Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common psychiatric childhood disorders, affecting nearly 10 percent of children in the United States. Contrary to past beliefs that once a child with ADHD enters their adult years they simple “outgrow” their symptoms, research has shown that symptoms continue to affect everyday life well into adulthood.
Kids with ADHD may have trouble focusing their attention on board games, while adults with ADHD may struggle to complete tasks at work or around the house.
Some medical researchers found that 40-50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD continue to live with symptoms into their adult years, although the areas of life it impacts may differ. As a child, symptoms appear academically at school, emotionally and with making friends. As an adult living with ADHD, problems manifest as an inability to function effectively at work or difficulty with completing tasks, while hyperactivity turns into restless behaviors and social symptoms can interfere with interpersonal and other relationships.
The Three Types of ADHD
The more you know about this disorder, the types and causes, the better educated and prepared you will be when it comes to choosing treatment options. ADHD is broken down into three subtypes.
The three subtypes are:
- Combined ADHD (most common type where individuals have both inattentive and hyperactive, impulsive behaviors)
- Inattentive ADHD (characterized by difficulty focusing for extended periods of time; distractibility; lack of organization)
- Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD (characterized by an unusually high activity level and a short attention span)
Each of these subtypes has a specific category of symptoms that may vary depending on age and developmental stage. The three categories of symptoms are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Below are the symptoms associated with each category.
- Difficulty paying close attention to details and often makes careless mistakes with schoolwork or other activities
- Easily distracted by internal thoughts and external stimuli in the surrounding environment
- Inability to keep their attention or complete tasks such as homework or chores
- Difficulty finishing homework assignments or responsibilities at the workplace
- Tendency to procrastinate and jump back and forth from one uncompleted task to another
- Disorganized habits with work, tasks and activities, frequent forgetfulness and losing things on a daily basis
- Does not appear to be paying attention when spoken to directly difficulty listening to others and keeping to one conversation at a time, frequently shifting conversations
- Fidgets with hands or feet and squirms while seated
- Frequently getting up to walk around in situations it is expected to stay seated such as in the classroom
- Excessive running or climbing when it’s not appropriate (in adults this may appear as restless behaviors)
- Difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities that are quiet such as board games
- Appears to be constantly on the go or seems to be “driven by a motor”
- Talking excessively
- Tends to be impatient
- Difficulty delaying responses and often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
- Has a difficult time waiting for their turn
- Interrupts others frequently and initiates conversations at inappropriate times such as butting into games or conversations
The Conventional Medical Approach to ADHD
The practice in the conventional field for treatment of ADHD is using prescription drugs. One of the most commonly prescribed drugs for ADHD is Ritalin (the generic form is called methylphenidate). While this drug may be helpful in treating some of the symptoms, it’s important to remember it is not a cure and with every medication comes side effects — and Ritalin has many.
Some of these include:
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal pain
- Motor abnormalities
- Facial and vocal tics
- Jaw clenching
- Skin problems
- Liver disorders
- Weight loss
- Growth suppression
- Hypertension and sudden cardiac death
- Associated emotional difficulties include depression, apathy, a general dullness, mood swings, crying jags, irritability, anxiety, and a sense of hostility toward the world
Before you or your child takes a prescription drug for the treatment of ADHD it is important to keep in mind that side effects of the medication impact each individual differently and you or your child should be closely monitored by your doctor for behavioral changes and side effects.
Possible Underlying Causes of ADHD
When the underlying cause of a medical condition is revealed, it can often be fixed at this root level, making there be no need for potentially dangerous “cures” like prescription drugs. And in the case of ADHD, there can be several underlying causes and triggers.
The natural medical field has actually identified several triggers to ADHD such as impaired digestion, environmental and food sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, heavy metal toxicities, fatty acid and amino acid imbalances and sensitivity to food additives and sucrose (sugar).
