Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tags: New Orleans Schools, the Pharmaceutical-Industrial Complex, and My Head

Though this entry was inspired by Slag's recent brilliant piece "FISA: The Mullet of Compromises," this really did happen today.

I had an appointment with the only person that I have trusted for years to cut my hair. For some reason, almost every other person who has ever taken a sharp instrument to my head has had a compulsion to cut layers, even though I have insisted otherwise. So many times have I ended up looking like a Dr. Seuss character on this account, I tend to forgo haircuts altogether if I cannot get them from her. Because I trust her instincts so much, I'll often just ask her do whatever she thinks will look nice because I have little sense of style and trust her judgment. No worries, ever.

Today I wanted this haircut exactly:

And I almost had it.

Except...just as I saw that she, the stylist, had, as usual, perfectly emulated the cut, and all that was left was some loose snippets and the blow drying, I realized that she had been unusually quiet and seemed stressed.

Here is the conversation that followed:
AF: How's your son?

HS: (Deep sigh.) Well, did I tell you we were paying over $6000/year to send him to ___ [private school]?

AF: Yeah, how's that going?

HS: Well they say they want him on medication because he has behavior problems and that if he's not on medication then he'll be on "behavioral probation," and so I want to take him out, but I already paid next year's tuition, and they say it's nonrefundable. And I would take him out anyway, but there is only one public school in our area, and it's a charter school, and I can't get him in.

AF: (Struggling to choose only one of these outrages to focus on)--Medication for behavioral problems? But he's four, right?

HS: He's four, going on five.

AF: Does he have behavioral problems??

HS: I don't think so, and nobody else does, either, but they say at the school he's probably ADHD. Well, his last teacher says that, and so they're acting on what she says. His teacher from the first of the year told me not to listen to them, that he was fine in her class. He has a lot of energy.

AF: Aren't four-year-olds supposed to have a lot of energy?

HS: See, that's what I think, too. I took him to the pediatrician the other day, and she said that she couldn't tell and that he's too young to be accurately tested for anything like that. So she said she could just prescribe the medication anyway.

AF: (Restraining myself)--What do you think?

HS: I don't see why the doctor would prescribe medicine for something that he can't even be tested for to begin with. I think the problem is with the school so I want to take him out, but I've already given them $5000 and we couldn't even afford that, and they just won't give it back. And if he goes back on "probation" and they expel him, then the tuition is still not refundable. We can't afford to send him somewhere else, I'd have to pay some other school more money, so I don't know what to do right now.

AF: (Tirade, support of her conclusions, sympathy.)
It was at this point that I realized the razor had continued to fly rapidly through my hair throughout this conversation, and for that reason I no longer have the haircut above but rather very, very little hair. Very little.

I really don't care about the haircut. That's not the point. I do care about about this young woman, whom I've known for a decade, and her son, and the vicious, blind, profit-driven systems that nobody, anywhere, should be subjected to, ever.

If any of you know what she might tell the school to get her money back or have any other related advice, please tell me, and I will pass it on.


Anonymous said...

This situation is so fucked up on so many levels it makes my head hurt.

Is there another teacher/class the child can be put into? I cannot believe they expect this mother to put her child on meds on the word of one teacher. I can't believe the doctor would put the child on meds just cuz.

Is there a board or credentialing entity the school is governed by that she can appeal to?
I don't have kids so I know nothing about schools but any moron can see this is just wrong.

As for your 'do - those were some true locks for luv you gave up!

A.F. said...

Thanks, Charlotte--I just couldn't believe any of that, either. I will ask her if there's a board of any sort to go to. I don't have children, either, so I know next to nothing, except the terrible state of education here and the unbelievably nefarious influence that drug companies have on U.S. physicians, often even providing their continuing education hours, etc.

Cade said...

Sue the school for attempting to force drugs on a child over the advice of a medical professional. And extra for the pain and suffering they caused to the parents. Or they can just give the money back.

Anonymous said...

Oh, honey, having worked in the medical field for 20+ years I'm well aware of the influence of pharmaceutical companies on physicians. My cardinal rule is, never agree for a doc to put you on the latest med being pushed.

A.F. said...

Oh lord, I know you've got stories to tell, then. I'm scared to let doctors put me on almost *anything.*

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... where to start? First of all, ADHD is a medical condition. Unless the teacher and/or school administrator is a certified medical professional (either MD or psychologist/social worker licensed to practice), and they've administered the approved and appropriate tests and provided the parent(s) with their results, it's illegal for them to diagnose anything.

