If your child is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, your first instinct may be to go for the medication your doctor suggests as treatment. Yet there are many natural treatment options that can be very effective at helping your child cope with symptoms typically associated with these conditions. Once they realize they have a choice, many parents opt to try one or more natural approaches instead of putting their child on drugs.
What is ADD?
ADD stands for Attention-Deficit Disorder, while ADHD includes Hyperactivity among its symptom list. ADD is ten times more common in boys than girls and denotes a cluster of symptoms kids exhibit, at times diagnosed as early as 2 years of age.
- Difficulty paying attention
- Difficulty listening to and following instructions
- Frequent fidgeting and squirming
- A tendency to interrupt
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Hyperactivity in ADHD
Children with ADD face both behavioral and learning challenges. An entire industry has built up around the concept of ADD, including the invention of the condition, guidelines for diagnosis, and the development of pharmaceuticals to treat it. Yet many question whether diagnosis, labeling, and specialized drugs really help kids at all.
An Alternative Outlook on ADD
Diagnoses of ADD usually happen shortly after a child starts school. This is when boisterous behavior and difficulty following rigid schedules becomes “disruptive” to the class and inconvenient for teachers. In many cases, parents of ADD kids realize their child is facing challenges with behavior and learning. They know their kids don’t fit quite so nicely into the boxes society typically assigns for them, but don’t know what to do about the upset this creates.
Although teachers and doctors who label kids with ADD may have good intentions, it isn’t necessarily to anyone’s advantage to pin a label such as ADD on a child. Once there’s a diagnosis of a “condition,” the next logical step on a very slippery slope may seem to be treatment with medication – a medication that could have many undesirable side effects, and for many children, not resolve the issues.
Consider what schools demand of children – sitting still, staying quiet, following strict rules for everything from using the toilet to speaking out loud – and you may start to wonder if your child’s behavior is really abnormal at all.
Instead of running to the doctor for a magic solution, parents should first take time to recognize their child’s unique way of relating to the world and find constructive ways to adapt to their child’s needs. Every child needs individualized care and attention in order to bloom and prosper. You wouldn’t treat all plants in a garden equally and expect them to flourish. It’s the same with children.
Natural Approaches to ADD
If you choose to bypass Ritalin and other medication and take a natural approach to helping your child with ADHD symptoms, you have plenty of options for treatment and support.
Changing your child’s diet is not an easy task, but a study in the journal Pediatrics reported that more than 50% of children with ADD/ADHD showed fewer behavioral problems and had less trouble sleeping when put on a restrictive diet free of all artificial and chemical food additives, chocolate, MSG, preservatives, and caffeine.
It’s also been scientifically determined that food allergies and intolerances may manifest as symptoms associated with ADD and ADHD. For this reason, parents should consider eliminating gluten (present in wheat and wheat products) and casein (present in dairy foods). These are two of the most common food allergies.
You may wish to research and have your child follow the Feingold Hypoallergenic Diet. This diet involves a reduction in sweets and simple sugar intake. It eliminates all “white” substances from the diet, cuts out potential food allergens, and emphasizes fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains
There are many nutritional supplements that may help alleviate symptoms associated with ADD. Speak to your practitioner to determine which may be best for your child:
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Research demonstrates that many ADD/ADHD children suffer from a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oils are the primary omega-3 fatty acid supplement, and there are plenty of good options for kids that taste good and don’t involve a “fishy” after taste.
- Grape seed extract - 1 -2 capsules daily may help with ADD symptoms.
- Liquid Vitamin B complex relaxes the nervous system and helps improve mental function. ADD is associated with Vitamin B deficiencies.
- Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc – A Cal/Mag supplement can calm the nervous system, plus ADD is associated with low Magnesium and Zinc levels.
- Choline improves memory and attention span in some children.
- DMAE is a compound naturally produced in the brain that increases the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine helps with attention, focus, concentration and memory. Research indicates DMAE is particularly helpful for adolescent boys who are prone to aggressive behavior, but is not suitable for kids under age 6.
- Pycnogenol (pine bark extract) can reduce agitation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
From a Chinese medical perspective, not all ADD is the same. Your practitioner will determine the specific nature of your child, including what he does and doesn’t focus on, his interests, and his areas of frustration. Based on his unique presentation, treatment will be geared to bring balance to your child’s experiences.
For example, some children with ADD can focus on certain tasks, say video games or sports, with the precision of a champion hunter, yet have no ability to focus on school work- This is “Wood-type” ADD, and treatment will balance the disharmony within this element. Others may have general lack of focus, often seeming confused- “Earth-type.” Yet others become hyper-focused and my exhibit symptoms of obsessive compulsive behavior- “Metal-type.” The “Fire-type” child will often be distracted, nervous, and have a tendency to panic attacks. Your Chinese medical practitioner will determine which element needs to be balanced and gear treatment to create harmony for your child’s whole being.
TCM Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations:
Chinese martial arts training may be ideal for your child, as it involves both vigorous physical activity with mental concentration. Other sports and activities that provide an outlet for your child’s physical energy are a good idea, especially as this will encourage better sleep.
TCM recommends assessing diet foremost as a trigger for ADD symptoms. Other dietary recommendations may also be made to take advantage of the healing properties of certain foods.
There are many flavors of therapy to choose from based on the needs of you and your child.
- Behavioral Therapy aims to change your child’s behavior. Read here for some some behavioral therapy tips parents can try.
- Biofeedback is a technique that reads a patient’s brain waves with standard electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment, and displays them on a computer. Being able to see their own brain waves, combined with video games that they perform based on brainwave states, allows patients and their doctors to exert a new level of control over brain waves. And that, some researchers say, improves and sometimes cures problems that have a physical component in the brain.
- Occupational therapy for children with sensory integration dysfunction enhances their ability to process lower level senses related to alertness, body movement and position, and touch. This allows them to pay more attention to the higher level senses of hearing and vision.
- Vision Therapy improves visual skills that allow a person to pay attention. These skill areas include visual tracking, fixation, focus change, binocular fusion and visualization. When all of these are well developed, children can sustain attention, read and write without careless errors, give meaning to what they hear and see, and rely less on movement to stay alert.
Cranial Sacral Therapy
Cranial sacral therapy has proven to have positive affects on ADD symptoms. This is a gentle type of massage therapy that seeks to facilitate normal, healthy brain breath cycles by relieving restrictive pressures.
Homeopathic medicine has many remedies to offer children with attention deficit and behavioral problems. For ADD/ADHD, the right remedy is very specific to your child’s unique situation and presentation, so consult with a classically trained homeopath to determine which remedy is the best match for your child.
- A Regular schedule. Although kids may have a hard time conforming to a very rigid schedule like they may encounter in the classroom, having a regular routine in general can help kids focus, sleep better, and learn to adapt to the rhythms of life in a positive way.
- Alternatives to vaccines. Research continues to suggest that the increasing number of vaccines typically given to children today is resulting in increased rates of ADD and ADHD, as well as autism, asthma and other conditions. You may wish to research alternatives to some of the vaccines many consider unnecessary or potentially harmful.
- Support for parents. It is essential that, as parents, you learn how best to help your child and manage your own stress level. You can find organized groups of parents of children with ADD online or in your area, or organize your own support group comprised of family members and friends.
The most important thing for parents and children with ADD symptoms to realize is that they have choices. You don’t have to blindly accept what others say about your child’s behavior, even if they are professionals.
Come to your own conclusions about how your child is learning and developing and decide whether or not certain behaviors are putting him or her at a genuine disadvantage. Then choose the safest, most natural and compassionate means to help your child integrate gracefully into his world.