Mindfulness Before Medication


March 27, 2014 by Angel Pricer

druggo1Last week a co-worker told me her daughter recently started a trial of antidepressant medication. At school they say she is ‘overly sensitive,’ cries a lot and has been depressed. She is seven years old.

She’s been diagnosed as ‘mildly autistic’ and has been seeing a therapist in addition to receiving intervention at school. This co-worker has been an advocate for her daughter since the first indication that something was different about her. She reports that representatives of the school say her daughter needs more support than she receives in a regular classroom setting, but they don’t want to put her in special education because they don’t think that’s the best fit either.

This mother believes her otherwise healthy, bright, inquisitive, perceptive and sensitive seven year old child would thrive in an educational environment where her differences are acknowledged as part of the whole, complete person that she is, as opposed to being viewed as problems that need to be fixed.

Yet, with nowhere else to turn, this mother and daughter represent one of many examples of children who are falling through the crack between education and mental health. As the parent of a child whose different way of thinking and learning and depth of feeling and perception has earned him multiple diagnoses and courses of treatment, I empathize with this mother and the choices she must make.

stepsThere are many steps in the process of obtaining a diagnosis, and I believe that in most cases the utmost care and concern is used in determining the course of treatment for every child. I am neither a therapist nor a psychiatrist, but I am a mother of a child who has navigated life and education with a growing list of mental health diagnoses since the age of 4. I know that the decision to medicate is not easy for a doctor or parent to make, and I believe that most of the time it’s a decision that is made after carefully considering all of the available information.  My experience has led me to wonder:

    • Are we really accessing all of the information that is available?

    • Is there something we are not aware of?

    • Are we asking the right questions?

I’ve worked with many mental health and education professionals with varying degrees of skill, experience and compassion. I have both cooperated with and challenged those who believe in what they are doing without questioning the foundation upon which their belief is constructed, and grown with those who have a healthy disregard for that which is readily accepted as the best course of treatment.

Of the countless professional we’ve encountered over the years, there have been a few whose combination of an open mind and heart have succeeded in reaching my child right where he is, and gently encouraging him toward a greater, more balanced expression of his whole, beautiful self.  Those individuals are a treasured resource.

As the numbers of children who display a higher degree of need and support continue to climb, more and more parents are faced with a tough choice. Do I accept the idea that something is wrong with my bright, creative, inventive and sensitive child? Or, do I challenge this assumption?

adhd traitsChallenging the perception that there is something wrong with kids who don’t ‘fit the mold’ is nothing new. There are many examples in private and home education alone that indicate a shift in how we view and interact with our more sensitive and expressive kids has the potential to yield tremendous results in terms of what our children are capable of achieving and, more importantly, how they view themselves.

In his book The Edison Gene, ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child, Thom Hartman outlines the characteristics of ADHD in a way that encourages us to view these same traits as strengths.  He makes a strong case that, given the proper environment and support, children and adults who exhibit these traits can actually create a thriving, meaningful life, often free from the need for medication. To test this theory, he and his wife Louise founded The Hunter School, where this approach is practiced and continues to evolve. This school has been a saving grace for our family and a place of possibility for our child.

There are also homeschool success stories like Jacob Barnett’s, where a mother’s love and willingness to question the standard views and course of treatment led to even more proof of what’s possible when we dare to change our perceptions.

Is this going to be the case for every child who displays a higher degree of need and support? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ll never know unless we begin to question what we accept to be true about education and listen to what our children, like Jacob, have to say.

“Autism is my way of thinking, my way of viewing the world and it’s because of that that I’m able to do what I do best.” ~ Jacob Barnett

Talk about a paradigm-busting view on what constitutes a disorder!

The children I’ve mentioned here have different diagnostic profiles, but one very important thing in common. First and foremost, they are children. In addition to whatever else they are going to achieve given the proper circumstances, I believe that kids with ADHD, Autism and related diagnoses are fulfilling a vital role as they call our attention to what isn’t working and invite us to consider the idea that ALL PEOPLE do better when the focus is on what’s right with them; not what’s wrong.

