentified in school special-education programs, according to an upcoming report from the Interstate Migrant Education Council.

While federal guidelines suggest that approximately 12 percent of students within any specific demographic group have a disability, data from 17 states show that only 1.7 percent to 3 percent of migrant students are getting special-education services. This is the case, the report's authors say, despite other studies showing that young migrant children are at greater risk for disabilities than the general population.

Moreover, the study notes, migrant children who receive special education are getting the help they need much later in their school careers than are other schoolchildren.

More information on the study, "Policy Brief on Special Education,'' is available from the Interstate Migrant Education Council, 1 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20001-1431.--D.V.

Vol. 12, Issue 03

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