ADHD: What It Means And How To Help

ADHD is an interesting diagnosis.  Interesting in the sense that so many of the symptoms reflect your average child.  We have to be careful before we wade into the waters of diagnosis.

Please use caution before jumping to any conclusions about the mental health of your child, patient or student.  Inadvertently telling parents their child is ADHD, without a proper clinical diagnosis, is dangerous.   

Children could be exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or depression and NOT ADHD.  Or a child could be exhibiting symptoms of all three diagnoses.  ADHD, Anxiety, and Depression can express themselves similarly in children.

There is a laundry list of symptoms that one can view at the National Institute of Mental Health.  I will focus on the three hallmark areas of clinical ADHD.

*For someone to be diagnosed with ADHD, he/she must present chronic symptoms that interfere with daily functioning before the age of 12.

Inattentive:

The child has difficulty sustaining focus and attention in play and tasks and is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.  It is important to note that children, who have ADHD may also have the ability to hyper focus.  I will hear many parents say, “But my child can play video games for hours and remained zoned in.” This may be true for their ability to hyper focus; however, I attended a seminar with a leading doctor on ADHD  and he stated several brain studies were conducted and showed, “video games actually utilize very little brain effort and this lends itself to a child more easily being able to focus for extended periods.” Inattention may lead to forgetful behavior (losing homework, forgetting backpack) and the inability to complete tasks in a timely manner (not completing homework or chores).

Hyperactive:

The child has difficulty sitting still in his seat.  May appear to fidget and act restless.  Again, this should be occurring across all areas of the child’s life.  A hyperactive child will not be hyperactive only at school.  If they are showing control at home or vice-versa; it means your child is able to turn it off and turn it on.  Most children who are truly ADHD do not have this ability.

Impulsive:

The child interrupts frequently in conversations and talks non-stop.  This may occur in games, conversations or directed activities.  Your child may get in trouble from teachers for blurting out answers, interrupting frequently or engaging in combative social relationships.  Many children with ADHD experience difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

Now that you know what to look for; here is what to do:

Important Questions to Ask Yourself First:

  1. When did the symptoms first appear?
  2. What was the possible trigger? A recent divorce? Birth of new sibling? Recent move? Death in the family?  Stressful home life?
  3. Does your child exhibit the symptoms in more than one area?  A child must present with difficulties in school and home.  Not just at home and not just at school.
  4. Do the symptoms interfere with your child’s daily functioning?   Your child may be fidgety and inattentive but if they are maintaining good grades and are doing well in social situations and family interactions; you might want to second guess if you truly have a problem.
  5. Does your child eat a varied and healthy diet including fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy Omega-3 fats?
  6. Does your child get daily exercise?
  7. Does your child maintain a healthy sleep routine?

If you came to my office this is what I would suggest you do:

  • Eliminate or greatly reduce sugar, processed foods, artificial dyes and preservatives.
  • Eliminate caffeine.  You want to take out of your child’s diet anything that will excite the brain.  An ADHD brain is excited already.  Think “calm the brain” in terms of diet and exercise.
  • Increase omega-3 fats in the diet from wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds and ground flax seed.  Remember, “calm the brain.”
  • Reduce the use of technology in your home.  Technology tends to “rev up” the brain versus help it slow down.
  • Establish clear limits and daily routines in your home.  We want to limit confusion for a child who deals with ADHD.
  • Give your child ample opportunities to enjoy free play especially outdoors.
  • Daily physical exercise would be a must.  Many ADHD children have extra physical energy and brain energy.  They need an outlet to release it all.
  • Set and keep a routine sleep schedule.  Excellent sleep patterns help the brain have time to restore and heal itself.
  • Keep your home well-organized and eliminate excess clutter especially in the child’s room.  Any extraneous stimuli can be difficult for an already “excited” brain.

Many of the previous symptoms are present in children as they mature through life. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a person’s development and age.  Remember symptoms can change over the course of a person’s life.  It is important to stay attuned to the daily functioning of your child.

Should I medicate my child or not?

I will always defer to the family in this situation.  It depends on multiple factors.  What I would suggest is if your child does need medication that you work with a psychiatrist versus a family practitioner.  Or, at the very least, find a primary care doctor, who specializes in ADHD.  Medicating a child is never a matter that should be taken lightly.  Any psychiatric medication given to a person under 18 is considered off-label.  Off-label, in this instance, means the medication was not tested or designed for children’s growing bodies and minds.  If I was medicating my child, I would want to do it with a clinician, who specializes in knowing the ins and outs of the medicine.  I am not going to send my child to a dermatologist when they need to see a dentist. If your child is taking medication, they should be seeing their doctor on a regular basis.  I would also strongly suggest working with a therapist to address behavior modification and any family issues that may arise out of the diagnosis.  But I am a therapist so you probably guessed that would be my answer.

What if I don’t want to medicate my child?

Not all children with ADHD need to be medicated.  I would strongly recommend therapy.  And, if you are not sure if your child has ADHD, but you know something isn’t working right; I would again suggest therapy.    If you feel like you have a handle on their behavior and all is well but you need a little extra help then try the recommendations I suggested above.  If, after 6 months, you don’t see any differences, I would possibly look into alternative options.

Over-diagnosis and misdiagnosis is happening with ADHD in America.  Consider the following excerpts from an interview with Keith Connors, the “father” of ADHD:

“We are currently spending more than $10 billion dollars a year for ADHD drugs, a fifty-fold increase in just 20 years. Much of this is wasted, medicating children who have been mislabeled. Studies in many countries show that the youngest kid in a class is twice as likely as the oldest to get an ADHD diagnosis. We have turned normal immaturity into a mental disorder. It would be much smarter to spend most of this money on smaller class sizes and more gym periods.

Keith Conners has done us a great service. His alert to the over-diagnosis and over-treatment of ADHD will hopefully mark an important turning point toward ending the fad. At current rates of diagnosis, 15 percent of kids in the U.S. will get the ADHD label by the time they are 18 years old. Clinicians, parents, and teachers must resist the pressure and ensure that diagnosis and treatment are restricted to those few who really need and can benefit from them.”

For the full article, click here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/saving-normal/201603/keith-connors-father-adhd-regrets-its-current-misuse