Psychiatrists and at least one lawmaker are taking on the Church of Scientology’s support for a provision in a House special education bill that seeks to prevent teachers from requiring students to take medication for attention-deficit disorder.
“It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) of the provision that was added to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reauthorization, which passed the House last week. “I suspect it probably had its antecedents in the community that believes that all medication for kids with [attention-deficit disorder] is wrong.”
Kennedy and members of the psychiatric profession say the provision, which has been aggressively backed by the Scientology-founded Citizens Commission on Human Rights, is an attempt to achieve what opponents charge is Scientology’s broader goal of abolishing the field of psychiatry altogether.
The provision, sponsored by freshman Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.) and supported by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), is intended to address highly publicized cases in several states of teachers pressuring parents to medicate children with Ritalin and other psychotropic drugs.
Burns said he was aware that the provision was backed by CCHR, but said his goals were far different from those of the Church of Scientology and CCHR, which dispute the American Psychiatric Association’s determination that attention-deficit/hyper-activity disorder, or ADHD, is a medical condition that sometimes requires medication.
“I did not go out and solicit that support,” said Burns. “We’re not trying to take away the scientifically based treatments that we have. But we don’t want to over-diagnose or misuse some of these treatments.”
Another group supporting the provision is the largely grassroots Parents for Label and Drug-Free Education, which has chapters in several states and has been working closely with CCHR. President Bush’s brother, Neil Bush, has also publicized the issue of misdiagnosed ADHD through his education technology company, Ignite! Learning, which he founded in 2001 after his son, Pierce, was erroneously diagnosed with the disorder.
But psychiatric organizations that oppose the provision — including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the National Mental Health Association — claim supporters have been duped into supporting a measure that they say could prevent teachers from even talking to parents about the possibility of their child being evaluated by a mental health professional.
“It’s all an organized campaign to discredit the mental health profession and disavow the existence of childhood mental disorders,” said Clarke Ross, CEO of the nonprofit Children and Adults with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder.
CCHR spokeswoman Marla Filidei countered that her organization has been fighting for the provision because of hundreds of stories from parents about teachers and school districts that have urged or pressured parents to put their nonattentive children on drugs, such as Ritalin, to address what may be simple behavior problems or the boredom of a gifted child.
“We’re not saying behaviors don’t manifest themselves in some ways. We’re saying it’s not medical,” said Filidei. “This is a list of disorders that were voted into existence by the American Psychiatric Association.”