Medicating children: for school success

Some children in our schooling system have medical conditions that often require the use of medication to support their ability to attend a learning. Conditions such as ADHD, anxiety and ASD are very common in children in schools these days. It’s not uncommon for families to be advised by medical experts that medicating their children may give their children the ability to concentrate and therefore attend to learning more effectively than if they are unmedicated.

The thought of giving children regular dose of amphetamines can be quite daunting for some parents and for some teachers to support such a measure. However the accurate diagnosis and the accurate dosage of medication can have a remarkably positive impact on a child’s ability to attend a learning.

When you see a child in a classroom who is inattentive, distractible, disruptive, anti-social, disengaged with the learning process due to having one of those medical conditions, then families and teachers often reach the point where they will consider an alternative to support the child’s learning journey. If this requires medical intervention through the administering of the stimulants to switch on part of the brain which allows the children to concentrate, then families are often content in the knowledge that they doing what is in the best interest of the child.

It sometimes takes a few weeks for the medication to have its desired impact on a child’s ability to concentrate and attend to learning in a school classroom. It’s not uncommon for teachers to pick once a child has been successfully medicated, whether or not they have had their tablet at the start of the day and whether or not they can then and concentrate and will learn and engage as much as possible. The positive impact on a child is observable and can be life-changing. 

Some parents do choose went to medicate their children and when not to medicate their children. It’s not uncommon for families to say they hadn’t medicated their child over the holiday period or they don’t medicate them over the weekends.

The reality is if a child is using medication a regular basis, then not only does it give them the ability to concentrate during the day, it may also mean the child begins to learn how to behave and therefore they can perform better in a whole variety of situations.

Therefore it’s recommended that parents follow the medical experts advice when medicating their children and how frequently, and of the regularity with which medication is used so that the child can have the optimum opportunity to be the best they can be. 

If of course the child is presenting in a zombie-like state than the medication they may not be appropriate. If the child is seemingly losing their spark for life, for their creativity, then the medication may need to be reviewed. So we want children. to be able to attend to learning.

It is critical that the child’s personality can still be evident and their creativity can still be fostered, so the use of medication needs to be done cautiously. Anecdotally and research evidence will indicate when the use of medication it is done effectively, for the relevant conditions, the positive impact it can be quite remarkable.I need to stress it is not the teachers position to diagnose any medical condition. It is not the teacher’s position to recommend medication.

It may be a teacher’s position to complete data gathering tools, survey forms, so that the medical experts can have an accurate opinion of a child’s progress and behaviour. A teacher must not, could not, should not ever diagnose a child and must not, should not, could not ever recommend medication.

All the teachers can do is say to the parents that they have observe these behaviours and your child may benefit from further investigation, as they’re showing signs and symptoms of behaviours which make it difficult for them to attend a learning. It is then left to the parents to make that decision as to how they can support their child to maximize their learning opportunities. 

There are other interventions to consider not just medication. It might be a diet change; it might be some behaviour management techniques, both at home and it’s school; it might be the case that there are behaviours or a reason for a behaviour such as trauma or influences beyond a clinical diagnosis of a medical condition. All these factors need to be taken into account when doctors diagnose your child and then secondly considering intervention options .

As an experienced teacher and principal I’ve never diagnosed any child and I would never diagnose a child. I support the family on any educational journey they choose to take with their children, be at medicated, unmedicated, be at through diet modification; or through a behaviour management modification, be at through incentives, rewards, social dynamic changes – anything at all we can do to help support a family in maximizing their child learning opportunities – schools are obliged to do, within reason. 

I should say schools support within reason. We need to do what is reasonable and what is sustainable, so parents need to ask, and share what they need and what their child needs, and then they need to review and reflect – Is it possible, within a classroom setting, for teachers to employ that strategy? and is it a sustainable strategy without imposing too much on our teacher?.

As principal I am responsible for the well-being and education of the children and I’m also responsible for looking after the well-being of my staff and that’s a fine balancing act. As a principal I often make decisions that are in the best interests of the student and I should also be considering what is in the best interests of all students AND what is in the best interests of the staff to support children with exceptional learning needs. Medication is one strategy but there are many others that need to be considered when providing intervention for children.

There are also many events during a child’s schooling which they may benefit from being unmedicated so they can fully engage with the learning experiences. For example, when a child is on camp and engaging in physical activities, medication may only stifle their ability to fully engage. Having said that if the medication allows them to concentrate more and participate and listen and focus, then it may be appropriate to have them medicated throughout those sort of experiences. 

Medicating children is an emotive topic and it’s a very sensitive matter that families and schools and medical practitioners need to discuss and debate and support families in the best possible way. Parenting is not easy; teaching is not easy; and advising families to medicate children at a young age is done with a great deal sensitivity and I hope caution. So long as families understand that teachers and medicos are acting in the best interests of the children then that’s all anyone can ask.

Contributor: Andrew Oberthur

Andrew Oberthur is the father of two teenagers and a primary school principal with over 30 years experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane.

In 2018 he published his first book “Are You Ready for Primary School This Year? which is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available from his website www.creativecollaborativesolutions.net

He has been on ABC Brisbane radio a few times this year, as well as doing podcasts for PakMag.

Author: Sim K