What is the best help for your ADHD child?

There has been mention on social media recently about the possible undesirable effects of long-term ADHD medication usage on the brain.  While some children do benefit from these drugs, we naturally hesitate to put them at meaningless risk. It makes perfect sense, then, to consider every possible alternative to help address those frustrating symptoms shown by children diagnosed with ADHD rather than settling for a prescription. Drugs are not the only solution.

The best source of help might be a medical doctor who practices functional or integrative medicine. They are listed on the internet and a short search should reveal someone near you and whether or not they have a particular interest in children.

Why a functional medical practitioner?  Because they are thorough!  Your first appointment will probably last at least an hour because rather than looking to make a snap diagnosis, they focus on what might be the cause of the ADHD behaviours and what triggers those behaviours. Indeed, as Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners find, most children with learning and attentional difficulties have multiple triggers including (but not limited to) food sensitivities and intolerances, environmental offenders including toxins, a diet lacking in essential nutrients and an unhealthy gut.

If you suspect that diet might be underlying your child’s struggles, here are five major dietary steps that you can take before going the medication route:

  1. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet. This is easier than it sounds because such a diet is basically what the world considers to be a healthy eating plan. The Mediterranean diet is a good example and the internet abounds with recipes. Chronic inflammation underlies ADHD (as well as many other health conditions), and our modern lifestyle and ways of eating (processed foods, reliance on pastas, pizzas and refined foods) promote inflammation. Good oils, like omega-3, help with inflammation too, so if a child resists eating grilled or baked fish, offer walnuts and pumpkin seeds or a good fish oil supplement.
  2. Consider an elimination diet. Gluten, dairy, and other potential food sensitivities can wreak havoc on our immune systems. This in turn causes increased inflammation with problems like leaky gut. ILT practitioners find that changing diet brings about hugely positive changes in mood, health and school performance in children labelled with ADHD.
  3. Resist the allure of foods based on refined, white flours and sugars and full of additives. Supply your family with whole, nutrient-rich foods. The simple sugars found in ‘white’ foods (bread, flour) are frequently found to increase ADHD behaviours, particularly attention problems and hyperactivity. deficiencies. Artificial colours and preservatives can be hidden triggers – often shown by explosive behaviours, aggression or lethargy.  You might see a dramatic turn about in a child’s behaviour when they are fuelled by fruits, vegetables and good proteins.
  4. Make sure your child is not deficient in critical nutrients.You might need medical help for this as only a blood test will show which vitamins and minerals are lacking in your child.   Generally, many children with ADHD show low levels of B-vitamins, vitamin D, Magnesium and Zinc.  Many parents do give their children a multivitamin supplement but it is sometimes less helpful to guess and work in the dark.
  5. Consider the health of your child’s gut. There is increasing knowledge of the importance of the gut-brain connection and ILT practitioners see the influence of gut health on learning and behaviour on a daily basis!  An adequate diet will supply probiotics, prebiotics and fibre-rich foods that encourage good bacteria in the intestines. In turn, these will eliminate the bad.

ILT practitioners value the help and insights shared by Integrative/Functional medical doctors.  We see the benefits of following these guidelines in our own work with children who are failing to thrive in their schools.  Here is a letter received from one of our practitioners recently:

I had a meeting with xxxx yesterday after his month on the diet.  Wow, he is a different boy. Eyes are sparkly and wide awake, chatting and answering questions.  Walked in with confidence. Mom did so well with the diet and he was good in following her lead.

His teacher noticed improvements in his participation in class and concentration and mom and dad are very happy so far.

ILT practitioners have many similar success stories to share.  It pays to look holistically at a child and to avoid diagnoses that are made without due regard for the complexities of a condition such as ADHD.

 

How to recognise early signs of learning problems in children

 

From Medical X Press

Many children have difficulty with learning at some point, but those with learning disabilities often have several specific and persistent signs, which can start in preschool years. Recognizing them as soon as possible allows a child to get needed help and make better progress.

General signs include difficulty with reading, writing, math skills, understanding or following directions, paying attention, retaining information, staying organized or understanding words or concepts, including time, according to the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

You or a teachermay also notice problems with behaviour, such as not responding appropriately to situations or when dealing with new things.

Signs of learning problems in pre-schoolers include starting to talk later than their peers, having a hard time pronouncing words and learning the alphabet, numbers and days of the week, extreme restlessness, difficulty interacting with their peers and following a simple routine. You might notice that the child struggles with rhyming words and that his vocabulary is slow to increase—one sign of this is not being able to find the right word when talking.

In primary school-aged learners, signs of learning difficulty might include confusing basic words, transposing or substituting letters, numbers and arithmetic signs, acting impulsively and even having poor coordination or being accident-prone. A child may be slow to learn or have difficultyremembering lessons.

The full version of this article appeared in Medical X Press this week and ended with the suggestion that an evaluation should be your first step in helping the child.  Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) is a good place to start because our practitioners look for the underlying causes of these symptoms, rather than looking at the symptoms themselves. For example, if a child’s reading age is found to be lower than expected, the question to ask immediately is not how to improve the reading but rather WHY the child is having trouble learning to read.

 

Dyslexia – not just a reading problem

 

 

Dyslexia is not just a severe reading disorder characterized by reversals. It is a syndrome, meaning that it shows many and varied reading and non-reading symptoms such as:

READING

* Memory instability for letters, words, numbers

* A tendency to skip over or scramble letters, words, and sentences
* A poor, slow reading ability prone to compensatory head
tilting, finger pointing and rapid fatigue
* Reversals of letters such as b and d, words such as saw and was, and
numbers such as 6 and 9 or 16 and 61* Letter and word blurring, doubling, movement, scrambling, omission,
insertion, size change , etc.
* Poor concentration, distractibility, light sensitivity (photophobia), delayed visual and phonetic processing, etc.

WRITING

* Messy, poorly angulated, or drifting handwriting prone to size,
spacing, and letter-sequencing errors.

SPELLING, MATH, MEMORY, AND GRAMMAR

* Difficulties remembering spelling, grammar, math, names, dates, and
lists , or sequences such as the alphabet, the days of the week and
months of the year, and directions.

SPEECH

* Speech disorders such as slurring, stuttering, minor articulation
errors, poor word recall, and auditory-input and motor-output speech
lags.

DIRECTION

* Right/left and related directional uncertainty.

TIME

* Delay in learning to tell time.

CONCENTRATION AND ACTIVITY

* Impaired concentration, distractibility, hyperactivity, or
overactivity

BEHAVIOR, TEMPER, OR IMPULSE DISTUBANCES

BALANCE AND COORDINATION

* Difficulties with balance and coordination functions, i.e. walking,
running, skipping, hopping, tying shoelaces, and buttoning buttons.

OTHER RELATED ISSUES

* Difficulties with headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, motion
sickness, abdominal complaints, excessive sweating, and bed-wetting
* Feeling stupid, ugly, incompetent, brainless.
* Fears of the dark, heights, getting lost, going to school
* Fear or the avoidance of various balance, coordination, sports, and
motion-related activities.
* Mood disturbances.
* Obsessions and compulsions.

Because dyslexia is often mistakenly viewed as a severe reading
impairment rather than a syndrome of the above mentioned symptoms,
many believe that normal or even superior reading individuals can’t be
dyslexics – despite the presence of typical dyslexic – related
difficulties with writing, grammar, spelling, math, memory, speech,
sense of direction, and time, etc.

As a result, typical dyslexics with normal or superior reading scores
are termed Learning Disabled – as if dyslexia and LD were separate and
distinct disorders.

Several approaches, supported by research, believe dyslexia to be a
syndrome of many and varied symptoms differing in intensity. And thus
some dyslexics will have severe reading, spelling and speech
difficulties while others will have major problems with only math,
memory and concentration.

 

What many don’t realise is that many of the symptoms understood to be part of this syndrome are linked to irregular functioning of the vestibular system (better known as the inner-ear).   Not all Dyslexics are alike but many can be helped by activities aimed at improving vestibular functioning.  This means that particular, coordinated, slow movements can help many children who are struggling at school.

There will be more information about this in following posts.

 

Why do children throw tantrums?

 

We’ve all had the experience of standing hopelessly by while a three-year old writhes on the floor in the throes of a massive tantrum. Recently I witnessed this in a supermarket, where the desperately embarrassed mother tried hard to convince the child why she couldn’t have sweets and to calm down.  It’s hard for a grandmother to resist giving advice so I moved away but was tempted to tell the young mother that her use of logic and reason were literally falling on deaf ears.   It’s all due to the power of the primitive brain that rules in young children.

            Dr Paul MacLean describes the brain’s structure in terms of three levels operating as one.  The lowest level he called the ‘reptilian brain’. This lies at the very base of the brain and is responsible for essential behaviours such as protecting us from danger, adapting to social groups, instinctively foraging for food, and so on.  The next layer is the ‘mammalian brain which is tied up with our emotions and the highest layer is the ‘thinking brain’, the cortex, which is the seat of our highest forms of functioning.

            Now let’s go back to the screaming child on the floor. At her age, she is still in the grip of the reptilian, non-thinking brain.  She simply hasn’t been alive for long enough to see higher brain levels adequately developed yet.   A desire for a sweet or toy being denied causes her to feel that her interests and even safety are threatened.  Strong emotions flood the brain and a meltdown follows.  At this age, she doesn’t have the intellectual controls that develop as we grow. When the reptilian brain is in control, she doesn’t even have access to those areas of the higher brain that may ordinarily be used to listen to reasonable adults.

            While the despairing mom is trying hard to use words to explain her reasoning to the child and offering some choices, those lower brain levels are simply not able to take in and process the language.   It will need time to calm down, so picking her up, giving her a big hug and moving away as quickly as possible from the situation in silence would be a better alternative.

            This is not the time to cajole, punish or manipulate.  Simply keep your cool and get her out of the situation as quickly as possible.  Not always easy when you have to leave a full trolley behind, but helping your child cope with her overwhelming flood of feelings is the priority here.

            The same reason underlies tantrums at home or anywhere else.  The pain of having to stop an enjoyable activity to have a bath ‘NOW’ is too much for a young brain to bear – so a meltdown occurs.  This is one reason why it is wise to warn children of impending changes.  Tell them that playtime will end in 10 minutes, when it is time to bath.  Then tell them when bathtime is 5 minutes away. This gives them time to adjust to the idea of having to stop playing

Look closely at a child’s reading difficulty: It may be a symptom of an underlying problem

 

 

 

When Mat fails to learn to read at grade level, his parents are encouraged to help him with extra reading at home, or refer him for remedial reading.  This often doesn’t help very much and the reason is that reading failure is a symptom that the child has an underlying problem.   His problem may not be the act of learning to read at all.  The struggle to read is a red flag signifying that there is something going on in Mat’s brain that is the real reason for his problem.

 For example, if the two sides of Mat’s brain aren’t communicating properly, the eyes won’t function properly either.  Most people see words with each eye.  If you are reading the words THE CAT your right and left eyes will separately see the words (THE CAT and THE CAT), then send the signals to the brain. The brain, in turn, superimposes the two images into one and you ‘read’ the words: THE CAT.

If Mat’s eyes are not functioning properly, he might look at the two images and see: THE TCAT CAT.  He can’t make sense of this so can’t read it.  He blinks and looks again.  This time he sees: THE CATHE CAT.   Mat decides that he really sucks at reading and must be very stupid!

 It isn’t simply a question of seeing.  An optometrist finds that Mat has perfectly normal vision.  The truth is that efficient reading depends on many skills, not only the health and visual acuity of the eyes.  The problem may be more deep seated – caused by faulty wiring in the brain, that we call ‘neurological disorganization’ or ‘incomplete neurological organisation’.   If the child’s inability to read is the result of incomplete neurological organization, there will be other significant clues.  If his eyes don’t function well together, he will most likely get tired quickly; he may find that certain sports are difficult; most likely his coordination will be poor and he may show awkward movements.

 Many children with learning problems show a lack of coordination stemming from poor neurological organization.  These children are not stupid but merely need help in rewiring the brain networks to bring about organized neural pathways needed for reading, writing and numeracy. ILT practitioners see this day after day.  Once the correct connections have been made in Mat’s brain, he might suddenly take off and develop rapidly in many areas.

 Clues to neurological disorganistion

 Here are some of the signs of a disorganized brain that many children with reading problems (also labelled as dyslexia) show:

 They lack coordination. Running, walking even crawling seem awkward and lack grace and smoothness

  • They have undecided or delayed dominance, meaning that they show uncertain preference for writing, for throwing, stepping on a stool, etc. This lack of a clear dominant side exists way beyond the age of six years, when most children have developed clear dominance.
  • They seem to love music
  • Their handwriting has no consistent slant: their letters seem to have different angles and go in different directions
  • They show signs of visual difficulties – often holding their noses close to the paper when reading or writing
  • Many reverse letters and numbers, mixing up the directions of letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’. They may read ‘saw’ for ‘was’ or write numbers backwards
  • Most are poor spellers who may be drilled for a test but forget what they learn in a very short time
  • Many seem to manage maths better than reading and speak more fluently than they can express themselves in writing
  • Most seem to understand spoken language but struggle with written language.

 The importance of neurodevelopment

 Very often the brain does not develop normally if a stage of development is missed. The eyes, for instance, learn to work together in the period when the child is crawling on hands and knees. When the leading hand feels the floor, the eyes will reflexively focus on that hand.  This helps both eyes focus on one point at the same time.  The two images from the two eyes are superimposed in the brain and the child sees one image and not two.  Crawling is also very important in helping the child judge distance, an ability needed when writing.

 During this all-important crawling stage, the ears are also learning to work together. As the forward hand hits the floor, the head moves gently from side to side as the eyes follow the hand.  This provides stimulation to the vestibular system in the inner ears, and much of the information leading to the speech centre is coordinated through this system.  The vestibular system coordinates visual perception with the ability of judging where the sound comes from and helps the brain make the postural adjustments to allow the child to move freely.

 This is just one example to emphasise the importance of the crawling stage in infancy. Parents need to severely limit the time that babies are kept in playpens, walking rings, car seats and such like.  These prevent the infant from learning the normal crawling patterns which are so vital for coordinating all the functions of the body.

 How do we address this?

 ILT practitioners look for clues that point to inadequate functioning or underdevelopment of brain areas that support learning in their young clients.   They also appreciate the role of nutrition in brain functioning and know that a healthy brain depends on the body being healthy and well nourished. 

 Once the underlying causes of the child’s problem have been uncovered, a programme of individualized activities are given to the family to be done at home every day. The child’s progress is monitored through a series of programme reviews, in order to adjust the activities according to progress shown. 

 This process basically gives the brain a second chance to develop all areas and so make it possible for the child to ‘catch up’ on those difficult academic areas.

 

Building a better brain in babies

 

 

The early years of life are vital for laying the foundation of learning success. Most parents get it right – and that’s because it isn’t as difficult as you might think.

I get lots of enquiries from people wanting to know what programmes to buy or what activities to do with their infants to ensure good brain development.  The reason is that they want their children to do well at school and in good tertiary institutions so that they will enjoy a lucrative career later in life.  While their motivation is pure, they are often trying too hard to stimulate their children.  Expensive equipment, costly academic packages and too-early school admittance simply aren’t needed.  Instead, providing lots of love and spending lots of time playing games and talking to your babies while ensuring that their diet is as good as you can afford are the ingredients for a healthy brain.

 The brain is very underdeveloped at birth. This is because human mothers could not give birth to an infant with a fully developed brain – it would simply be too big.  So from the moment of birth, everything in the infant’s environment will impact on the development of the neurons (brain cells) that comprise the brain. Genetics do play a role in intelligence – but the nurturing received after birth is vital.  In his book ‘Raise a smarter child by kindergarten’, Dr David Perlmutter writes that ‘great brains are made, they are not born. From birth to age 3, up to 30 IQ points are up for grabs.’

 He goes on to list some simple things that parents can do to ‘claim’ those IQ points for their child:

 Breastfeeding for at least twelve months

  • Making sure your toddler eats brain-enhancing ‘real’ food
  • Engaging your baby in mentally stimulating activities from the first weeks of life throughout childhood – not with artificial or ‘educational’ media but simply through games you play with her. Think ‘Peek a boo’; ‘Where’s mommy gone?’; singing songs and telling or reading stories
  • Limit TV and DVD watching and playing video games
  • Training a child to use a computer, however, can improve cognitive function and better prepare her for school
  • Introduce youngsters to formal music training by aged 4 years. This helps develop future future maths and science ability
  • Be aware of possible toxins in your home and environment that may cause learning problems (pollution being one)
  • Provide a warm, loving, low-stress environment with lots of attention from you

 In the next few articles, I’ll be focusing on what happens in a baby brain when we provide a nurturing environment and also on good, brain-building activities.

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