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Over the past two decades, prescriptions for children’s medications have seen a sharp increase.  In fact, more than half of children diagnosed with AD/HD receive some form of prescription medication. Most experts agree, however, that a combination of approaches from behavioral intervention to alternative therapies is best.  When Dr. Messenger was in graduate school (30+ years ago!), the prevailing wisdom was to try one thing; if that was ineffective, then try the next thing, then the next, trying to find a change.  


Now we know that when we are making changes in a child’s life, it best to take a strong approach from the beginning.  Just as symptoms overlap, so do interventions.  Thus, making changes can be “synergetic,” that is, interventions interplay and strengthen each other. It’s like the old saying “the sum is greater than the whole of its parts.”


Exercise/Open Spaces  


Exercise is good for the brain as well as the body.  Research shows it improves symptoms as variable as restlessness, mood and anxiety. Studies have suggested that exercising in open, green spaces boosts brain function. One study of over 400 children and teens with diagnosed AD/HD found that after-school and weekend activities done in green outdoor settings–like parks, backyards and tree-lined streets–were associated with fewer  symptoms compared to activities done inside or in outdoor places without much greenery, such as parking lots.


Martial Arts


Karate, tae kwon do, and other martial arts can be extremely valuable to individuals who need to learn more self-control (whether it’s form SID, AD/HD, explosive temper, whatever). These activities offer an outlet for excess energy, promote self-discipline, and increase concentration.Yoga, tai chi, or qi are all excellent. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to teach a “wild child” martial arts, in her many years of working with children, Dr. Messenger has seen over and over the benefits in terms of teaching self-control techniques through martial arts.


Massage  


It’s no surprise that massage can help boost mood, but there’s some evidence to suggest it can also help children focus.  In one study of 28 teenage boys with AD/HD, those who received 15 minutes of massage for 10 consecutive days had better concentration than whose who underwent a guided muscle relaxation exercise for the same amount of time.  For SID children, massage (including deep hugs) are often the very thing they need to calm down and “get grounded.”


Meditative activities and guided imagery


“Similar to biofeedback, imagery can help soothe, calm and focus an impulsive brain,” says Donna Fremon-Powell. a certified therapist in La Habra, California.  “Plus, since very busy children spend a lot of time in theta brainwaves, repetitive positive affirmations – both audible and subliminal (like on a CD while they sleep) – are readily accepted by the subconscious mind.”


Psychotherapy


In psychotherapy, the child can be helped to talk about upsetting thoughts and feelings, explore self-defeating patterns of behavior, learn alternative ways to handle emotions, feel better about him or herself despite the disorder, identify and build on their strengths, cope with daily problems, and control their attention and aggression.  Such therapy can also help the family to better handle the disruptive behaviors, promote change develop techniques for coping with and improving their child’s behavior.


Behavioral Therapy (BT) is a specific type of psychotherapy that focuses more on ways to deal with immediate issues. It tackles thinking and coping patterns directly, without trying to understand their origins.  The aim is behavior change, such as organizing tasks or schoolwork in a better way, or dealing with emotionally charged events when they occur. In BT, the child may be asked to monitor their actions and give themselves rewards for positive behavior such as stopping to think through the situation before reacting.


Social Skills Training


Social skills training teachers the behaviors necessary to develop and maintain good social relationships, such as waiting for a turn, sharing toys, asking for help, or certain ways of responding to teasing.  The behaviors that are appropriate in different situations are explained and then practiced with the therapist.  Clues that can be taken from people’s facial expressions and tone of voice may be discussed. Emphasis is upon practicing appropriate behaviors, then generalizing them into other areas of the child’s life; parents are usually asked to model and reinforce appropriate behaviors at home.


Support Groups


Mutual self-help support groups can be very beneficial for parents and individuals with disorders of any kind (SID, LD, AD/HD, Aspergers', etc.). A sense of regular connection to others in the same boat leads to openness, problem-sharing, and sharing of advice. Concerns, fears, and irritations can be released in a compassionate environment where members can safely let off steam and know that they are not alone.


As well as this type of support, the groups can invite experts to give lectures and answer specific questions.  They can also help members to get referrals to reliable specialists.



Non-medical Approaches



Parenting Skills Training


Parenting skills training provides parents with tools and techniques in order to manage their child’s behavior.  For example, immediately rewarding good behavior with social recognition (praise) or perhaps points that can be exchanged for special privileges.  Desirable and undesirable behavior is identified in advance by parents and/or teachers.  Parents can try using “time out” when the child becomes too unruly, but also sharing enjoyable quality time each day.


Through this system, the child’s behavior can often be effectively modified.  They can be taught how to ask politely for objects rather than grabbing them, or to complete a simple task from start to finish.  The expected behavior is made clear to the child so the decision of whether to earn the reward or not is in their hands.  The rewards should be something that the child truly wants.  Some children need considerable “shaping,” meaning that initially they may have to see rewards of some type more often than other children.  Over time, the child will learn to associate good behavior with positive results, so will control their behavior naturally.


Biofeedback  


Some kids spend more time in theta brainwaves (a daydream-like state) than beta brainwaves (the type that keep us alert).  But children can learn to stay in the appropriate brainwaves by playing video games with a controller governed by their brains.  “If they’re playing a racecar game, for example, the speed of the car slows down or even comes to a halt when the child’s brainwaves shift outside of the appropriate range,” says L. Eugene Arnold, M.D., M.Ed., professor emeritus of psychiatry at Ohio State University and interim director of the university’s Nisonger Center.  “But, if they’re in the right brainwaves, they can go as fast as they want.”  The goal: to permanently change the underlying abnormal electrical brain activity.


Mirrors


Researchers claim that having a child complete tasks in front of a mirror may help those with inattention and distractibility stay focused.  “The mirrors act as a coach to remind them they’re getting off task,” says Arnold.  In one study, the more time AD/HD kids spent looking in the mirror, the better they were at completing the puzzle they were given.  (The caveat:  The mirror method only works if the child had a clear diagnosis of AD/HD.  In normal children, the mirrors may actually decrease attention and performance.)


Supplements  


Although there’s little empirical evidence to support the use of herbs in treatment, there is research supporting the use of Omega-3 fatty acids.  Specifically, people with AD/HD seem to have lower blood levels of these health fats, according to Dr. Andrew Weil.  While St. John’s wort is among the most commonly used herbs for AD/HD, recent research suggests that usage is no more affective than a placebo. One supplement that may be effective is melatonin, a natural sleep hormone. “Melatonin probably has no direct effect on symptoms,” claims Arnold, “but it may help children (with some disorders) initiate sleep.”


Regardless of what you read or hear anywhere, keep in mind that with herbs and supplements, there may be dangerous interactions for children taking supplements along with prescription medications.  Always consult your physician; if you are specifically interested in natural approach, you may seek out a homeopathic physician.



References:

    Weil, Andrew.  “10 Natural Approaches to AD/HD,” Healthy Child.

   Paturel, Amy.  “Alternative Approaches to ADD/ADHD Treatment”, EverydayHealth.com

   Martin, Ben.  “Additional Treatments for AD/HD,” EverydayHealth.com



The greatest weapon against stress is our ability
to choose one thought over another.
-               ~ William James

Simply do your best, and you will avoid
self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

- don Miguel Ruiz