PBS FOR THE BLIND: We See It Even When You Can’t

BY AMY Z. QUINN When does a little boy’s childish behavior cross the line into alarming behavior? When does a little girl’s sweet-but-violent flights of imagination become dangerously grandiose ideation? When does a garden-variety tantrum escalate into an “explosive rage”? Until few years ago, those questions might have led a parent to wonder if their child had ADHD, OCD, ODD or any of the other now-familiar childhood neurological and psychiatric disorders. In the last few years, that very question has evolved into, “Is my child bipolar?”

Tonight’s episode of PBS’s “Frontline,” The Medicated Child (9 p.m., PBS), asks all the right questions but doesn’t offer up any definitive answers, or for that matter any reassurance to parents already struggling with ADHD, autism and other common childhood diagnoses, and it doesn’t address the debate over whether children with still-developing brains need help from a neurologist or a psychiatrist. It might, however, make parents fly into an explosive rage after learning how JUST A SINGLE MEDICAL STUDY comparing “troubled” children’s behavior to the symptoms of bipolar disorder touched off a rash of more than a million bipolar diagnoses in less than 10 years. With no follow-up studies on the accuracy of these assumptions or the impact of such masssmiley-pills.jpg medication of the young.

Increasingly, children are being prescribed more powerful psychiatric drugs — drugs that have NEVER been tested on children — which bring with them life-altering side effects like incessant eating and severe muscular tics. “Frontline” looks at parents and doctors now asking questions about the long-term effects on the six million children who swallow pills each day. Ritalin, at least, has 20-plus years of patient histories behind it now, but drugs like lithium and Risperdal were, in the past, given only to adults.

None of it is easy to watch, but the case of 4-year-old DJ Koontz, diagnosed as bipolar and taking a slew of meds, is especially disturbing. His parents lament the lack of discussion of any viable alternative treatment other than the medications after seeing a news report about a bipolar 4-year-old who died after an overdose of anti-psychotics. Understandably, they are upset and schedule an appoint with DJ’s psychiatrist to discuss his own list of meds. But in the end, they leave the pediatrician’s office with a prescription for yet another drug.

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