One of the phrases that grates on me the most is, “if you would only,” when it comes to parenting children with disorders, particularly. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders in the United States, so there are no lack of opinions on how to “fix” it. Healthline’s article, “ADHD by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You,” says that as of September 2014, there were 6.4 million American children, ages 4-17, who have been diagnosed with ADHD.
A lot of people are theorizing why there’s been such a rise in the numbers within the last few decades. While I personally believe the numbers reflect multiple modern diet, exercise, education, and lifestyle trends, I’m not going to get into that today. As an educator, my job isn’t to research the scientific reasons for children’s struggle; my job is to address them here and now. And believe me, that’s enough of a job on its own.
Addressing ADHD is rarely an easy task. ADHD doesn’t mean a child is “bad,” but it does mean his problems will be unique to him. While there are symptoms that flag ADHD, such as the inability to focus on one thing at a time, emotional regulation struggles, sudden outbursts, and problems with executive function, no two children have the exact same version of the disorder. Unlike treating the flu, ADHD is complex because the brain is complex.
WebMD’s article, “Types of ADHD: Making the Diagnosis,” discusses the different kinds of ADHD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the American Psychiatric Association has grouped ADHD types into three main groups:
- Combined – The child struggles with both hyperactivity and inattention
- Predominantly Inattentive – The child struggles most with the inability to focus on one thing at a time (commonly known as ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder)
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive – The child struggles most with hyperactivity and impulsiveness, but not as much with the inattentive portion.
The DSM has at least 9 symptoms for the part of the disorder dealing with inattention and 9 more for the part dealing with hyperactivity and impulsiveness. In order for the child to qualify for at that portion of the disorder, she needs to qualify for at least 6 out of the 9 symptoms.
Understandably, this means there are many children who might have 5 out of the 9, which by no means, indicates that they don’t struggle. They just don’t struggle enough for the DSM’s diagnostic requirements. If you do the math, this means there are countless versions of ADHD that can occur. And of course, this is all theoretical because it doesn’t bring into account environmental factors either, such birth complications, a stressful or abusive home environment, food accessibility, or the presence of other comorbid disorders.
Not Being Able to “Fix” Your Child’s Disorder Doesn’t Make You a Bad Parent
I think this is why it bothers me so much when I hear people harp on parents of children with ADHD (or any neurological disorder for that matter) about not using a particular method that’s sure to “cure” a child of his disorder. And there are lots of promised “cures” out there. Here are just a few of them:
The Feingold Diet
Diet – In the 1960’s, Dr. Feingold began to tout the idea that many behavioral problems in people with ADHD can be linked to food sensitivities. The “Feingold Diet” eliminates artificial food coloring, artificial flavoring, Aspartame, and artificial preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ.
The results have been mixed. ADDitude Magazine, one of the biggest parental authorities on ADHD, says in its article, “Is the Feingold Diet an ADHD Cure?” that while some people have proven to be sensitive to certain food additives, such as red dye, there hasn’t been enough conclusive evidence to pronounce this as a surefire way to fix the disorder.
WebMD’s article, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Alternative Treatments” says,
With elimination diets for ADHD, parents try eliminating certain foods from their child’s diet if they believe these foods affect the child’s behavior negatively. However, some experts theorize that behavioral changes can be noted in children following an elimination diet simply because of the way parents interact with the child while on the special diet.
I have met children with ADHD who are sensitive to certain foods, and eliminating these foods from their diets help a great deal. These foods aren’t always the Feingold foods, however. Often, they’re individual to the child. In general, however, eliminating these foods doesn’t “fix” the entire disorder. It’s just one step toward making it more manageable.
The idea behind using essential oils to treat ADHD is explained by adlMD.com. According to the company, essential oils are used to stimulate the “parts of the body that are not functioning properly, restoring the body to its natural state.” It goes on to say that some particular chemicals present in essential oils might react with the nervous or muscular system to “encourage healing.”
Brain Balance Achievement Centers article, “Essential Oils for ADHD,” says that there are some essential oils that have shown some success in aromatherapy by helping calm children with ADHD, such as Ylang ylang, Vetiver, Frankincense, and Patchouli. (I’ve also read that simpler oils such as citrus, lavender, and mint can help with anxiety relief.)
The organization does encourage caution, however, when using any essential oils, particularly because there hasn’t been much research done on them, they aren’t regulated by the FDA, and they can cause skin irritations sometimes. Finally, Brain Balance says, “If used carefully you may very well find that essential oils enhance focus in children with ADHD and attention issues. Essential oils are not a cure, but it seems they can be used to calm your child and may help to improve concentration.”
I personally believe more research needs to be done on the use of essential oils. I personally know multiple teachers who use essential oils in their classrooms. They’ve reported the scents can help calm their children, and I believe them. I have some essential oils in my own home, and I can definitely attest to the fact that certain scents help me manage my anxiety. As far as a complete “cure” goes, however, I’m not sold.
I know a teacher who had a student with severe ADHD last year. This student disrupted the class daily, and was constantly in trouble for doing unkind things to his peers. At the beginning of the year, this teacher was promised by the parent that the child would be put in in sports soon, and that he was going to be starting medication. When the child’s behavior got worse, however, the teacher called the child’s mother to ask if something had been changed.
Apparently, the mother had decided not to change anything in the child’s life. There were no sports, no medication, and no system of organization for the home. Instead, the mother had simply purchased a set of essential oils and given to her son with the instructions to sniff them whenever he felt like he might need to focus. Needless to say, the essential oils alone didn’t fix the struggles his ADHD was causing for him and the people around him.