One significant area of study is the link between food allergies and hyperactivity as a cause of ADHD. The first findings confirming this link were back in 1985 in the medical journal The Lancet. The study consisted of 76 hyperactive children and examined the effects of allergy-inducing foods. After removing these foods from their diets, 79 percent of the children showed marked improvement in mental activity, emotions and behavior and 28 of the children returned to normal. To test their findings, the researchers reintroduced the allergy foods back into the diets and found the hyperactive symptoms returned.
Heavy Metal Toxicity
A link between heavy metal toxins, particularly lead, and the incidence of attention deficit and learning problems in children has been confirmed by a long-term study. The study showed that toxic accumulations of heavy metals in the body along with nutritional deficiencies may trigger hyperactivity. Children are more prone to these imbalances due to their smaller size and are more vulnerable because their nervous system is in an early stage of development.
The problem is widespread as statistics from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimated that one out of every six children in the United States has blood levels in the toxic range. And this isn’t something that diminishes after childhood — follow-up studies showed that the toxicity effects continue into adulthood.
Fatty Acid Deficiency
The link between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and ADHD has been confirmed by studies of children with ADHD. A lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet has been linked to cases of ADHD.
Below is a timeline of findings from studies that confirmed the omega-3 deficiency/ADHD link:
- 1981: Researchers discovered a link between lack of essential fatty acids and ADHD symptoms when they found children with ADHD exhibited a greater thirst (a symptom of essential fatty acid deficiency) compared to children without ADHD.
- 1987: Further documentation of children with ADHD with significantly greater thirst, learning difficulties and lower levels of both omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids than the children without ADHD.
- 1995: A study of essential fatty acid levels in boys with ADHD showed that they had significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than the boys without ADHD.
If you’re looking to incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet some good natural sources include wild-caught seafood or purified fish or krill oil supplements.
Natural Treatment Options for ADHD
There are many successful people who are living with ADHD, from the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver, to basketball icon Michael Jordan, to genius film producer Steven Spielberg. These are just some shining examples of people living successful lives with ADHD.
The key to living a fulfilling life with ADHD is how you treat your symptoms — namely your ability to look past medication as your only option and instead focus on the word “treatment.” By changing your lifestyle habits, taking on a new frame of mind, getting support from others and developing coping strategies you can help yourself or your child find what works best for treatment. Using more than one of the below methods is your best bet for relief of symptoms and may also help you treat the underlying cause of the condition.
By making some simple lifestyle changes you can make a difference in the severity of your ADHD symptoms. Start by trying the below lifestyle changes and notice the difference in your life:
- Use exercise as a way to alleviate symptoms:Not only does exercise not require a prescription, but it is also free of dangerous side effects and full of positive ones. Exercise produces the same effects of common medications used to treat ADD/ADHD such as Ritalin and Adderall by sending an immediate boost to the dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels of your brain, all of which are key players in the area of focus and attention.While you experience new and improved concentration levels and decreased hyperactivity and impulsivity feelings you will also gain the following benefits naturally:
- Uplifted mood
- Lower stress levels
- Improved memory
- Increased motivation
- Better sleep
- Decreased incidents of depression and anxiety
- Eat small meals throughout the course of the day:You already know that what you put into your body affects the way you feel and for people with ADHD food plays a big role in mood, energy levels and symptoms. Skipping meals, going for long periods of time without eating or engaging in binge eating plays havoc on the emotional and physical health of people with ADHD (and really, of everyone).For this reason, it’s important to eat healthy meals on a regular basis. You could do this by setting times for your breakfast, lunch and dinner and planning your meals in advance.
Foods with artificial colors and flavors have been blamed as potential culprits in the rising number of kids with ADHD.
Be wary of dietary downfalls. A fresh, unprocessed diet is best for people with ADHD. Specifically, sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial food coloring and flavoring have been linked to aggravated ADHD symptoms.
Sodium benzoate, a preservative used in fruit juice, carbonated drinks and pickles to help prevent the growth of microorganisms, may also adversely affect behavior in children, particularly those with ADHD.
