Parents of kids living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have battled a tide of terrifying reports about this growing problem, which affects up to 11 per cent of boys aged four to 14 and a lesser number of girls.
The question is what to do about it, and natural treatments such as yoga are getting a big tick.
Make no mistake – ADHD isn’t an issue to be taken lightly, and while stimulant drugs such as Ritalin have been prescribed as treatment, they’re part of a complicated equation of care. Their ability to help young people focus more clearly on an issue helps them learn ways to adapt to a constantly changing environment.
But all drugs have side effects, and one study reported by the US National Institute of Mental Health found the drugs only worked in the short term and could stunt kids’ growth. The dilemma for parents is clear.
‘Of course, I don’t want my child to be on drugs, but you have to weigh it up,’ laments Sydney single mum Adrienne Riddell, whose son Curtis, 11, has successfully used Ritalin on and off for several years along with other natural therapies.
‘The bottom line is that he’s much more easily distracted and can’t concentrate in class every time he comes off them.’
Adrienne says parents of ADHD kids are wrongly blamed for their child’s boisterous behaviour and hyperactivity.
‘So many times I have heard from other people: “Why don’t you just be a bit stricter with him?” Or: “Perhaps it’s because you’re a single mum,”‘ she says.
Adrienne adds that she’s firm with her son, and such comments are ‘unhelpful’. ‘Like depression, ADHD is a chemical brain imbalance that needs treatment in severe cases,’ she explains.
‘But many people see kids with ADHD and put it down to bad parenting or naughty kids. That doesn’t explain parents with several children, where one or two have ADHD and the rest of the kids all behave within normal parameters.’
How do you spot it?
The symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, inattentiveness, social disruptiveness, impulsivity and interrupting others, as well as playing quietly or showing difficulty following instructions.
Most ADHD kids aren’t actually ‘violent’ – in fact, many are loving and caring. Less commonly, some ADHD sufferers may have coexisting emotional or mood issues, and this complicates their management.
What causes it?
A genetic imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain is the culprit, but other factors may contribute, including TV. A US study in Pediatrics journal found that toddlers who watch three hours of TV a day were 30 per cent more likely to have ADHD when they were seven. The TV isn’t the cause of the condition but study author Dr Dimitri Christakis says kids exposed to unrealistic levels of stimulation at a young age ‘continued to expect this in later life’, leading to difficulty dealing with the slower pace of school.
Some parents adhere to the drug-free Dore program, which teaches brain-training exercises (such as bouncing up and down on an air-filled balloon while passing a small beanbag from one hand to another). It uses up to 300 types of exercises and costs for the program start at $5270. But at this stage there’s no evidence that the program works for all children.
Natural Therapies and ADHD:
Either alone or utilised in combination with medication, these techniques may help children who suffer from ADHD.
- Try yoga
Yoga helps improve focus and coordination skills, and even toddlers can take part in it.
Visit www.findyoga.com.au to locate a yoga class for your children in your state.
- Limit TV
For kids under the age of two, watching no television (or very little) is recommended. For older kids, have set times for all TV watching, internet, mobile phones and video games, and limit it to an hour a day. Avoid having them in your child’s bedroom too, as disrupted sleep makes ADHD worse, and don’t give in to pressure to buy violent or overly stimulating video games.
- Act, don’t yack
Cut back on nagging your children. Instead, directly follow their unruly behaviour with consequences, such as curbing pocket money.
‘Planning ahead and telling children what’s expected of them in certain situations is also an ideal way to approach things,’ Dr John D’Arcy says. ‘But always keep your sense of humour and reward positive behaviour.’
- Establish a set routine
‘Try to keep bedtime, waking time and mealtimes consistent,’ Dr John says. ‘And remember that a carefully structured routine from the moment they wake is important – so get a whiteboard.’
- Keep them busy
The upside of ADHD kids is they’re often creative and clever. Cher, Robin Williams and former US president John F. Kennedy all had ADHD. ‘So fuel their creative juices with games, art, sport, acting and music,’ Dr John says.
- Watch their diet
‘A diet free of artificial colouring may be helpful, but it only works in a very small proportion of children with ADHD,’ Professor Joseph Rey from the University of Sydney says.
Some studies claim fish oil helps, while other studies claim that junk food promotes negative biochemical changes in the brain and should be restricted where possible.
- Mums-to-be, beware
All expectant mothers should take an iodine supplement. Why? Babies born iodine-deficient are at risk of developing ADHD.
- Other options
‘Occupational therapy to develop a child’s gross motor skills (such as catching a ball) and fine motor skills (such as cutting paper with scissors) is effective and a vital part of the treatment equation,’ Dr John explains.
‘Psychological therapy and teachers skilled at learning difficulties may also help them. It’s important to see your school counsellor, GP or pediatrician to help you find these services.’
Finally, don’t try and do too much too soon. Be patient and don’t attempt more than one thing at a time. Overwhelming a child with all these treatment options at once may only make their condition worse.
The case for drugs:
‘Medications are still the best and safest treatment for moderate to severe cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and are the most effective in the short to medium term (under three years),’ says Professor Joseph Rey from the University of Sydney.
New Idea’s resident medical expert, Dr John D’Arcy, adds: ‘A recent audit of pediatricians who prescribe ADHD medications found they were under-used, not overused, and also found that important additional techniques such as occupational, psychological and physical therapies were simply not available.’
Article source: New Idea