But aside from the terrible behavior of the school or whether or not your friend can get her money back or her child into the charter school (or your haircut repaired for that matter), let's assume they're right and the child does have ADHD.

Medication is a complex issue. My oldest, Thomas, now 26, has severe ADHD and an additional Learning Disability (Central Auditory Processing - think dyslexia for hearing). Now they call it passion and ambition and charisma, but he was considered a behavior problem pretty much until he graduated from college (with a dual degree). We weren't able to get his needs met in a public system and patched together a combination of mainstream private, public & alternative schools. I am not totally opposed to medication, primarily because it offers the benefit of providing a frame of reference (I know this because I'm ADHD and took ritalin/concerta in my 30s and 40s). By frame of reference, what I mean is that you can tell an ADHD person to sit still and pay attention 'til the cows come home, but they don't have a clue what you mean, having no frame of reference for it. You might as well be telling them to speak Greek. The medicine can show them what it is they're trying to achieve, what paying attention feels like and allows them to develop habits that work in today's school systems.

It's my belief, though, that pharmaceutical solutions should be postponed until there's no other choice and should not be considered for really young children. For one thing, ADHD meds cause a slowing of growth in the long bones. I can spot a young man who took a lot of methylphenidate (Ritalin) from a mile away because their legs are too short for their bodies (how much too short depends on how long they took the meds). But there are other ways, milder alternatives. After Thomas' diagnosis, for four years, under his doctor's direction we used caffeine (coffee & Morning Thunder tea sweetened with raw sugar or honey) very effectively. The other reason to postpone meds is that the meds are only a small part of turning this condition into the asset/strength it can be (don't you all wish you could do five things at one time?), and the ADHD child needs to learn how to deal with their condition, how to overcome the problems it creates and channel their nature into positive energy. Not taking meds forces this. Most ADHD kids learn to compensate, sometimes with self-medication. There's a broad array of central nervous system stimulants availble over the counter and on the street.

ADHD children are told that they're lazy or bad, which can become a self-fullfilling prophecy. We're human. It's a spectrum. There are gifts and difficulties in all of us. Regardless of what she does this year (FWIW, I'd stick it out at the private school if she can negotiate it without the meds), she should start learning everything she can about the condition.

Sorry for the length, but you asked. I could go on about this forever. *sigh*

A.F. said...

Thank you, Sophmom, for relaying so much expert knowledge here. Seriously, I will tell her that a friend of mine said "..." and quote you, if that's okay. Your point about having no frame of reference for paying attention rang a bell (and I know that getting a story third- or fouth-hand is frustrating) bc the child's original teacher said that he is able to sit and pay attention, which is what made her disagree with claims made by the later teacher. My impression is not that the school is literally diagnosing but rather explaining that his behavior is unacceptable unless it is part of a diagnosis for which a child is being medicated (?) I know that is still outrageous but it's what I'm surmising. I also thought she might consider Montessori in the future. What do you think?

Again, I really appreciate your spending this time and energy on the subject, and many congratulations to your son on his success!

Leigh C. said...

Oh, dear God. I have been there with the recommendations for evaluations, and I would first see if she can get the child into a different class. If my son's teacher had tried to force medications on us for the little guy, I would have been livid.

She might also want to see if this school is accredited:

If it's a Catholic school, scroll all the way down to see if her school is on the list. The Archdiocese of NO is near the bottom.

The odds of her getting this child into a place like Lusher or Audubon are shrinking, unfortunately, but she should keep trying. She should also corner this teacher on who EXACTLY she recommends, doctor-wise, for evaluating kids for ADD/ADHD and see if this woman really knows her stuff. They really cannot effectively evaluate a four-year-old for that kind of thing, and if she is worth her salt as a teacher, she will understand this.

The other thing is to talk with other parents who have kids in this teacher's class to see what they say....because there is always safety in numbers. And this might not just be her son. If there is enough evidence to get a complaint in about this teacher, then this is the way to do it.

Also, what Sophmom said.

I am simply throwing ideas out there, since I don't know all the details. I am so, so glad my son has turned a corner behavior-wise right now...but it took a lot of patience from his teachers and some guidance from us as parents to get him there. If he hadn't become better behaved, he would have been evaluated shortly after his fifth birthday, which would have been freak-out time for me. But the best way to really combat that is to keep talking, to find all the angles, to create options, even if it means stepping on toes.

