October 17, 2009

Review of TLNC in the Toronto Star

Lawrence Diller, in his reflective and candid book, The Last Normal Child, points out that the practice of getting children stoned to make them conform to our demands for achievement is so common now that North Americans consume 80 per cent of the 3,000 tons of "legal speed" produced each year, with most of it going to children. (Heard of Ritalin?)

Diller has witnessed a dramatic change in the kinds of children who are brought to him for behavioural problems by their parents. He aims a great deal of his ire at Big Pharma itself, for pathologizing childhood before offering its E-Z solution. He cites TV ads in which parents, asked if their kids are having trouble with homework, are soothingly offered Ritalin as a solution.

"Ours is the only country in the world," Diller writes of the U.S., although Canada is increasingly complicit, "where the 'symptoms' of forgetfulness, dreaminess, and intelligence -- in short, the characteristics of the absent-minded professor or child -- would be considered signs of a mental disorder to be treated with a psychiatric drug."

Yet the remarkable upsurge in the number of prescriptions for children has continued for a decade, Diller notes, after drug companies won permission to market directly to consumers in 1997.

The use of anti-psychotics for kids, for instance, has increased fivefold since 1993, even though they are traditionally prescribed only to adult schizophrenics and psychotics, and have alarming side effects. ADD drugs get doled out like candy; countless grade-schoolers take antidepressants.

All to make parents feel better, Diller says: "This phenomenon is really driven by the fear and anxiety of parents about their children's performance and self-esteem."

In his wide-ranging essays on the ethics of drug prescription, the dubiousness of ADD diagnoses and the importance of letting children develop uniquely, at their own pace, Diller left me with this essential, stick-it-on-your-fridge point: having medicalized their children, and standardized their activities and achievements, what parents have left completely undernourished are their children's characters, and their souls.

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