Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Nobody's Right, If Everybody's Wrong

Don't know Audra McDonald personally but she strikes as uniquely talented and richly deserving of the awards she has won.  Most recently winning her Tony Award she thanked her parents for having the courage not to medicate their hyperactive daughter and to allow her to find her own way.

That is warm praise indeed but a bit troubling. Though I cannot tell you where exactly Ms. McDonald's sympathies lay, there seemed somewhat implicit in this statement a suggestion that medicating kids is always wrong. For instance, she might well have just thanked her parents for helping her find her own way and left it at that.

Being neither physician, psychiatrist nor pharmacist, I cannot speak to the efficacy of medications used to treat hyperactivity and related behaviors but that it is being over-prescribed I have little doubt. Shortcuts are always in style and doctors, parents, educators (all of us, really), spurred on by plenty of encouragements from pharmaceutical makers, are often open to a quick pill to solve any issue. However what I do see in the “medication” debate, like just about every public debate in our society, is that it has become another either/or argument.

Few, if any ideas in public debate gets, or even should get, complete agreement. Nothing works for everybody, nothing is right for everybody, there are no absolutes. Sometimes we choose to believe absolutes, and then very often build a nice wall around it to keep them safe from reason, and evidence.  Usually, around anyone proffering an absolute, hold tight to your wallet and your heart: he or she has something to sell you. This debate is actually quite simple, as most are.

If Ms. McDonald and her parents, are happy with their decision, it was certainly the right decision, However last I checked, not everybody is as gifted as Ms. McDonald nor even able to go into a profession where individualized creative response is as warranted as it is on stage. A TV writer once impulsively quit a hit show he was working on only to return a few days later telling everyone that it was just a joke and found himself, after a few awkward minutes, welcomed back without rancor. Something tells me that such a scenario would be much less well received in a Fortune 500 company boardroom than it was in that writer’s room.

Sometimes people have to conform to be successful, have to learn how to function in a world where they must control rather than feed impulses. As a parent and an educator with 25 years of experience I can tell you that there are many, many  medication-free successes, but I can assure you that there are many medication free failures. Likewise for every medication success, there is a medication failure as well. However my concern is that  because of such a dysfunctional public debate, people are forced to choose sides instead of choose wisely. Few educators, particular those working with Child Study Teams, have not heard from some parents a blanket statement that whatever is going to be discussed, medication is off the table and will never happen no matter what!

I know that choosing to medicate a child is a complex and difficult decision for any parent to make, and to be sure it should not be made lightly. However it should be made with input that is thoughtful, professional and medical, and free from external biases for or against. Really this ought to be the way we decide everything but at least when it comes to a child, no decision is ever absolute. Whatever your decision, wise parents continue to monitor, and assess the decision that they made and leave themselves open to adjust, correct, rethink.

Though not absolute, if you can tweet your position in any debate, you probably haven’t left your thinking enough space for nuance & growth.  (just tweeted that, by the way).