What is ADHD?
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) kids usually aren’t difficult to spot in a classroom. They can’t stand or sit still. They can’t focus on their work because they’re too busy playing with items in their desks. They are easily distracted from their work. They cannot wait their turn when sharing items.. They fail to complete a task before moving to another one. They continuously lose items they need for a daily task (et. pencils and erasers). They talk rapidly and frequently change subjects. They often have a hard time making and keeping friends because of their abnormal behavior. The list goes on and on.
What Causes ADHD?
This unfortunate and often aggravating condition isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s abnormal neurology that causes children to develop and express the many symptoms of ADHD. Children with ADHD experience a phenomenon in the brain that affect neurotransmitters, which comprise communication pathways in the brain. Neurotransmitters constantly bombard everyone’s brain with messages and communication. They are responsible for behaviours such as attentivity, hyperactivity, and emotions such as arousal, fear and excitement. In the ADHD child these neurotransmitters work differently than the non-ADHD brain. They are over-stimulated. Ergo, the ADHD symptoms appear. watch this video and take this “test”
There is debate over whether ADHD is genetic or not. It is also argued that environmental factors such as early exposure to lead or pesticides, can cause the onset of symptoms, although not the onset of the disorder itself. Babies with low birth weight have an increased risk of ADHD. The same is true for children who have experienced head injuries, particularly an injury to the frontal lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe regulates emotion.
ADHD symptoms always begin in childhood before age 12. Children are born with ADHD. They don’t learn it. It isn’t the result of careless parenting or a difficult personality. For some people, though, ADHD is not diagnosed until adulthood. That means adults who are newly diagnosed have actually had ADHD for years, and have had to endure symptoms as they’ve matured. Consider the long and difficult road they’ve travelled through Elementary and Secondary School. Teachers have probably been impatient at best, and making and keeping friends can prove to be very challenging for the ADHD child.
Co-Morbidity and ADHD
Many times a person with a neurological condition, a mental illness, or a learning disability has comorbidity with another condition. For instance, people with ADHD may also have dyslexia, mental illness, or Tourette’s Syndrome. This exasperates the problem. ADHD then masks the fact that the child isn’t suffering only from ADHD but from another condition. This is problematic, since knowing about both (or sometimes three) separate disorders or disabilities can be key in teaching the ADHD child. When a child demonstrates difficulty with literacy, for instance, ADHD may be blamed since the child cannot focus. However the actual problem could be a learning disability and ADHD has nothing to do with the child’s difficulties in literacy.
The Problem with Ritalin
As soon as a child is brought to a pediatrician for a full assessment (usually when extreme behaviours have been emphasized by the classroom teacher), people assume the child will be placed on Ritalin or another stimulant. This isn’t always true. Some pediatricians begin with a change of diet for the ADHD child along with an interesting protein and vitamin drink (flavoured like orange soda), that is packed with amino acids and other helpful chemicals naturally produced by the body. The drink works wonders in some children in eliminating ADHD symptoms.
Diet is an important factor in treating the ADHD child. Certain foods needs to be avoided as often as possible and these aren’t always sugar-based. Caffeine is a toxin found in children’s foods, ie. cheese, that has a negative effect on ADHD children. Also, increasing certain vitamins and minerals can provide impressive, almost immediate results.
When a pediatrician turns to a stimulant medication to help the extreme ADHD child, she knows what she is doing. I don’t feel qualified to argue with a medical doctor who has 30 years experience in the field. Often Ritalin is a last resort for ADHD children. Many times pediatricians will use the protein drink and change the child’s diet before turning to medications. Medication generally seems to be in use when absolutely necessary. The extreme ADHD child isn’t helped by a change in diet and an orange drink. I’m referring to the child who cannot sit still and falls off her chair now and then. I knew of a little girl who was so distracted by her environment, she could only write the date in her journal from the start of school to first recess, a 90-minute period of school. She was able to learn very little during that school year.
