You and Your Students Perceptions of the Medicated Child

Two children in your class are hyperactive. One is taking stimulant medication and the other is not. Do you think the medication will influence your expectations for either child, or how much credit you give them for their accomplishments?

Some researchers have found that teachers expected more from medicated than non-medicated hyperactive children. They tended to attribute the added success of medicated children to their pills, rather than children’s own efforts. The danger in this way of thinking is that teachers may see medicated children as less deserving of credit, thereby giving them less praise for their accomplishments. This in turn can rub off on children, who may also feel less pride in their achievements.

Another way that medication can change your perception of a child is that you may conclude his problems are physiologically rooted, and therefore beyond your control. This may shortchange your efforts in developing classroom strategies to help the child, and foster dependence on the child’s medication. Relying on medication to change hyperactive children is a mistake, because sooner or later they are taken off their medication. When this happens you likely will face some of the same problems which got the child started on medication in the first place. One of the key ingredients determining hyperactive children’s adjustment later in life is how well teachers and parents prepare for children being taken off medication.

You may also express your reliance on the medication, in an oblique way, by making comments such as, “Have you forgotten to take your pill?” if the child has a bad day, or, “Your pills are really working well today,” when he’s having a good day. Although these types of remarks are not made maliciously, they may have undesirable repercussions–confirming for the child his dependence on medication, or humiliating him in front of his friends.

Children often have a low tolerance for anyone who is different from them. A kid taking a pill every day to control his behavior or help him learn at school is weird. For the hyperactive child, having his peers tease and ridicule him are just additional reminders that he does not fit in with everybody else.