ADHD Awareness: Treatment Options

by Laura Malone

A couple of weekends ago, my daughters and I took a “Girls’ Trip” through the Texas hill country. We made an impromptu stop at a prayer garden where people had written prayer requests with marker on rocks and left them in the flower beds on top of a quiet hill overlooking a small, country town. Many of them listed family members and general prayers for God’s protection. Others wrote prayers of thanks to God for His provision.

As we wandered through the pathways reading some of the requests, one in particular caught my attention. With two boys’ names scribbled at the top, it read, “Heal them from ADHD/diseases.” Immediately, all the feelings of frustration, doubt, exhaustion and desperation that I’ve experienced while searching for answers with my child over the years came rushing back through my veins. The handwriting looked like a sister’s or young mother’s and I could imagine the fresh pain in her heart. With all the possible requests, this is the one that weighed heavy on her heart that day. 

Today’s post is for that mom – the mom that cries out to God for answers, the mom grieving her child’s struggles and suffocating under the weight of finding a solution while trying to hold it all together. If this is you, I pray this post will strengthen your patience and determination. May you find a combination of treatments that your child will benefit from and may God restore hope and peace to your sweet family.

What is an ADHD Treatment?

ADHD treatments include anything that improves the symptoms, enabling kids to be more successful in school and life. Usually when we think about a treatment for a disability or disease, we imagine one medication or therapy that completely cures the problem. However, doctors and scientists have not identified a “one-size-fits-all” treatment for ADHD. Because of genetic and neurological differences in each child, one treatment may make a huge difference for one, and do nothing for another. It may work for some people, some of the time, but not for all people, all of the time. 

This road of searching for an ADHD treatment that specifically meets your child’s needs can be a long, exhausting one. It all boils down to trial and error. It is difficult to predict what will work for your child and what won’t. You’ll read on the internet that one mom had great success with a particular method of treatment and get discouraged when it isn’t the magic bullet for your child. And more than likely, you’ll discover that there is not one treatment that meets all your child’s needs. Having realistic expectations will help you power through with patience and determination.

Take it one step at a time and remember what Albert Einstein says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” If what you’re doing isn’t working, take note of it and do something else. I encourage you to keep a detailed journal of what treatments you have implemented, the start dates, and the results you and others are seeing. 

Treatment Options

Many studies and most parents that are experiencing success in their child’s ADHD journey agree that using multiple modes of treatment is the most effective. All the treatments mentioned in this post have a scientific basis. They are documented and have shown impressing results in many children. Remember, none of these will be a “one-size-fits-all” magic pill. Your child’s reaction to these treatments are determined by their genetic and neurological makeup.

Behavioral Modification Therapy

Research has shown that this is the most effective tool for managing problematic behavior in children with ADHD. Unlike stimulant medication, which has temporary benefits, behavior modification therapy has lasting effects throughout life. This includes using rules, rewards, consequences, and privileges to teach the child appropriate behavior in different settings. They learn the benefits of self-control and how their choices affect their lives. 

Behavior modification therapy helps the child understand the expectations for their behavior by creating a highly structured environment. Schedules, rules, rewards and consequences are laid out ahead of time so that the child’s life is predictable. As you have probably already guessed, this treatment is a lot of work on the parent because it requires consistency every day, every week, all year.

Here are a few things to include in your behavior modification plan:

  • Create a rulebook where you work together with your child to determine rules and appropriate consequences
  • Create a very specific schedule to follow each day
  • Work as a team with your spouse
  • Frequently look for their strengths and praise them
  • Give immediate consequences
  • Make consequences short-term so they have hope and motivation to do well the next day
  • Be consistent with enforcing rules, consequences and rewards

You can create your own behavior modification plan or work with your diagnosing clinician to help you get started and guide you throughout the process. 

Medication

It is important that you gain as much knowledge as possible on all treatment options. Many clinicians will be quick to prescribe medication only. Medication should be a last resort after determining behavior modifications and other treatments are not giving your child the results needed to be successful. It should also never be the ONLY treatment you are pursuing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a combined treatment of medication and behavioral modifications. 

While many parents admit that the decision to medicate their child was a difficult choice, the ones that combine it with behavioral modifications are the most satisfied and see lasting results.

In The ADD and ADHD Answer Book by Dr. Susan Ashley, she recommends that you ask the following questions before pursuing medication as a treatment:

  • Has your child had a thorough evaluation?
  • Have other disorders been ruled out?
  • Have learning disabilities been ruled out?
  • Have you given behavior modification a serious try?
  • Is your child in the proper school setting?
  • Are accommodations and modifications being applied for school work?
  • Do you believe in using psychiatric medication for children?
  • Is your child old enough to safely take medication?
Pros of Medication

Research shows that stimulant medication improves the ability to maintain attention, concentration, and focus for 70% of the children who use it. It can calm a child and enable them to focus long enough to understand school lessons and complete homework. This can result in them accomplishing more in school and following through with home responsibilities.

Cons of Medication

It only works when the medication is in the child’s body. When the medication wears off, the inattention, focus and concentration problems return. Also, it is typical for ADHD symptoms to return, although with less severity and frequency, as the child’s body gets used to the medication.

Medication is not a cure for ADHD and it doesn’t help with coexisting ADHD symptoms such as the inability to be satisfied, being uncooperative, frequent frustration and meltdowns and being demanding. It doesn’t change their personality or temperament. 

Common side effects of ADHD medication include decreased appetite, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, stomachaches and headaches. However, after adapting to the medication, the side effects often disappear. Less common side effects include agitation, psychosis and depression as well as suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, violent behavior and the possible development of tics.

There are a variety of stimulant and non-stimulant medications to choose from and choosing the right one with the right dosages is a matter of trial and error. Medication has been shown to work best when it is intertwined with a structured environment and behavior modifications.

Your diagnosing clinician can recommend the right medication and dosage for your child as well as monitor their progress. See ADHD Awareness: Testing & Diagnosis to guide you in choosing the right clinician. 

Dietary Changes 

While many ADHD books, websites and doctors will say changing a child’s diet is not an effective treatment for ADHD, many recent studies and parent testimonials say otherwise. There hasn’t been enough money spent on these types of studies and therefore many doctors and writers hesitate to recommend it. I will tell you from personal experience and from many discussions with other moms, what a child puts into their body affects their behavior and cognitive function. Not to mention the fact that it just makes sense!

Recent research shows a relationship between the health of a child’s gut and the function of their brain. Lisa E. Goehler, a lecturer in nursing at the University of Virginia, says, ”Nerves that connect the gut and brain drive brain circuits involved in learning and memory, as well as the control of emotions.” These are all problem areas for a child with ADHD.

A change in diet has proven beneficial for some children and not others because results are highly dictated by the child’s genetic composition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, allergies and exposure to environmental toxins. Finding the trigger foods require trial and error with a lot of patience. Visiting a doctor of naturopath may help pinpoint trigger foods and give you a good place to start. We experienced marked improvement in social skills, language, focus and irritability by removing gluten and casein from my child’s diet.

  • Elimination Diet – Removing food colorings, benzoate preservatives, sugars and artificial sweeteners have been proven effective for 50% of children with ADHD. Studies show that dyes such as red 40 and blue 1, as well as artificial flavors, preservatives, sodium benzoate can cause hyperactivity and learning disabilities. Check out the Feingold Diet for more information on Dr. Feingold’s studies and methods of treatment. 
  • Reduce Food Toxins – This includes heavy metals and pesticides. Check out my Food/Pesticide Residue Chart here to find out which foods are worth buying organic.  
  • Feed them fruits and vegetables – This reduces their chances of vitamin deficiencies that can compound ADHD symptoms.
Grab your FREE Pesticide Residue Chart HERE

Supplements

With today’s average American diet, it’s easy for a child to be deficient in particular vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies can exasperate ADHD symptoms. It’s a good idea to have a doctor check your child’s vitamin and mineral levels before beginning treatments so you can see any deficiencies, have a baseline to refer back to and determine a more targeted path. Finding a solution can be long and tedious if you’re taking stabs in the dark. Your pediatrician can recommended dosages for your child’s age. Specialists recommend that you allow 10 weeks to determine if a new supplement is working for your child.

