The diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, has been rising rapidly since the 1970’s. Characterized by difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and fidgeting, the disorder can be disruptive to a child’s early educational, family and social life. Yet its symptoms are rather common among all young children. This makes the rising rate of ADHD diagnosis a topic of controversy.
ADHD has no known cause, but researchers think genetic factors, environmental exposure to lead or pesticides, use of alcohol and tobacco by the mother during pregnancy and/or premature birth can contribute to its development. As with most mental and physical health conditions, medication is the first line of treatment for ADHD, preferably coupled with basic behavioral interventions like the establishment of routine. Medications used to treat ADHD are stimulants, which are believed to have a reverse effect on children, slowing down their thought processes and giving them time to make better decisions before acting.
An indirect but all-important consequence of taking medication could be the child’s impression that his or her behavior is completely dependent on a pill. Children who rely primarily or wholly on medication to manage ADHD will likely not understand that they still have some control of themselves and responsibility for their actions. The medicated child may rationalize negative behaviors, see no need to apply him- or herself and develop an unhealthy reliance on drugs later in life.
The first step parents can take is to practice a healthy skepticism: Does your child really have a disorder, or is he or she one of the youngest in the class and, therefore, a bit less mature than fellow classmates? Is there a situation in the child’s life that promotes attention-seeking behavior or acting out, such as the birth of a little brother or sister? Is your child just being a child, full of energy and testing boundaries? There are often alternative explanations for ADHD symptoms.
If your child does struggle with attention and impulse control, it’s important to be aware of all your options. Medication may be the most popular, but it might not be the best.
Diet is another avenue people have begun pursuing in the treatment of ADHD. The scientific evidence for dietary changes isn’t overwhelming, but there is enough to make it worth consideration. Sufficient positive results have been yielded from studies for the American Academy of Pediatrics to declare the value of eliminating food coloring and additives like MSG, aspartame and nitrites from the diets of hyperactive children.
Sugar has been a controversial topic in the ADHD world, but mainly because of misconceptions about its relation to hyperactivity. Sugar doesn’t cause ADHD, but it can increase hyperactivity in the short-term for any child. Sugar should be moderated strictly for kids in general, particularly those with baseline hyperactivity.
For more on research into dietary changes and supplementation as part of ADHD treatment, see www.healthychildren.org.
Another interesting treatment method for this condition is interactive metronome therapy. This therapy involves listening to a computerized beat, then attempting to mimic it with hand or foot tapping. Developers of the therapy theorize that ADHD stems from motor planning and timing difficulties, and interactive metronome practice is supposed to help patients regain control of movements and timing. A study from 2001 shows the treatment to have helped participants with attention, academics and motor control. See more on this at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Medication is not the only option for ADHD treatment. Other treatments may take more time, but they come with less risk and a greater sense of empowerment for your child.