Just as with essential oils, many parents who use herbal remedies to treat their children dislike the side effects that can occur with prescription medicines. They’re understandably concerned about their children being reliant on medicine, and want something more natural to help balance their children’s worlds.
Healthline’s article, “Herbal Remedies for ADHD,” says that natural remedies for ADHD have been sought out by parents as a way to avoid many of these side effects. Some of the treatments listed are:
- Herbal Tea
- Water Hyssop (Brahmi)
- B vitamins (Gotu Kola)
- Green Oats (Avena sativa)
- Pine Bark (Pycnogenol)
- Combinations of the different natural treatments
I think the biggest thing to stress here is that even if treatments are natural, the fact that they show differences in a child’s behavior means they’re acting on the neurochemical level…which means they have the potential for overdose and medication interaction just like any other medicine. The New York Times article, “Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: Other Treatments,” cautions this:
Generally, manufacturers of herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not need FDA approval to sell their products. Just like a drug, herbs and supplements can affect the body’s chemistry, and therefore have the potential to produce side effects that may be harmful. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even lethal side effects from herbal products. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.
Medication is the most popular of ways to treat ADHD. And I can tell you from firsthand experience in the classroom, it can make a huge different in regulating a child’s disorder if used properly. There are two main types of ADHD medication according to KidsHealth.org’s article, “Managing ADHD with Medicine“:
- Stimulants – These include Ritalin LA, Concerta, Adderall, Focalin XR, Metadate CD, Vyvanse, and Daytrana. They usually work more quickly than stimulants.
- Non-stimulants – These don’t always show improvement as quickly as stimulants, but for some individuals, work better in the long run. They include Intunive, Stattera, Kapvay, and some antidepressants.
There are good and bad consequences of using medication to help manage ADHD. According to Consumer Reports’ article, “The pros and cons of treating ADHD with drugs,” children often start using medications between the ages of 10 and 13. As to the benefits of taking prescription drugs (because technically, herbal remedies are drugs, too), in a survey Consumer Reports conducted, only about 10% of children who started amphetamines and methylphenidates reported no change.
The article also stresses that the medications aren’t a complete “fix.” They generally help children, particularly in school and behavior regulation, but taking medication at one point in a child’s life doesn’t mean it will cure him forever. The article suggests other methods of regulation in conjunction with medication, such as behavioral therapy, which can help individuals manage their own behavior more on their own.
Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All
If you notice, there’s a pattern with all of these treatments of ADHD. Each one shows improvement in some children, but not in all. Each treatment needs to be carefully regulated by parents and pediatricians to make sure none of the treatments overlap in a way that could be dangerous to the child. Some of these treatments target specific symptoms of ADHD, but not the others.
These precautions, in conjunction with the different forms of ADHD, mean one thing: there is no one “cure” for ADHD because there is no one expression of ADHD. Each child’s treatment will depend on all sorts of factors such as:
- Type of ADHD
- Learning Style
- Other Disabilities
- Safety at Home
- Good Nutrition
And this list is by no means exclusive. My point is that it’s not fair for parents to be judged for not trying a new “miracle cure.” The children I’ve worked with in different schools and in tutoring generally thrive under multiple sources of assistance. Some of the management strategies may surprise you, too. Most benefit from a mix of medication, a balanced diet, and these non-medical treatment sources.
- Exercise – In the article, “Taking Away Recess Bad for ADHD Kids, Experts Say,” Thomas Lenz, an associate pharmacy professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, says that exercise and ADHD medications act on the brain in very similar ways. In addition, according to NOVA’s article, “The Science of Smart: A Surprising Way To Improve Executive Function,” exercise is one of the best ways to improve executive function struggles, a symptom most children with ADHD struggle with.
- An Organized Home – Children with ADHD often struggle to pick up basic organizational skills and habits such as having one spot for homework or knowing how to follow a basic evening routine. ADDitude Magazine’s article, “Help Your ADHD Child Organize Homework,” stresses that it’s important for parents to work with their children to develop healthy organizational skills as they grow so they’re more prepared to carry those skills into the world with them.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is often an effective treatment for individuals with OCD, but experts are finding that it can be helpful for children with ADHD as well. U.S. News Health’s article, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help With ADHD,” says, “CBT for children with ADHD is aimed largely at improving their behavior through praise and rewards that motivate them to calm down enough to cope with school or other challenges.” The article states that while CBT won’t cure ADHD, it helps children learn thinking and self-management skills. If mastered, these skills can last far beyond any medication.
Parenting a child with ADHD is not an easy task by any means. It’s time consuming all the time, and it takes a lot of trial and error. A certain diet and medication that works for one child will probably not work for the next. And on top of that, children’s dosages and treatments will need to constantly change as their bodies and brains grow.
If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, don’t let people guilt you into only one form of management for your child. No matter how much they promise you “just need this one treatment,” odds are that your child will have his or her own needs that are mixed and multifaceted. The best you can do is try, and when one treatment doesn’t work, don’t consider yourself a failure. Simply move on to the next and know that you’re doing your best. Your attempts to meet your children’s needs will encourage his or her teachers and other supporting adults to do the same, and as a team, you’re giving your kiddo the best chance he’s got. And isn’t that what every parent wants?
Do you have experience with ADHD management? What are you thoughts on the issue? What was successful for your, or what wasn’t? Please share your thoughts in the Comment Box below. And don’t forget, you can sign up for my newsletter for extra resources on neurological disorders, education, and spiritual encouragement. As always, thanks for reading!