By Wyler Hecht, ND., L.Ac.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It’s a common childhood diagnosis that comes with a hotbed of controversy. For the parents of children who suffer with ADHD, the suggestion that the diagnosis is not a real one or that it’s a result of permissive parenting is justifiably maddening. Few teachers and clinicians doubt the validity of the disorder but many argue that it is over-diagnosed.
Dr. Keith Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University spent decades leading the fight to legitimize the diagnosis of ADHD, but now he believes that clinicians are too quick to make the diagnosis. Slightly greater than 10% of all American children between the ages of 5 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. That number represents a 42% increase since 2003. Conners said of the increasing rate of diagnosis, “It is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.” Indeed, sales of ADHD medications have more than quadrupled in the past decade.
Many kids diagnosed with ADHD truly need prescription drugs, but medication alone is a short-sighted treatment plan. Stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall offer temporary gains, but they are not without side effects and do little to improve a child’s long term academic or social success. Moreover, if it is true that we are over diagnosing ADHD, many children would be better off with a drug-free comprehensive plan to mitigate their inattentiveness and fidgety nature.
If you have a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, whether (s)he is on medication or not, consider the following therapies for a comprehensive treatment plan.
Limit your child’s screen time. According to a study published in 2004, for every hour in a day that your preschooler watches television, his or her risk of developing symptoms associated with ADHD by age 7 increases by 10 percent. In similar research, the association of screen time and attention problems were similar across screen types (TV, video games, etc.) and affected not only children, but teens and young adults as well. While your child may hyper-focus on the screen at home, the result may be attention fatigue in the classroom.
Get outside! In a recent study involving 400 children diagnosed with ADHD, increased activity time in natural, green outdoor settings was associated with a decrease in symptoms. In a smaller study, simply walking in a green park enhanced classroom attention in the ADHD population. Overall, the research indicates that after-school and weekend activities that expose children to nature may be widely effective in mitigating attention deficit symptoms.
Provide a protein-rich breakfast. Waffles and sugary cereals (simple carbohydrates) cause a rapid surge in blood glucose and what goes up must come down. By mid-morning a reactive low blood sugar may be making it nearly impossible for your child to focus on school work. Better food choices can supply the brain with a slow and steady release of glucose. Consider a breakfast of apple slices with peanut butter, a fruit smoothie with protein powder or eggs and toast.
The “therapies” listed above are free of side effects and in fact offer side benefits for the physical, mental and emotional health of any child. They can be particularly useful for the child diagnosed with ADHD.
Dr. Hecht received her doctorate in naturopathic medicine and a master’s level degree in acupuncture from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Az. In 2004 she opened Oconee Natural Healthcare in Watkinsville, Ga. She practices naturopathic family medicine and traditional acupuncture and often combines the two for a comprehensive approach to wellness. www.oconeenaturalhealthcare.com.