I saw an interesting documentary from Louis Theroux about America's habit of medicating children for mental illnesses. The great thing about Louis is that he is so skilful at bringing out from people themselves the very essence of what he wants from them. He always lets the subject show their true colours and it is for you to spot…there is never a voice-over to make obvious the significance of what the person has just said; you have to register it yourself.
It revolved around about three children in all, some featured more than others. One child he spent a lot of time with had Asperger's Syndrome (AS), as well as bi-polar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was on medication for all of these (apart from AS, of course) and it really came as no surprise to find that his whole family were on medication too. Even the dog was on anti-anxiety medication. No…that wasn't a joke.
Now I have to admit I did see some signs of AS in him but who knows, he could have just been a typical surly 10 year old boy. Louis also saw these signs and I was impressed with the research he must have done for the show. Not only was he able to spot the signs of AS, he knew instantly every type of medication these kids were on and what the active processes in them were. At one point he talked to the parents to find out where this stuff all began, and they said it started with his bi-polar (there is some doubt if bi-polar even exists in young children) that they discovered via his suicidal thoughts. These thoughts came out when he was punished for something and threatened to throw himself under a car when they chastised him. When Louis managed to spend some time alone with the child he asked him about the incident and the boy was very straightforward and nonchalant about it, saying it was only a threat and he didn't mean it. He certainly showed no signs of having suicidal thoughts at the time; he came across as a typical boy of his age. So if he didn't really have suicidal thoughts are his parents just too quick to see things that aren't there and then turn to medication? If he isn't bi-polar, is he any of the other things he is being medicated for?
The coupe de grace came in his final talk with the parents where he said that he could see signs of AS in him, but not much else. Their reply was that that proved the medication was working. They can't medicate for AS so the fact that only that is showing is proof the other issues are being controlled. I immediately thought of The Simpsons where Homer claims that the "bear patrol" (paid for by a new "bear tax") is working as he sees no bears.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
Another child (around 6) also had the same issues (minus AS) and his main problem was that he was a bad loser. Ummm….ok. If he lost at something he would throw a tantrum, or hide under the desk, and these were the issues they were working on. When Louis visited them at home he brought out a simple game to play with the child, and he beat him at the game. So the kid throws a tantrum and goes screaming behind the sofa…but it was obvious to any observer that he was just playing, it was just an extension of the game. He was smiling and laughing at the camera as he was screaming behind the sofa.
Another family (same thing….OCD, ADHD, you get the picture) and the kids of this family claimed they actually felt better off the medication they'd been given.
I've always been of the opinion that people are medicated too much these days, mainly on the whim of the patient. It makes sense that these same types of people are also keen to cash in on the labelling craze and medicate their children too. I think a part of them has bought into the idea of perfect children that TV and movies preaches to us and they're neither prepared for, or happy with, the reality that children are actually difficult. Subconsciously are these parents really just hibernating their children? Turning them into zombies through the early years so they can start being real parents when the kids start being "fun"?
I also see it as an extension of the "mini-me" phenomenon where pushy parents try and stamp their own identity onto their kids. Forcing them to look like they do, to do the hobbies they do etc. Now they want them diagnosed and medicated like they are too. Having experienced many different takes on AS around the internet one thing that has struck me quite solidly is that a massive percentage of "people with AS" on the internet are not only self-diagnosed, but have diagnosed most people in their life with AS too. Or if not AS then some other "condition". There are genuinely people out there who, for some reason I don't understand, seem to revel in being diagnosed with something or diagnosing others. Almost like it is a game…like it's "fun" to be "special". Which brings me back to another poignant moment in the documentary where Louis asked the boy with AS how he feels about all of his diagnoses. "I like it." "Do you like being special?" "Yeah…it's fun".