ADD is attention deficit disorder. It is characterized by a poor or short attention span and impulsiveness inappropriate for the child’s age. When accompanied with hyperactivity, it is called ADHD. The diagnosis of ADD is made by observing the child’s symptoms—not from lab work or any traditional diagnostic tests. The diagnosis is made by an observing at least eight of the following symptoms—not very scientific, but that is how it is done.
- Restlessness or fidgeting
- unable to stay seated when required to do so.
- Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
- Has difficulty waiting for his or her turn in games or group situations.
- Has difficulty following instructions from others, even if the instructions are understood.
- Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.
- Often shifts from one uncompleted task to another.
- Often talks excessively.
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others.
- Often doesn’t seem to listen to what’s being said.
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities at school or at home.
- Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering possible consequences.
Diagnosis is based on the number, frequency and severity of symptoms. Of course this “diagnosis” depends on the subjective opinion of the observer. Many people look at these symptoms and say that it is simply a child acting like a child.
Ritalin, the drug commonly given, is methphenidate hydrochloride. It is a central nervous system stimulant. There are a number of possible side effects to this drug; including nervousness and insomnia; hypersensitivity reactions like skin rashes, hives, fever, joint pain, dermatitis,); anorexia; nausea; dizziness; palpitations; headache; dyskinesia; drowsiness; blood pressure and pulse changes; angina; heart arrhythmia; abdominal pain; and weight loss during prolonged therapy. There have even been reports of Tourette’s syndrome. Toxic psychosis has been reported, as well as halucinations. Instances of abnormal liver function, anemia; transient depressed mood; a few instances of scalp hair loss have also been reported. Visual disturbances have been encountered in rare cases.
Children on the drug commonly have loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and weight loss during prolonged therapy. Insomnia, and rapid heart rate are also frequent side effects. The drug can cause growth suppression in children. So if you have a kid that isn’t growing, and he or she is on Ritalin, guess what the culprit is? There is clinical evidence that methylphenidate may increase the likelihood of seizures. In fact, it should never be given to any child with a history of seizures. In a child with anxiety, tension and agitation, the drug may aggravate these symptoms.
Clearly the decision to take this drug should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, much of the time children are placed on this drug based on their symptoms and without much of a medical examination. Yet there are legitimate medical reasons for a child to have problems concentrating, and there are even physical reasons for behavioral problems. Before a child is placed on a drug that so drastically affects the nervous system, some of these other health issues should at least be considered.
Too often a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD is handed down without any physical exam or lab work. We are not even talking about “alternative” medicine here, just good old-fashioned traditional medical diagnosis. A few of the medical problems that can cause a child to have poor concentration are as follows:
- Anemia can cause symptoms that may be mistaken for ADD. A simple, inexpensive blood test, called a CBC (complete blood count) should be taken.
- Low thyroid function will create symptoms similar to ADD. A simple blood test can rule this out.
- Hypoglycemia or Low blood sugar can cause ADD like symptoms. This is also determined with a blood test. Also, if a child eats a lot of sugar and a lot of refined white flour, B vitamins and depleted—easily causing symptoms that can be described as ADD. Also a poor diet can cause hypoglycemia. For many children diet is the first, best place to look. If you have a child that eats a lot of junk food and has ADD or ADHD symptoms, you absolutely need to change the diet before drugging him or her.
- Heavy metal toxicity—We have gotten better about screening children for lead. Children are not routinely screened for mercury or cadmium toxicity. Cadmium is found in cigarette smoke.
If a child is labeled with the ADD diagnosis, at the very minimum the doctor should have ruled out the above conditions.
Learning Disabilities can get a child labeled as ADD—and this is fairly common.
A child may have problems with reading, and the reading problem may not become evident until fourth or fifth grade. Don’t expect teachers or administrators to be well informed about this type of concern. A child can have a reading problem, but the the teachers and administrators may think that everything is fine if the grades are good and the standard test scores are within the normal range. Often the problem comes to a head in the fourth grade.
Between first and third grades most children learn to read. From fourth grade forward, children read to learn. A dyslexic child will rely on memory to get through school work, and since most students with dyslexia are of above average intelligence, this works for a while. In fourth grade this becomes almost impossible—there is too much material to read. This is when many students exhibit “symptoms” or behavior problems.
You may suspect a reading problem and be told that your child is fine—the test scores said so. Sometimes the reading scores are just a little below the grade level, but the IQ score may indicate that the child is very intelligent. An intelligent child will make up for a reading problem by memorizing or using other skills and the test scores will look OK. So if you are looking at high IQ scores, but reading scores that are a little below normal—suspect a learning disability.
The child may have trouble spatially recognizing letters and organizing them into sounds. In other words, the learning strategy that works for most everyone else does not work for this particular child. Clues to a future problem occur early. When the child learns to talk, you may have a very hard time understanding him or her. The child may omit syllables from words insert her syllables that don’t belong.
In preschool, if he or she cannot rhyme words or tell right from left; that may be a clue to a future reading problem. This, along with the earlier language problem, can be clues to a future reading problem.