- Get quality sleep:Because of constant racing thoughts, people with ADHD have difficulty getting to and staying asleep at night, resulting in tossing and turning throughout the night and waking up feeling groggy in the morning. By making some simple changes in your bedtime routine you can get a full night’s sleep and improve your ADHD symptoms. Here are some tips to improving your sleep:
- Set your bedtime and don’t deviate from it, even on the weekends
- Don’t have any caffeine past the late afternoon hours
- Engage in some quiet time or activities at least an hour before going to bed
- Resist taking daytime naps
- Look at your bedroom as a sanctuary to be used solely for sleep and sex
Therapy Treatment Options for Adults
In addition to a good diet, regular meals, quality sleep and a daily dose of exercise, talking to a trained professional completes a well-rounded treatment plan. It gives people with ADHD a safe place to talk about emotional issues and day-to-day struggles they may be having.
Below are four helpful types of therapy:
- Talk therapy: Labels of underachiever, failure, academically challenged, jumping from one job to the next and relationship issues are all commonly occurring themes among adults with ADD/ADHD. Talking to a professional about these issues helps you come up with coping strategies that address low self-esteem issues and years of feeling embarrassed and ashamed as a child and enduring harsh criticism from family members or teachers that didn’t understand your needs and assumed you were being lazy or irresponsible.
- Marriage and family therapy: By going to see a counselor who specializes in marriage and family counseling you can address heated relationship issues such as financial problems, forgetting appointments, taking care of responsibilities at home and making impulsive decisions. It also gives you a chance to find constructive ways to deal with these issues and provides effective ways to communicate with your partner so you’re working as a team. Therapy sessions are also a great way to educate your partner about ADD/ADHD.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This type of therapy allows you to open your mind to changing past beliefs about yourself such as not being able to meet expectations and turn them into a more promising realistic light. Cognitive-behavioral therapy also helps you come up with strategies to deal with day-to-day issues that disrupt the flow of life such as disorganization, poor work performance and time-management problems.
- Behavioral coaching: Coaching is different from all other types of therapy because it zeros in on practical ways to deal with everyday life such as how to organize your home and work environment, finding ways manage what you need to get done each day and practical ways to manage your money.
Therapy Treatment Options for Children
The types of therapy for children with ADD/ADHD are similar to those for adults, however they serve more as an emotional outlet and provide ways to modify behaviors.
- Behavior therapy: Behavior therapy can improve the symptoms of your child’s ADHD and their self-esteem through a rewards program. As parents you can set up your own customized program that includes rewards and consequences.
- Social skills therapy: Social skills training gives children with ADHD and low self-esteem one-on-one training on how to deal with simple social situations. With social therapy, your therapist shows your child what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior and shows them how to read facial expressions to help them behave in an acceptable manner in social situations.
Establishing a Routine — Treatment for Your Child with ADHD Starts at Home
Children with ADD/ADHD do very well in situations where they know what is expected of them and when presented with days that are structured and predictable. Here are five practical ways to establish routine and simple structure in your child’s life:
- Establish set times for daily activities-The more routines and times you set for daily activities such as meal times, homework, play and bedtime the better off for your child with ADD/ADHD. This will give them an outline of the day and a way to see ahead to meet the expectations of the day.
- Use clocks and timers to help your child with time management-Have your child get familiar with the clocks you have around the house and buy one with a big face and set it up in your child’s bedroom. The clocks will teach your child how much time they have to get ready in the morning, before school or before bed at night.
- Don’t overload your child’s schedule-This means not signing up for an after-school activity every day of the week and allowing for some down time in your child’s schedule. Too much stimulation and activities can overload them and cause them to get riled up.
- Designate a space in the house as the “quiet area”-Find a place in the house where your child can go to — such as the porch or their bedroom — for some quiet, private time. Wherever you choose, make sure it’s not the same place you send them for time-outs.
- Make sure things in your home are organized for your child-This will reinforce to your child that everything has its place and shows them where things belong after they are used. By acting as a role model and showing them how to be neat and organized, the same behaviors will rub off on them.