Examples like this are valuable in that they show us it is possible for our children to excel and thrive, given the right environment. But what about the kids who can’t go to The Hunter School, or be homeschooled by parents who see and believe in all that is right with them?

no child left behind cartoonThe “No Child Left Behind Act” seems to indicate, at least in theory, the belief that every child has value. Yet, if our methods to ensure their value gets a fair chance at being realized aren’t working, then isn’t it time we seriously question those methods and begin to meet their needs in a way that works in practice, not just theory?


    • How can we create the space to consciously query our current practices so that we are open to practical alternatives that will reach more children?

    • How do we know what questions to ask?

I believe that Mindfulness in Education is the place to begin.

There is growing interest in this concept, and too many valuable resources to mention in one post. (HOORAY!)  I am ever the optimist when it comes to the wide spread realization of the value of human life in all of its expressions, and it is from this place of passionate action that I break the mold of what is currently  accepted as the norm and ask the questions that encourage us to meet children where they are and create a sustainable environment built upon the strengths of each individual.

    • What if a practice of mindfulness were implemented at the first signs of learning and/or behavioral differences?
    • Could such a practice create the conditions where we learn to learn together, thus reducing the need to turn to medication and its many side effects, both known and unknown?

Those explorations will be revealed in a future post. For now, I invite you to contemplate your idea of education with this thought from Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline:

A Learning Organization is defined as one in which “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire…where people are continually learning how to learn together.”


Title Photo Image discovered HERE.  Thank you for being mindful with drugs, impactednurse.com.  All other images either contain attribution or none was available.

7 thoughts on “Mindfulness Before Medication

    • Angel Pricer says:

      Thank you for your interest in Mindfulness Before Medication, and for taking the time to re blog this post. I am intrigued by your blog and like the name. Pain does speak, and often at an ear splitting pitch!

  1. […] down that one-way street, but the results can be truly miraculous. Remember Jacob Barnett from my Mindfulness Before Medication […]

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful post. Indeed, some of my own experiences echo yours. The fear and terror parents feel when our kids are vulnerable, and all the offers of chemical and other “quick fixes” combine into a perfect storm for bad or at least desperate decisions. In many ways, I am fortunate that my eldest son has clarity for what he will and will not do, and this helped us all take a breathe before launching into something we might have had trouble undoing. I would strongly recommend two powerful books, Mad in America, as well as Anatomy of an Epidemic, for a strengthening of what you have discovered to be true.
    We do need to stand up for alternative ways of looking at difference, and give a chance for people to become and emerge.Thanks, Angel.

    • Angel Pricer says:

      Thank you for reading the post, your thoughtful comment and for the great book recommendations. I’ve heard of both, yet read neither. They are now bumped up in my to-be-read queue.:)

  3. hcassmd says:

    I’ll preface with saying that I’m a psychiatrist who treats as naturally as possible, so you can understand my POV here. I appreciate the unique and much needed work of the Hunter School. Your co-worker’s daughter may just have an overloaded system (physically as well as emotionally and energetically). My comments here are not specifically about autism but about protecting our children. A consideration here is that, according to new CDC data, one in 68 eight-year-olds in the U.S. is now affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD)! The prevalence of autism has continued to climb upward, from affecting 1 in every 150 eight-year-olds studied in 2000, to 1 in 88 in 2008. What’s going on? A longer answer needed but– we are exposed to a vast array of toxins, including developing fetuses, through the mother, and then as babies and young kids– with their delicate systems. So even NON-autistic kids are suffering from chemicals that were were never meant to ingest and metabolize. Those who are either genetically more susceptible or have larger toxic load become symptomatic, diagnosed and given another toxic load– medications. What we can do? Live as cleanly/organically as possible, and shore up these sensitive metabolic systems. Avoid medications as much as you can. Check out parent activist/support groups like MAPS-http://www.medmaps.org. There may be other sources of information and support, and not every child who has problems is ASD– but the information provided is state of the art. I just attended their conference/fellowship training program and was very impressed. Our children are our future and we must protect them, and our planet.

    • Angel Pricer says:

      Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment on this blog. I appreciate your commitment to the conscious evaluation and treatment of the wide array of symptoms children experience today. The statistics you site are, to me, indicative of a clarion call for mindfulness in both mental health and education. Making ourselves available to truly connect with another human being is perhaps the greatest, most effective gift we can give. Thank you for the work you do and the way in which you do it.

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