Read a 2008 update on Nicolas
In December 1999, Yolanda DuPerret received a phone call from the principal
at her son's preschool. Three-year-old Nicolas was "acting up," and
"disrupting class." The principal, Cindy Oberdier, wanted the DuPerrets to
come in for a meeting because she suspected that Nicolas had attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). "He really stuck out like a sore thumb," said
Oberdier. "His approach was to bombard everyone with his presence."
Nicolas's father, Cyrille DuPerret, is from France, where children are rarely
diagnosed with mental disorders. It didn't occur to him that there was
anything wrong with his son. "He's just a boy and he's very active and ... we
didn't think much of it," said Cyrille.
After discussing their son's situation with the school, the DuPerrets met with
psychologist Ed Cable, an ADHD specialist. At first, Dr. Cable thought Nicolas
might be attending the wrong school. But after he saw a videotape of Nicolas in the classroom, he said, "It was pretty apparent that he was below average in his ability to just stay in one
place." In order to determine if Nicolas had ADHD, Dr. Cable proposed using a
standard diagnostic tool--the Conners Rating Scale, a checklist of 28 behaviors like
"restless in the squirmy sense," "overly sensitive to criticism," "childish and
immature," and impulsive.
The DuPerrets chose not to formally test Nicolas for ADHD. "The psychologist suggested he might be ADD
or ADHD, which were new acronyms for us. And then he suggested also the use of
medication. For us, it was like a cold shower," said Cyrille. "He's a handful,"
said Yolanda. "He is more intense. He is more active. ... I could never
understand how that would translate into my son having something wrong with his
The DuPerrets chose not to medicate Nicolas. Instead, Cyrille and Yolanda are
trying to spend more time with their son. They decided it would be best if they
did not both work full-time, so for six months, Cyrille stayed home to take
care of Nicolas and his baby brother.
Read a 2008 update on Noelle
"I was pretty happy until fifth grade," said Noelle Demo. "Fifth grade is when
it all crashed. That year was one of the toughest years of school. I didn't
feel like I fit in. I didn't really pay attention 'cause it didn't really
interest me that much." Throughout grade school, Noelle Demo struggled with
more than just paying attention. There were not only bad grades, but fights and
suspensions. For her parents there was an endless string of tense
"I cried through a lot of them because it was rough," said Noelle's mother,
Carol. "I mean, she's a great kid ... I just couldn't figure out for a long
time what the deal was."
Then, when Noelle was in the fifth grade, she asked her mother if she could
take Ritalin. "I said, 'Mom, I don't think I'm doing real well in school and
maybe it [would help] if I tried the medicine,'" said Noelle. Carol was
hesitant. She tried other alternatives, and continued reading about Ritalin.
Noelle's doctors assured Carol that Ritalin was safe, that it had been studied
more than any other medication, and that it had helped many kids.
Finally, Noelle was prescribed Ritalin by Jim Grubbs, a psychiatrist. "The
Ritalin changed every aspect of Noelle's life," said Carol. "Her self-esteem
improved. She went from Cs, Ds and Fs to As and Bs." Ritalin did more than help
Noelle academically. It appeared to make her a better athlete. Although
Ritalin is a banned substance in international competition, Noelle's gymnastic
league allows it. While taking Ritalin, Noelle won a slot to compete at the
state championships. "I'm not saying the medication makes her score well," said
Jo Beth Mosher, Noelle's coach. "It makes Noelle concentrate and want to
Noelle took Ritalin throughout the sixth grade. But a few weeks into the
seventh grade, she began to have some doubts. She stopped taking Ritalin. "When
she stopped taking Ritalin, it went back to the way it used to be," said Carol.
After only a month off Ritalin, Noelle started taking her pills once again. She
received straight As last semester, and in December 2000, her team won
Colorado's State Gymnastics Championship.
Read a 2008 update on Alex
In many cases the diagnosis of ADHD is complicated because doctors often
believe it coexists with other psychiatric ailments. Twelve-year-old Alex
McCarty is one of those cases. His parents, Diane and Tim McCarty, were first
concerned about Alex's depressed attitude. Diane began to worry that it was
more than just a case of pre-adolescent moodiness.
She took Alex to see Asa Yancey, a psychiatrist, who diagnosed Alex with
depression and prescribed a low dose of Effexor, an antidepressant. Three
months later, while still on Effexor, Alex attempted suicide. The suicidal
thoughts and depression finally went away after his Effexor dosage was
increased, but Alex's problems at school continued. "Toward February or March
it became clear that some people really thought he had an attention problem,"
said Dr. Yancey. "Those people included one of his teachers [and] one of his
Dr. Yancey had three of Alex's teachers and both his parents fill out a variety
of child behavior checklists. The results were inconclusive. In an effort to
clarify, Dr. Yancey tried another kind of test, a computer program called Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA).
This time, Dr. Yancey didn't question the results.
"[Dr. Yancey] said there is a chemical imbalance in my brain which doesn't
allow me to concentrate correctly," said Alex. "So he gave me some medication
for that and told me that a lot of times attention deficit disorder can be
linked to depression. So if I get rid of the ADD, I get rid of the depression."
Alex took his first dose of Adderall on his 12th birthday. "So far Alex has
improved a lot over the time of this school year," said Lynn Sis, Alex's
teacher. "When he came, he was not doing too much work at all. Over the course
of the year, he is doing most things on a modified scale." Alex gradually
noticed the effects, too. "I liked to do school, and I wrote stories and
concentrated more in math," he said. "So I felt better about myself."
Alex is still taking his medications. He plans to stop taking Effexor in the
summer of 2001, but his doctor says he will likely be taking stimulants for the
Read a 2008 update on Robin
Robin Day spent his early childhood in what was apparently a loving and
nurturing home. His mother says that it was the happiest time of her life. But
the happiness didn't last. "I think [Robin had] this natural creativity,
impulsiveness, aliveness that didn't quite cut it in the classroom," said Barb
Robin was diagnosed with ADHD in the fourth grade and put on Ritalin. His
teachers and his parents noticed improvements, but Robin didn't like the
medicine. His mother persisted. "By the time my son was in sixth grade, we
[had] tried Ritalin, then Ritalin-SR, then Cylert, then Wellbutrin, then
Dexedrine, then we added Zoloft to Dexedrine," said Barb. "Then we went to
The Days kept searching for answers. In the sixth grade Robin even spent two
days on the psychiatric ward at Denver Children's Hospital. "We began to treat
Robin like a disorder, as a pathology," said Barb. "I started to look at
everything as a crisis."
When Robin refused to take his medication, Barb Day went as far as getting a
court order to force Robin back on Adderall. "It kind of pisses me off that she
made me take the medicine even when I didn't want to, even when I told her that
I didn't want to and that I didn't think it helps," said Robin. Eventually, the
continuing struggle took a toll on the family. FRONTLINE was there the day Barb
Day moved out of the house.
Now, Robin says he never wants to take medications again. He resents the
fact that so many adults have insisted that psychiatric drugs were ever the
home · watch the program · four families · adhd drugs · adhd · backlash
readings · adhd in schools · interviews · discussion · the producers · viewers' guide
synopsis · tapes & transcripts · press reaction · credits
frontline · wgbh · pbs online
pill photograph copyright ©2001 photodisc all rights reserved
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation