Attention Deficit Disorders
- A Wholistic Approach
Grey R. Larison, Ph.D.
Surveys done in schools today suggest that 10% of American children exhibit symptoms of an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD). A child may have a variety of learning problems such as being easily distracted, behaving impulsively, or responding to life’s events in an exaggerated way emotionally. However, decades of neuropsychological research have shown that only 5% of school-aged children have a neurologically based ADD or other learning disability. This means that the other half do not. They are displaying ADD symptoms as a result of conditions that are not neurologically based.
The conventional treatment for children who have ADD/ADHD has been the use of medication (E.g. Ritalin, Concerta, or Adderall) and counseling. Studies have consistently shown that this combined treatment is more effective than the use of either medication or counseling alone. The challenge today is that half of those children who exhibit ADD symptoms do not have a neurological imbalance creating those symptoms, and, therefore, the use of medications is not appropriate or helpful.
To determine which of these two groups a child belongs in, a Neuropsychologist must do a thorough evaluation. If a child exhibits no significant cognitive imbalances on testing, we must then look to other conditions that can mimic ADD symptoms and treat those underlying problems.
The most frequent condition that will produce symptoms mimicking ADD is a diet that provides inadequate nutrition for optimal brain functioning. In the mid-1980s the United States Department of Agriculture published the Food Pyramid, with the purpose of defining what each person should eat on a daily basis to provide their bodies with the minimum nutrition to remain healthy. In 1994, USDA did a survey of 38,000 American families and found that no one was satisfying the requirements of that Food Pyramid on a daily basis. When we look at the diets of school-age children today, we find that kids are eating diets seriously deficient in the essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids needed for good brain functioning. Meanwhile, they are eating diets full of sugar, white flour products and food additives all of which rob essential nutrients from the nervous system! Therefore, nutritional counseling that helps the family move towards a more healthy diet can be helpful in reducing the severity of ADD symptoms. Adding a food supplement program of critical vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids will also be beneficial.
The second most common condition producing ADD symptoms in children who are otherwise healthy neurologically is the presence of untreated allergies and/or asthma. The incidence of these respiratory conditions is rising at an alarming rate as the quality of our air continues to decline across Michigan. People are often not aware that they suffer from allergies/asthma: they just have a “cold” every spring and fall that hangs on for weeks, or they just get “short of breath” when they run, etc.). A thorough medical workup for environmental and food allergies and a pulmonary function evaluation may be necessary when searching for the cause of ADD symptoms in a child.
In addition to food imbalances and allergies, psychological and social stress or traumas often result in severe anxiety or depression, which may produce cognitive and behavioral symptoms that might be mistaken for ADD in children. In these situations, individual and family therapy would be appropriate treatments.
The one treatment that can help address ADD symptoms regardless of their cause is EEG Biofeedback, or Neurotraining. This treatment uses advanced computer technology to analyze the client’s complex brainwaves into frequency bands. What we typically find is that ADD clients have too much theta activity (mind wandering and unfocused) and too little beta activity (a mind that is focused and problem solving). The biofeedback training teaches the brain to shift more of its energy from the theta range into the beta range of activity. If a person can learn to do this (about 90% of our clients do) it becomes a life-long, learned skill. As brain energy shifts from theta to beta, the troublesome symptoms of ADD/ADHD, such as distractibility, impulsivity, hyperactivity and emotional outbursts, drop out of the child’s behavior.
If it has been suggested that your child has an Attention Deficit Disorder, be sure to get a thorough diagnostic evaluation, including neuropsychological testing, to determine the real source of his problems. After you have that information, you can more confidently choose the complementary treatment modalities that you wish to use in strengthening your child’s cognitive and emotional functioning.