My name is Patricia Weathers. In 1997 I was told by my son’s public school several things. One was that my son couldn’t learn effectively unless I “medicated” him. Another was that if I didn’t “medicate” him he would surely be transferred to a special education school. I chose not to, however, and being a single parent at that point in my life, I felt intimidated, scared, and unsure over my original choice not to drug my son.
The school’s coercive tactics finally wore me down and I drugged my son two weeks before the end of his first grade year. The first grade teacher filled out an ACTERs PROFILE FOR BOYS- An ADHD Checklist and sent it to the pediatrician. What I want to make very clear is that based on this profile checklist, the pediatrician diagnosed him with ADHD and handed me a prescription for Ritalin.
Michael was drugged those last two weeks and all of second and third grade. I never drugged him in the summer months. Though I had glowing reports from the first grade teacher and some good reports from the second grade teacher all did not result well for us. In third grade, Michael began showing bizarre chewing behaviors, increased anxiety and social withdrawal. He would frequently avoid recess and when he did go outside for recess he would stand on the side of the field shuffling his feet in the dirt, looking down and not socially interacting. His anxiety only increased and a “medication” change was made with no improvement. The school psychologist’s favorite saying through this ordeal was that it was “trial and error”. If one drug didn’t work, then try another.
At this point the school psychologist took me aside and told me that she believed Michael had bi-polar or social anxiety disorder and that I should take him to a psychiatrist. She sent me literature on bi-polar disorder in the mail, highlighting some of what she believed were Michael’s characteristics. I took him to the psychiatrist that the school recommended and based once again on school reports my son was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and I was handed a prescription for an anti-depressant. I was never at any time made aware that the drug was not FDA approved for children under the age of 18. I specifically asked this doctor if taking this drug with the stimulant that he was on was safe? She assured both “medications” taken together was perfectly safe. (I found much later by other doctors that were were no studies ever done on the side effects of the two drugs taken together).
My son had violent mood swings and lost any sense of self-control. When I stopped the drugs, Michael hallucinated for weeks later. I realized that this was not my son but only the side effects of these dangerous drugs. I picked up the phone and called a doctor located in Texas and scheduled an appointment. This doctor was known to treat children for the many underlying (real medical) causes of behavior and inattention. The school, realizing that I was no longer going to drug my child, dismissed him, and then for a final blow preceded to call Child Protective Services on my husband and I – charging us with medical neglect for failing to give him “necessary medication”. They took action against me with full awareness that my family was leaving for Texas in 3 days time to see the doctor that would work with a non drug approach. That day when a case worker came to my door, my son would have been removed from my care had I not had a second private evaluation report in hand stating that he did not need “medication”.
Michael has been off ALL drugs since December 16, 1999. He has his sense of life back and continues to grow physically and emotionally every day. Out of my family’s experience and others like me, I realize that school districts cross medical lines each and every day. This type of “medical” education bears little resemblance to the “academic education” of earlier years, falling miserably short. My first-hand experience of the public education system has and will lead me to homeschool my children.
I have spoken out on this matter in front of the national media and in front of Congress. Sheila Matthews and I started AbleChild: Parents for Label and Drug Free Education in hopes of informing and educating parents on this issue.
I will continue to fight for this because I believe a terrible wrong has been committed against my family and I do not want it to happen to anyone else.
I will only stop fighting when this end is realized.
I believe families throughout this country need protection. They, as citizens, should have a conscious choice to “medicate” their children or not. They should be given all factual information about the lack of hard science behind this “disorder” and the very real effects that these drugs could have on their children. I want to make sure that no parent feels pressured into drugging his child by any school system. School systems should be educational settings that employ educational tools for children, NOT medical tools.
In truth, I believe we should start educating and stop “medicating”.
– Patricia Weathers, Cofounder, State of New York
UPDATE 2013: My son is in his twenties now and a few years ago he graduated from a well known technical institute with an automotive technician degree for a major automotive company. He started working in this field right out of school and has not lived at home for a considerable period of time. To this day reading and writing are still not his strong areas and “hands on” activities remain strong for him as they did as a child. The school’s predication that he couldn’t learn and succeed without drugs was thankfully proven false. He is a successful independent individual with a strong ability to not only earn a living for himself, but be motivated, hardworking, happy, and prosperous.
I homeschooled my younger son to the fifth grade. I started this process by using some of the knowledge that I gained from having an older child who had struggled in an educational setting that was insufficient to meet his needs. All the tools and resources that I had to utilize for my older child set the start of a great foundation for my younger son. An intensive phonics program, Orton Gillingham, had my younger son reading at the age of four and writing at a very high level early on. This great foundation helped him when he came to me in the middle of fifth grade and asked to go to school. At that point in time, even though I still felt wary, I knew that I should give him the chance to see the system for himself and make some individual choices. Currently he is in high school and is a strong student who is an intelligent, informed individual and who I am very proud of.