At least 10,000 American toddlers, either two or three years old, are being given medications like Adderall for ADHD. They are being diagnosed with a behavioral disorder sometimes before preschool, and before they ever meaningfully interact with another person.
The New York Times talked to a behavioral pediatrician about it, Dr. Doris Greenberg. She doesn’t believe it’s possible that the number of toddlers with ADHD can be as high as 10,000.
“Some of these kids are having really legitimate problems,” Dr. Greenberg said. “But you also have overwhelmed parents who can’t cope and the doctor prescribes as a knee-jerk reaction. You have children with depression or anxiety who can present the same way, and these medications can just make those problems worse.”
Oftentimes, kids are just kids. Rambunctiousness in children, the desire to move around while learning, or a temporary frustration with the brand new world around them—these are not treatable diseases. Those things are, in fact, the fundament of childhood.
As Esquire reported last month, 11 percent of American schoolchildren in 2013 had been diagnosed with ADHD, including 15.1 percent of boys. That’s 6.4 million kids.
The growth of ADHD diagnoses, too, run in a direct parallel to the marketing of and sales of ADHD medications. Sales of ADHD drugs in the last four years have grown 89 percent, and a lot of it comes from the nonstop parental desire for their kids to simply catch up. Younger students in class are 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older classmates—and the number balloons to 41 percent when you only include boys.
Now, in an effort to “catch our kids up,” we might be eliminating any chance at giving them normal life. Forty-eight percent of those who have taken ADHD medications, according to one study, suffered side effects like mood disturbances or sleep problems.
We are prescribing 10,000 two and three-year-olds these same stimulants, and we don’t yet know if the process is safe for anyone—especially toddlers. Only one drug, the amphetamine Adderall, is approved for use in children under six, and its approval came after only one study in 2006. Eleven percent of the 303 preschool participants in the study had to drop out due to intolerable side effects. Ten percent had to drop out due to severe weight loss.
Worse, critics have since questioned the methodology of researchers and have noted their ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Still, this study—one that never contained a single two-year-old—is used to prescribe a new kind of drug to a toddler at any age.
ADHD is not a fictitious disease. Some children need medication like Adderall in order to thrive in school. Their quality of life and learning depends upon it.
Ten thousand toddlers do not. Toddlers are toddlers. Boys are boys. They are not tools for the future of the Earth that need to medicated into place. They are our sons and daughters, and they will be their very own people, if we ever allow them to grow into that.