SupplementsUses
Vitamins B, Folate and CImproves brain development and reduces aggression and antisocial behavior; enhances cognitive performance
Bio-StrathContains 30 trace elements, vitamins and minerals; 20 amino acids; 15 herbs and prebiotics; beneficial for reducing stress, increasing focus and boosting the immune system.
ZincEssential for creating the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine (low levels of these have been linked to ADHD); Low zinc has been linked to ADHD symptoms, especially inattention. 
IronHelps with dopamine transmission. One study showed iron was low in 84% of 53 children with ADHD. Can help with learning and memory.
S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe)Increases dopamine transmission and can improve response to a stimulant medication such as Ritalin or Adderall. Can be very beneficial to children suffering from both ADHD and depression as it improves mood. Combines well with Rhodiola Rosea (herb mentioned above).
PicamilonContains vitamin B and GABA for brain development and calming. Beneficial for children with combined ADHD, anxiety or depression.
Omega-3sImperative for brain development. Cod liver oil is a good source of omega-3 (be very cautious of not giving too much. Watch for signs of vitamin A overdose such as nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness, blurred vision, rash.) It’s best to get omega-3s organically through food. See “Dietary Changes” section.
Biology of Behavior by Dianne CraftDianne is a special education teacher and CNHP who has designed a successful nutrition program that includes supplements such as grape seed extract, lecithin and probiotics that improve symptoms of ADHD.
The majority of these supplements are recommended in the book Non-Drug Treatments for ADHD by Dr. Richard Brown & Dr. Patricia L. Gerbarg.

Herbs  

There is a large variety of herbs that have been shown to improve ADHD symptoms. I am only listing a few here that are mentioned by Drs. Brown and Gerbarg in their book, Non-Drug Treatments for ADHD.

HerbUses
Arctic Root (Rhodiola Rosea)Mental clarity, focus, attention, memory, stress, mood, cognitive function
Ginkgo (Ginkgo bilobo)Alertness, attention, memory, learning, beneficial to combine with ginseng
Ginseng (American Ginseng)Basic symptoms of child ADHD
MelatoninSleep
Schizandra chinesisStress, anxiety, energy, sleep, memory, strength, liver health
ValerianSleep

Exercise

It is easy to underestimate the powerful effects of exercise on our overall well-being, and especially our brains. Studies show that exercise enhances the areas of the brain directly related to ADHD, such as those that control executive functioning, attention and working memory. Sign your child up for a sport, get outside with them, visit the park regularly, designate an area of the house where children can be active when the weather is bad, or have them take charge of the daily dog walks. Doctors recommend that children get at least one hour a day. Check out my Homeschool PE Activities and Equipment Guide for a few fun games to get them moving!

Which Sports are Most Beneficial for ADHD?

As Dr. John Ratey wrote in The ADHD Exercise Solution, “Any of the martial arts, ballet, ice skating, gymnastics, rock climbing, mountain biking, whitewater paddling, and – sorry to tell you, Mom – skateboarding are especially good for adults and children with ADHD. Why, exactly? The technical movement inherent in these types of sports activate a vast array of brain areas that control balance, timing, sequencing, evaluating consequences, switching, error correction, fine motor adjustments, inhibition, and of course, intense focus and concentration.”

Crossing Midline Activities

Other exercises that fuel brain functionality, including focus and attention, are ones that cross the midlines of the body. These exercises force the right and left sides of the brain to work together. The more they are forced to work together, the easier learning becomes. 

Here’s how these exercises work. Imagine your child has an invisible line splitting the left side of the body from the right. Now tell your child to touch their right elbow to the left knee and bring it back down. And then they touch the left elbow to the right knee and bring it back down. It’s that simple.

There is another invisible line that splits our bodies in half from top to bottom at the waist. Touching one part of the upper body with a part of the lower body is also crossing the midline. One example of this is toe touches. We spend about ten minutes a day doing these brain exercises to help with attention and problem solving.

Check out my Brain Boosters printable for more ideas on supercharging the brain for learning!

Closing

There are so many treatment options to choose from, it can be confusing to know where to start. I believe the best place to begin is with the treatments that are most likely to deliver and hit the majority of ADHD symptoms – creating a behavior modification plan and getting plenty of exercise. 

Next, I suggest beginning an elimination diet and then adding in supplements and herbs. Remember to add in new treatments slowly, keep a journal and be patient. And above all else, be in prayer as you climb this mountain. With God’s help and perseverance, you’ll discover the best path for your child. 

Hugs,

Laura

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