Another clue is that spelling tests may be a problem (usually around fourth grade). The child may not only misspell the words, but if no one told you, you would have no idea what word he or she was trying to spell. Usually when a child misspells a word you can tell what that word is. Often when a dyslexic child makes an attempt to spell a word that he or she hasn’t memorized, it is very difficult to tell what the word is.
If you suspect a reading problem, you can contact the International Dyslexia Association. It can provide you with information about testing for dyslexia and other learning problems. The association can also help you find a tutor.
Children with learning problems may develop behavior problems or simply let their minds wander. They can become poor students, and it is easy for them to get labeled as ADD or ADHD. Often instead of getting the help they need to learn, the adults simply drug them—and the grades don’t get any better.
Children with sensory integration problems do not properly process information from the environment. It can lead to unusual, even bizarre behavior. A simple example would be a child having trouble paying attention in class because he is focused on his uncomfortable shoes. It is hard to give a complete picture of sensory integration problems in this short recording. On resource that you might consider is a book, The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. The following information is taken from that book. If you know a child who exhibits strange behavior, you may find some answers in this book.
A child may be over sensitive or under sensitive to a particular stimulus. Inappropriate processing of touch, movement, body position, sight, sound, smell and taste can all affect the behavior of the child. We will include a few examples here. A more complete list can be found “The Out of Sync Child”
A child will either be over sensitive or under sensitive to sensory stimulus. For example, if the child is Over sensitive to touch: he or she avoids touching. He or she may have a fight-or-flight response to getting dirty, textures of clothes or food, or another person’s light touch.
The child who is under sensitive to touch may be unaware of pain, temperature, or how things feel. He or she may wallow in mud, paw through toys purposelessly, chew on objects, rub against walls or furniture and bump into people.
A child who is Over sensitive to sound: may cover ears to close out sounds or voices. He or she may complain about noises, such as vacuum cleaners and blenders.
A child Under sensitive to sound: may ignore voices and have difficulty following verbal directions. The child may not listen well to his or herself and speak in a booming voice. He or she may want the TV or radio to be loud.
The child who is Over sensitive to smell: may object to odors, such as a ripe banana, that other children do not notice.
A child who is Under sensitive to smell may ignore unpleasant odors like soiled diapers. He or she may sniff food, people or objects.
These are just a few examples—there can be sensory integration issues with any of the senses. Go to Whole Health Web or get the book for a more complete picture.
One thing worth noting: Sensory integration problems have been associated with low serotonin levels—an important neurotransmitter, or chemical that helps the brain and nervous system to function. Exercise increases serotonin. There are some doctors who think that we are seeing so much ADD (also possibly a serotonin problem) and sensory integration problems because children spend too much time in front of the TV, computers, video games, and even doing excessive homework and not enough time playing. Children need physical activity.
Hypoglycemia, thyroid problems, anemia, learning disabilities and sensory integration problems may all be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD. In the first part of this recording, we discussed things that should be recognized by a traditional medical doctor. The message is that even if you do not believe in alternative therapies, at least do a thorough investigation of the child’s problems—get a good physical exam and some lab work before resorting to a mind-altering drug. Too often a drug is prescribed after a short interview, with no exam, no lab work and no investigation into the source of the child’s problem. You do not have to believe in alternative medicine to know that this is not right. Ritalin may affect the behavior of the learning-disabled fifth grader, but not improve grades. Ritalin may have no effect on the child with a sensory integration problem. Sometimes Prozac or heavier drugs are used—this is sad and unnecessary. New research indicates that children given anti-depressant drugs have an increased risk of suicide.
Natural health care may offer some answers for children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Go to WholeHealthWeb.com, there you can link to the web sites of dedicated natural health care practitioners who will help you come up with practical, drug-free therapies. Ritalin may offer symptomatic control—but no one knows why it works and it certainly does not address the cause. The idea of holistic care is to treat the patient, not the disease.
It seems strange to think of nutrition as “alternative care,” but many doctors see it that way. It is not uncommon to hear, “Vitamins do not cure disease,” from medical doctors. In a sense, they are right. Vitamins do not cure disease, but there is one very important exception. Vitamins cure vitamin deficiency. What constitutes vitamin deficiency is where all the controversy lies.
A recent survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute asked Americans about their diet from the previous day. Only 9% of those asked consumed three or more servings of vegetables or two or more servings of fruit on the previous day. One in nine surveyed had no servings of fruits or vegetables on the previous day. Americans consume over 150 pounds of refined sugar each year and get about 50% of their calories from refined carbohydrates.
Clearly, such eating habits create nutrient deficiency. When a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD is handed down it is important to consider the child’s diet. Don’t think of it in an overly simplistic point of view, “He eats sugar, he gets wired.” Think of it as a poor diet creating a health problem.