((((hugs)))) to this mama from me. And bless you.

oyster said...

Just to be clear, didja want Paltrow's haircut or the dude's?

A.F. said...

Thanks, Leigh C.! Yes, it is a Catholic school. Lusher was discussed, but there is some definite no-go there for reasons that I don't understand. You're great for giving all this information. The mother seemed to be feeling so defeated by the circumstances, and I was of little help, not having children. She'll probably wonder why I show up with a virtual spreadsheet of shared information :) Thank goodness the Little Guy and you were ultimately spared.

Oyster: Was wondering when somebody was going to ask that question bc the photo makes my statement ambiguous. Just to be clear, Paltrow's. But see the top photo for the end result.

slag said...

Uh oh. I'm sorry on both counts--the cut and the crazy situation!

On the flip side, there's a homeless guy living in my neighborhood who apparently lost his home after he lost his insurance and his ability to get medication for schizophrenia. Went from being a contributing member of society to being a guy who wanders around shoe-less talking to himself all day.

A banner period for mental health, it is not.

slag said...

PS Thanks for the link!

A.F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A.F. said...

Thanks, Slag, for bringing up the flip side! It's so messed up when the few are presented with a wide array of meds that they may not need and the many cannot get meds they desperately do need.

Anonymous said...

I am against home schooling but I'd do it rather than put him on medication.

Anonymous said...

You may absolutely quote me on that, any of that, and you're most welcome. It's a subject in which I was immersed for quite some time. I think it's important, in all parenting, to keep one's eyes on long term gains over short term convenience. Montessori would be an excellent approach. I kept Thomas in his Montessori pre-school through the equivalent of pre-first. He wasn't diagnosed until the summer after his first grade. Some among us (Leigh) have heard his story in detail. I credit his early Montessori education as contributing importantly to his successes.

There can be hyperactivity without attention deficit. Also, ADD/ADHD does not always present with noticable lack of attending. In fact, it almost always presents with remarkable ability of hyperfocus, when fully engaged.

Regardless of what's going on with this child, he's four. What she needs to do is love him, pay attention to him, talk to him, listen to him, make sure his immediate needs are met and do her best to place him in a nurturing environment when she can't be with him. When the time comes for him to be diagnosed, if she can possibly afford to do that privately, I recommend it. She can then decide how much of it she wants to share with his educators, keeping in mind that they can't formulate a valid individualized educational plan for her child without a full roadmap to the way he learns. Every child would benefit from this testing. It's especially important for those children who seem to be substantially different, or have trouble adapting to their school system (although often, IMHO, it's the school systems with the real problem). If testing reveals a meaningful disability of some kind, then it's better to know it than to not know it. The greatest damage can come from denying the true nature of the child.

As you can tell, you've struck a chord with me. My Thomas is still a force of nature. Sometimes being around him is like standing too close to the flame. When we moved him from the small Episcopal school to the large public in the 8th grade, one of the snooty private school mom's asked me, "Aren't you worried that he's going to fall into the bad crowd?" I just laughed, "Of course not! He's going to define the bad crowd." For better or for worse, wherever he is, he's in charge.

For some reason, I think I've linked to this post before, perhaps in an earlier discussion of mental illness in general, but here is a post in which I talked about my experiences with Thomas (and his father - and myself) in more detail.

Note: Lots has changed since I wrote the post linked above.

A.F. said...

Thanks for continuing to share the knowledge, Sophmom. It's hard to pick out only one moving statement here because there are so many, but, this one:

"Regardless of what's going on with this child, he's four. What she needs to do is love him, pay attention to him, talk to him, listen to him, make sure his immediate needs are met and do her best to place him in a nurturing environment when she can't be with him."

That is my hope, too.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. You grabbed the Most Important thing I said. That's the stuff you can't go back and do over.

Thanks for your sweet comment over at my place. So much has happened since I posted that. My oldest is all graduated from college, has a great job and lives back in Atlanta (where he's driving me up a freakin' wall). :D

Rent Party said...

I'm still thinking about this. Would the M.D. help out by claiming to the school that he was medicated, while in the meantime, she just kept the prescription in a drawer?

A.F. said...

That's brilliant, Rent Party!