The drawback of Ritalin however (or other stimulants such as Adderall), is that it has been linked to the use of cocaine by adults who used Ritalin as children. It is reported that 33% of adults who develop a cocaine addiction were placed on Ritalin long-term as children. Whether there is a true cause and effect at work in this scenario is difficult to say but research suggests this is a distinct possibility. Clearly, no one wants to induce such a sad outcome in the ADHD child.
One alternative may be in home schooling, or attending a private school where class numbers are particularly low, offering the teacher more opportunity to work closely with the ADHD child and assist him in maintaining focus on curriculum and classroom activities. Homeschooling has obvious benefits: it is easy to allow for movement and play time during the day instead of constant study. There are no rushed mornings to get out the door to the bus, causing the ADHD child to begin the day feeling agitated.
Unschooling is another method some parents use to educate their ADHD child. This type of schooling allows the child to select what, where, when and how she learns subjects that are of interest to her. Unit studies use a hands-on approach to learning that presents a topic from several angles. If a student studies water, it will be explored as chemistry (H2O), art (a painting of a beautiful waterfall), history (the Red Sea), economics (a bill from the water company), theology (baptism), and so on. Actually this integrated method is frequently used in classrooms in mainstream schools and this is put in place from Kindergarten onward.
Unschooling also hinges on using the ADHD child’s strongest traits; if he is a visual learner, art, graphics, tables and the like may be the best way for him to learn. If she is a kinesthetic learner (body) then sports and dance might be incorporated into curriculum. This is also old news in teaching. It hinges on Howard Gardiner’s 9 Multiple Intelligences. Referring to this type of teaching as unschooling is unorthodox to say the least, but do whatever works.
Let’s not overlook negative consequences of homeschooling. Children don’t learn social skills when they are schooled on their own. We learn social skills by interacting with our peers and unless a child is participating in extra-curricular activities, or has a circle of friends within her neighborhood, this is a large gap that isn’t filled in the home. Some people however report that their child’s social skills improve significantly when homeschooling is used as an alternative to traditional schooling. I don’t know how that works but I would like to know more about it.
The Holistic Approach
Some people resort to meditation or hypnosis to deal with ADHD. These are holistic approaches to ADHD. Like any approach to ADHD, results vary from person to person. Personally, I believe there is more power in the human mind than most of us will ever know. If I was challenged at school or work with ADHD symptoms, I would certainly consider a holistic approach to ADHD, as well as natural remedies. What have you got to lose?
Some people swear by natural remedies such as such as Gingko Biloba extract or Brahmi, a wild marsh plant from India. Ginseng, Green Oats, and Pine Bark have been associated with improved memory and lowered stress hormones in some people. Overall, children and teens reported significant improvement in social skills, anxiety and personality issues.
Home Vs School ADHD
These two locales offer very different experiences with ADHD. A relative of mine suffered from both ADHD and Tourette’s Syndrome. He was quite a handful for the teacher and for peers. He did make friends and was a kind-hearted little boy, but his parents heard that he was a constant battle in the classroom from various teachers over the years. Home was a different environment altogether and it wasn’t because the family was lax with household rules. The child was held to the same norms and accountability for behavior as his non-ADHD non-Tourette Syndrome siblings and his behavior was very good. He didn’t behave abnormally at home so the symptoms that aggravated the teacher were not noticed within the family.
This is not because the symptoms disappeared at home. It’s because home and school are two very different environments. There is much more freedom and self-expression at home. And parents don’t have to discipline and teach 25 children at a time. This is one reason why families can be quite surprised when schools inform them that they are raising a “problem child.” What problem? He doesn’t have any at home. Truthfully.
No Easy Answers
There never is one single, easy answer to neurological conditions. The best most people can do is to experiment with alternatives, whether they be homeschooling, natural remedies, Ritalin (yes Ritalin can and does benefit many children), counseling, and close, ongoing communication with the classroom teacher and school. Whatever the case, as long as it works for the child and family, I wish you the best. A positive spin on ADHD