One issue is Essential fatty acids: Packaged food, fried food and junk foods are loaded with hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils—trans fats. Cells, especially nerve cells, need oil (fat) for the integrity of the cell membrane. Hydrogenated oils contain trans fats that do not belong in the diet and do not resemble anything in nature. One idea nutritionists have about the cause of ADD is that the trans fats become incorporated into the nerve cells in the brain, making transmission of nerve impulses faulty. The trans fats may also be more permeable to chemical toxins and viruses. The solution is to give the child fish oil, flax oil or DHA and remove all hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil from the diet. It is a good idea to get professional with using supplements. Go to WholeHealthWeb.com and link to the web site of a trained professional who can help you.
Sugar: The Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 274 No. 20, November 22, 1995) Published a meta analysis of studies linking hyperactivity to sugar and came to the conclusion that sugar does not affect behavior or cognitive abilities in children. But the studies are flawed, because the researchers are looking at a single dose of sugar and the immediate effect on the children. Something needs to be said here about medical research. Drugs for ADD and ADHD make the parmaceutical industry about $3 Billion each year. These companies buy advertising in medical journals. The journals have an economic interest in keeping their advertisers happy. Seriously looking at the connection between diet and ADD would not be in the best economic interest of these pharmaceutical companies—or the journals. There is a complex relationship between diet and how the nervous system works—one that needs to be examined more thoroughly than these flawed studies.
If you want to get a better sense of the connection between diet and behavior, go to WholeHealthWeb.com and follow the link to the video about the food program in the Appleton, Wisconsin schools. The link is among the ADD articles on wholehealthweb. You can see for yourself the amazing results that diet has on behavior and learning. The connection between diet, and learning and behavior needs to be more closely examined. Children who eat a lot of sugar are vitamin deficient—especially in B vitamins and in minerals. A large percentage of their food is starch, which is turned to sugar by the body. Lots of parents think that bagels, English muffins, and sugar-free cereals are healthy. What they need to realize is that starch and sugar are essentially the same thing. Starch and sugar deplete B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals. Sugar also stresses the adrenal glands. Some holistic practitioners think that Ritalin mimics the output of the adrenal gland and if you give up sugar and support the adrenals, you will get a better result.
B vitamins: Deficiency in B vitamins causes neurologic symptoms. Traditional medicine only recognizes a thiamine deficiency as beriberi or a niacin deficiency as pellagra. What about subclinical deficiencies? Nervousness, poor concentration, fatigue, depression, poor sleep, forgetfulness and other symptoms can all be caused by not having enough B vitamins. B vitamins are very important for mental function. Eating a lot of sugar and refined carbohydrate depletes B vitamins. One of the most common deficiencies is folic acid. Folic acid is necessary to produce serotonin and norepinephrin (which are important neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals). Very often a child with sensory integration problems need serotonin. Folic acid is found in fresh green produce. How many children get enough green vegetables? We can get a liquid folic acid and a liquid multivitamin that can be placed in juice. Add some omega 3 fatty acids and most of the time, the results are amazing. Of course nothing replaces a good diet, but that is sometimes difficult to accomplish.
Chemical additives: Read Ruth Winter’s book on chemical additives. You will see that many of them cause poor concentration, fatigue and trouble with the nervous system. Aspartame, sold under the brand name Nutrasweet or Equal found in many sugar-free snacks, creates methanol (a neurotoxin) in the body.
Minerals: ADHD has been linked to zinc/copper imbalance. Trace mineral deficiency has been linked to allergies. Minerals are often the cofactors that enable enzymes to work. Once again, a poor diet will be deficient in minerals.
Amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are also important for the production of neurotransmitters—the chemicals that make the nervous system work. A diet high in junk food, poor digestion and vegetarianism can cause a deficiency of certain amino acids. There are lab tests to determine amino acid status.
Having a comprehensive program is important. Many times parents will try nutrition, put their child on a hypoallergenic diet or try some alternative therapy without getting the desired result. Then the parents are frustrated. The point is, all of the pertinent issues must be addressed. Giving a child who has a learning disability a dairy- and wheat-free diet may benefit his or her health, but it will not correct the learning disability. You can give vitamins to a child with sensory integration issues and still not solve the problem. By all means, improve the health and nutrition of your child—there’s a very good chance that it will improve the ADD. If not, there may be other issues that need to be addressed. The idea is not to treat the ADD or ADHD, but to treat the child and address his or her health.
In many cases, improving the diet will give you amazing results. Go to WholeHealthWeb.com. There you can read about diet and other health issues related to ADD, and to many other conditions. There you can link to the web page of a natural health practitioner in your area. It is a good idea to get help. There is much more to this conditon than can be contained in this short recording. A good practitioner can help you put together a comprehensive program to help with ADD or ADHD. Often there are issues like hidden food allergy, heavy metal toxicity, problems with yeast or other nutritional issues that are too complex to go into in this short recording. Hands on therapies like chiropractic, craniosacral therapy or acupuncture may also be useful. Go to the site and find a trained professional to discuss these issues with—or at least go to their web site and take advantage of all of the free educational material available to you there.