Low income families have learned that they can boost their household income by getting their children’s normal behavior labeled as a mental disability and receive a monthly check from SSI.

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a Federal income supplement program run by the Social Security Administration but funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. The program was intended to help families handle the expenses of a child with a true disability – cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, deafness, blindness or cancer.

Today it has become a means for psychiatry to take advantage of economic hard times to get more and more kids onto their profitable drugs.

Unlike a broken bone or cancer, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) does not show physical signs that can be detected by a blood or other lab test.

Here is psychiatry’s quick home ADHD diagnosis for parents: “Has your child or teenager ever had trouble concentrating, found it hard to sit still, interrupted others during a conversation or acted impulsively without thinking things through? Can you recall times when your child or teen was lost in a seemingly endless train of daydreams or had difficulty focusing on the task at hand?”

Despite such silliness, families have discovered that in order to have their application approved for a SSI disability check, they must put their child on medication. The most commonly approved diagnosis is ADHD usually treated with a prescription for Ritalin or Adderall which have harmful side effects – addiction, anxiety and psychosis.

ADHD is big business. There have been 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 who have received an ADHD diagnosis at some point in their lives. In 2012 sales of drugs to treat ADHD reached $9 billion up from $4 billion in 2007.

In December 2010 “The Boston Globe” ran a three article series exploring the culture that had developed around families involved with SSI for children.

They interviewed Geneva Fielding, a single mother since age 16, raising three sons in a housing project in the area.

Neighbors told her about SSI – that it would pay her thousands of dollars per year, but to qualify a child had to be disabled. If the disability was mental or behavioral (for example: ADHD) the child needed to be taking psychotropic drugs to get approved.

Geneva resisted the idea even as people in clinics started calling her boy’s troubles oppositional defiant disorder, depression and ADHD.

Eventually she put in applications for her two older sons. Neither was on medications; both were rejected. School officials then persuaded her to let her 10-year-old try a drug for his impulsiveness. Within weeks, his SSI application was approved.

“To get the check,’’ Fielding, 34, has concluded with regret, “you’ve got to medicate the child.”

Another woman, 28 year old Yessenia was making her 3rd try to get SSI payments for her 7 year old son based on his ADHD symptoms – impulsivity and inattention. Her first two tries were rejected as he was not on medications, so Yessinia convinced the doctor to write a prescription for a stimulant which he now takes.

“If you child doesn’t have medications, the SSI office thinks he doesn’t have any big problem,’’ she said.

Yessenia herself as a child qualified for SSI based primarily because of learning disabilities, and after her 18th birthday, she requalified as an adult on the same basis. Her older sister, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has been receiving SSI benefits since childhood.

The questionable medical ethics of the system are revealed by Yessenia’s comment about her son. “Since he was denied all the time, the therapist said she’d give him another diagnosis, and that’s when she said he’s got depression,’’ said the mother, who has yet to submit the new application. “She’s also recommending another drug.’’

The third example was a worst case scenario of accepting psychiatric care in exchange for SSI money.

Carolyn and Michael Riley had 3 children – each was diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder and prescribed three powerful drugs.

The parents played up the youngsters’ prescription data in their SSI applications: “If not for medication, my son would not be able to sleep more than 3 hours in a 24-hour period,’’ Michael Riley wrote.

The parents were receiving SSI benefits for two children, and for themselves through the SSI adult program. An application for benefits for 4-year-old Rebecca was pending at the time the girl got very sick with a respiratory infection.

Rather than having a doctor see her, the parents tried to get her to sleep by giving her excessive amounts of Clonodine, a sedating medication prescribed for ADHD. Rebecca died of a drug overdose, and jurors convicted her parents of killing her.

During the murder trials it was shown the parents engaged in a calculated pursuit of SSI disability checks and psychiatric pills by exaggerating their children’s behaviors to clinicians and a psychiatrist.

Up until Rebecca death, the family received and lived on SSI disability checks totaling about $30,000 a year.

Not content with grade school kids, psychiatrists have expanded their reach from birth to age 5. The latest SSI disability is called speech delay. An otherwise normal 18 month old who could only say “Mommy” qualified for $700.00 per month disability which he’ll receive throughout his childhood despite catching up quickly in his vocal skills. Four of every 10 new SSI cases accepted are for children under 5.

With the wild claim that 1 in 5 high school age boys is ADHD, the psychiatrists are aiming for cradle to grave customers and low income areas are an easy target.

“There’s no way that one in five high-school boys have A.D.H.D.,” said James Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Florida International University and one of the primary A.D.H.D. researchers in the last 20 years.

Despite protests from their own profession, psychiatrists have targeted high school age kids to keep them on SSI, on medication and unable to pursue a job or career goals. Getting a job will jeopardize the disability check that they and the family has come to rely on.

For example, Bianca Martinez, age 15 reported her goal was to be an animation artist and move to Japan one day. But if she got a paid job, like working in the mall with her friends, she could lose her disability check of $600 which is half her family’s income.

“That’s why I’m not working this summer.’’ “If I work and I get a certain amount, then they’ll take money away from my mom. She needs it. I don’t want my mom’s money to go down.’’ Bianca’s being treated for ADHD and depression

Another young man graduated from child SSI disability to the adult version due to his diagnosis and treatment for “depression and bipolar.”

“It does feel like a trap,’’ he said. “You depend on the check, and you don’t want to let go. Sometimes I’m afraid to lose the check. It’s attached to me.’’

One mother summed it up this way after her toddler was diagnosed with speech delay and potential autism, “You got to do more to get into the [SSI] program, but once you do, it’s an easier and better form of welfare. You get more money, and they don’t check up on you.”

The psychiatrists have no plans to check up on these people as long as they take their medicine and the dollars roll in.