Is Your Child Struggling?
Did you know that in 2016, the CDC estimated that about 6.1 million children aged 2-17 in the US were diagnosed with ADHD? ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is characterized by difficulty paying attention, managing impulse control and overactivity. ADHD may also often occur with another mental, emotional or behavioral disorders as well as anxiety and depression. Having untreated ADHD may make it difficult to perform well in school or work as well as in the general community.
ADHD is difficult to diagnose prior to the age of six. The signs and symptoms may be recognized earlier on. If they are, they may be treated and managed appropriately to provide your child with the best chance of success. A health care professional may make the diagnosis based on their intake and observations, as well as information provided by the parents, teachers, or other adults in the child’s life.
Studies have shown that ADHD runs in families, making it more likely for a child to have ADHD if a parent or sibling does. ADHD is also about three times more common in boys. However, there is no genetic test currently available.
Environmental stresses such as inconsistent parenting, exposure to violent or aggressive behaviour, divorce, and financial hardships at home can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD. Other environmental factors such as smoking during pregnancy, low birth weight, premature birth, and exposure to heavy metals such as lead, have also been linked to ADHD. There are ways to test for heavy metal toxicity. If your child has heavy metal overload there are ways to address it, such as chelation therapy, which is performed by a trained licensed medical professional.
No one knows what exactly causes ADHD but some researchers have looked at a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. It sends signals to other nerve cells and plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behaviour. Dopamine allows us to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve certain rewards. Dopamine is also responsible for feelings of pleasure. Studies have shown that dopamine levels in people with ADHD are lower than those in the general population.
Research has also shown that there are parts of the brain, specifically the frontal lobe, which mature a few years later in children with ADHD. The frontal lobe is responsible for impulse control, attention, social behaviour, planning, problem-solving, memory, language, motivation, judgment, ability to delay gratification, time perception, and some sexual behaviours. Therefore, supporting the maturity of the frontal lobe through various methods is an integral part of the treatment protocol.
There are many types of treatments available. Medication is often recommended in conjunction with behavior therapy for children over the age of six. There are several medications used to treat ADHD on the market. There are two major types: stimulants and non-stimulants. If medication is a route you take, your health care professional will make the best recommendation based on your child’s individual needs. Medications often need to be monitored to find the appropriate dose and schedule that works for your child. This may take some time. Behavior therapy is meant to encourage positive behaviors and decrease or eliminate unwanted ones. Parents and/or caretakers play a vital role in this therapy.
The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Approach by J. Stuart Ablon is a form of behaviour therapy. This approach of thinking helps to understand the child and why they exhibit certain behaviors and to take the next steps to help. The main idea behind this approach is “kids do well if they can” (not if they want to). If a child “can’t”, there is something getting in their way and it is our job as their parent, caregiver, doctor, or teacher to help figure out what that is. An important aspect of the CPS Approach is to teach the skills that are lacking and not to punish. This approach teaches the parent or others how to maintain authority and gain compliance rather than power and control. The biggest impediment in this approach is parent dis-regulation. Both dis-regulation and regulation are “contagious”. If you would like more information on this approach please click on the following link to view a YouTube video.
There is a plethora of vitamins and other natural health products that have been effective in treating ADHD. Often these supplements are aimed at enhancing dopamine in the brain. Some of these vitamins and minerals include vitamin B6, calcium magnesium, zinc, probiotics, vitamin D, and DHA. There are other natural methods to increase dopamine levels in the body, such as: getting enough sleep, physical activity, listening to music, meditating, and getting enough sunlight.
The diet is a crucial aspect to take into account when addressing ADHD. It is important to eliminate trans fats from the diet as these fats sabotage DHA. Some common sources of trans fats include skittles, fried fast foods, french fries, cakes, pies, cookies, icing, doughnuts, cream-filled candies, microwave popcorn, frozen biscuits, frozen breakfast sandwiches, frozen pizza, margarine, crackers with long shelf lives. The following foods should be avoided because they also act to destroy DHA in our bodies: food coloring, sugar, and dairy. Sugar also disrupts vitamin B6, zinc and other vitamins, thus, avoiding sugar is vital. Protein has been shown to naturally increase dopamine levels. The recommended daily allowance for protein for children aged between 2-17 is about 1.0g of protein per kg of body weight.
Food allergies may exacerbate symptoms, thus, it would be beneficial to have food allergy testing done. An allergist or trained medical professional can do this in their office. Another helpful resource is ADDitude Magazine which provides online webinars and tools for children and families living with ADHD. Please click on the following link for more information. If you suspect your child has ADHD or another developmental disorder, seek the advice of a medical professional.
Amanda George-Caligiuri, BSc
Graduate of Naturopathic Medical School
SHE Magazine USA