August 1, 1995 in Nation/World

Raised On Ritalin A Split Diagnosis From A House Divided Girl’s Divorced Parents Disagree Over Cause, Cure Of Their Girl’s Problems

Carla K. Johnson Staff Writer
 
Tags:series

Sarah Shapori’s mother doesn’t believe children should do their own laundry. Her father does. Her mother believes Sarah should take Ritalin. Her father doesn’t.

Pingponging from parent to parent since their divorce eight years ago, 10-year-old Sarah has plenty of reasons to be confused.

But does she have Attention Deficit Disorder? And are daily doses of stimulants the best way to get her back on track at school and at home?

One school day last spring, Sarah worked at a computer with two other ponytailed classmates. Except she wasn’t working.

She was mesmerized by the girls’ contrasting ponytails - one black, one brown. She played with one girl’s black hair, then the other girl’s brown hair. Then she mixed their hair together. She jumped up to ask her teacher a question unrelated to their computer work: “Mr. Berard, is auburn red or brown?”

This kind of impulsive, distracted behavior caused teacher Chris Berard to suggest last winter to Sarah’s father and stepmother that Sarah might do better in school if she took Ritalin.

Four or five other children in his classroom at Greenacres Elementary took the stimulant. Berard thought the drug helped those students pay attention and stay out of trouble.

“I don’t believe in medication,” the teacher said. “In a sense it’s a copout. But what am I supposed to do with these kids? Yeah, I could probably get these kids off medication - if I had only 10 kids in my classroom.”

Instead, he had 29.

Sarah’s father and stepmother talked to their doctor who agreed to try Ritalin. Sarah had been on it before - when she lived with her mother. But when Mark Shapori took custody last year, he and his new wife, Kim Plese, decided to wean Sarah from the drug.

All at once last fall, Sarah had a new house, a new neighborhood, a new school, a new parental attitude emphasizing homework and chores. And no Ritalin.

By winter, Mark Shapori was struggling with Sarah’s behavior at home. When the teacher suggested Ritalin, he decided to try it again. After two 30-day prescriptions, he dropped it, not seeing any big change in her behavior.

Shapori now thinks the teacher was too quick to recommend drugs.

“I don’t believe in the stuff at all,” he said. “I think if parents did their jobs, a lot of this would be eliminated. And if parents aren’t doing their jobs, how do you know whether Attention Deficit Disorder is real or just an excuse?”

Now he has a system for making sure Sarah gets her homework done. She has a strict after-school regime with a chore, a walk, a shower and homework scheduled each day. When she completes an assignment, she puts it on her father’s desk for his initials.

While some parents try to limit the quantity of homework schools give their ADD children, Shapori buys educational workbooks to give Sarah extra practice. He’s considering a private school for his daughter this fall.

“Sarah responds better to a straight line than to a fuzzy line,” he said.

Sarah spends some weekends with her mother, Julie Shapori, where she has more freedom.

“At dad’s she is so confined, so monitored, so kept,” said Julie Shapori, who believes she herself has the disorder. “Mark’s ashamed of the Attention Deficit. I’m just a big blemish.”

Sarah may have Attention Deficit Disorder, but until her father can rule out her disrupted home life as a cause for her problems he’d rather she not take Ritalin.

He’s disappointed that the doctor and the teacher reached for the medicine bottle instead of the parenting handbook.

“Before you make a call like that I think you have to ask what’s going on at home.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

Helping them learn

Here are 10 tips for schools to help active and inattentive children succeed:

1. Assign student to a structured but flexible teacher.

2. Seat student near the teacher or a student role model.

3. Schedule more demanding classes earlier in the day.

4. Use both oral and written instructions.

5. Give student frequent chances to get up and move around.

6. Give chances for rewards several times a day.

7. Allow breaks during tests.

8. Use graph paper for handwriting and math problems.

9. Have student write homework assignments in a special notebook, which teacher checks for accuracy.

10. Notify parents immediately of missing or incomplete assignments.

Here are 10 tips for parents to help their active and inattentive children:

1. Develop written schedules and routines and post them around the house.

2. Make a list of rewards and consequences that motivate your child. Update the list frequently with your child’s help.

3. Pick your battles and allow less important things to slide.

4. Set a limit for the amount of time your child spends on homework each night.

5. Provide a clutter-free study area for homework.

6. Try for good communication between school and home.

7. Determine important rules, then make them clear and short. Enforce them consistently.

8. Help your child understand the part he or she plays in conflicts with other children.

9. Have an area where your child can go for short timeouts to regain control.

10. Show respect and affection for your child.

Source: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Handbook,” Office of Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Helping them learn Here are 10 tips for schools to help active and inattentive children succeed: 1. Assign student to a structured but flexible teacher. 2. Seat student near the teacher or a student role model. 3. Schedule more demanding classes earlier in the day. 4. Use both oral and written instructions. 5. Give student frequent chances to get up and move around. 6. Give chances for rewards several times a day. 7. Allow breaks during tests. 8. Use graph paper for handwriting and math problems. 9. Have student write homework assignments in a special notebook, which teacher checks for accuracy. 10. Notify parents immediately of missing or incomplete assignments.

Here are 10 tips for parents to help their active and inattentive children: 1. Develop written schedules and routines and post them around the house. 2. Make a list of rewards and consequences that motivate your child. Update the list frequently with your child’s help. 3. Pick your battles and allow less important things to slide. 4. Set a limit for the amount of time your child spends on homework each night. 5. Provide a clutter-free study area for homework. 6. Try for good communication between school and home. 7. Determine important rules, then make them clear and short. Enforce them consistently. 8. Help your child understand the part he or she plays in conflicts with other children. 9. Have an area where your child can go for short timeouts to regain control. 10. Show respect and affection for your child. Source: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Handbook,” Office of Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction.


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