I was immensely flattered when I was invited by Julia from Everyday Health to offer my opinions on several of the most commonly asked questions about ADD and ADHD!
These questions have already been answered on the website by several experts, and I was a wee bit intimidated by these people’s credentials. But having lived with and dealt with ADHD for so long, I do have my own opinions on each question, so here goes.
Everyday Health: Why are so many more children being diagnosed with ADHD now than in the past?
I personally believe that there really are not too many more children with ADD and ADHD now than there were 20 or 30 years ago, but there is a lot more awareness of the symptoms of the disorder. The diagnosis has been broadened to include different forms of the disorder as well, so it’s not only the hyperactive children who are now diagnosed and treated. There is also a much greater knowledge of the long term results of not treating children who present with symptoms of the disorder. There is also much greater understanding of the medications, as well as different types of medications available to treat the various forms of the disorder, should a child require or benefit from meds.
At the same time, I do believe that the huge changes in lifestyle over the last 30 years also has an impact on children being diagnosed with a disorder they may have coped with in an earlier era.
Years ago, a child who was mildly hyperactive would be allowed to spend time outside, running, bicycling, climbing trees, etcetera, where now we keep our children close for fear of their safety. His or her hyperactivity would be less noticeable. Back then, our schools had fewer children in the classrooms, and children who needed it would get a little more attention because teachers could afford to do so without thinking twice about it. And we ate better back then. Our diets included a lot more vitamin rich, home cooked, organic produce than the mass produced quickly harvested food we shop for now. We ate breakfast as a norm, whereas now it often falls by the wayside, and back then we ate far less fast food.
Everyday Health: Why are there so many theories about the causes of ADHD? What are the most common?
Genetics and brain injury are the two I hear about the most, but no one seems sure and it remains a contentious issue because there are so many theories.
I have also heard people try to blame the diagnosis on parenting, diet, blood group and schooling, and whilst I believe these factors contribute to symptom management, I don’t believe they are causes.
A major factor in trying to work out what causes it is that there is no hard and fast criteria with which to diagnose it and no child fits exactly the same set of criteria for diagnosis.
Everyday Health: How do you explain the value of treatment to resistant parents? For example, a parent might say, “I survived my childhood with ADHD — and I was never diagnosed or treated. Why does my child need ADHD treatment?”
I was that parent. I took the suggestion that my son may have a problem as a personal attack on my being a single parent and I refused to even try to take it further. My son missed out on so much learning in his first couple of years of school that his entire school career was a battle, because I refused to acknowledge that he needed more than he was getting. I was convinced that the teachers were inattentive and lazy, and simply didn’t want to engage with my intelligent and spirited son.
For me- hindsight being 20/20- the child’s quality of life, or lack thereof, should be the biggest contributing factor in deciding whether to treat or medicate a child diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. As parents, we want the best for our children, and no one faced with a new ADD or ADHD diagnosis wants to medicate their child.
By all means, try everything to find what works for your child, but don’t wait too long to decide something isn’t working. If other treatment options don’t make a difference and your child continues to battle at school, at home, and with interpersonal relations, then perhaps meds is worth a try.
Everyday Health: What role does a child’s school play in helping him or her with ADHD?
Teachers and schools play a vital role in our ADD and ADHD children’s treatment!
We parents are often afraid to tell our child’s teacher about the diagnosis and treatment for fear of labeling and stigmatising our child. I have also heard of parents who deliberately don’t tell the school to “see if the teacher notices a difference” once they start treatment! This seems to happen most often when those parents had the school draw their attention to a possible problem with their child.
The truth is that our children’s teachers spend so much time with our children they are often the first to pick up a problem. And an ADD or ADHD child whose teacher knows about the diagnosis and treatment can make allowances in class that the child is entitled to if he or she is included in the treatment process.
Everyday Health: Which nondrug strategies work best for children with ADHD?
For my son, it turned out that medication was a necessary part of his treatment… but with or without meds the following will make a difference in your child’s life:
· structure and routine- clearly defining the rules and expectations at home and at school and stick to a schedule to ensure your child gets enough sleep
· dietary changes- include more protein, eat regularly, make sure you have breakfast
· multivitamins- this can’t hurt, provided you use something reputable and don’t rely purely on the added supplements to change or manage your child’s behaviour
· one-on-one attention- at home and at school, playing games and helping with homework
· therapy- with a psychologist or a psychiatrist, for parents and children
· positive reinforcement- reward your ADHD child for any and all real achievements
Everyday Health: Can too little discipline or lax parenting cause ADHD? Why or why not?
An ADD or ADHD diagnosis causes conflict with doctors and lay-people alike because it covers such a broad collection of symptoms, and because each child and each diagnosis is different. My belief is that whilst lax parenting and little or no discipline certainly exacerbates the behaviours and symptoms, it can’t cause ADD or ADHD.
I’ll give you a very simple example- if it was caused by parenting styles, then all the siblings of every child diagnosed with ADD or ADHD would have to be diagnosed with the same thing. There are many families with two or more children, where only one child battles the disorder. I also know of twin siblings where one child is ADHD and the other is not. Were it due to bad parenting, then all the children in a family would have the same problems almost by default.
Everyday Health: Does watching too much television or playing video games cause ADHD symptoms?
In all honesty, too much TV, internet, gaming or social media is unhealthy for any child.
We all know that.
I don’t believe that it can cause ADHD symptoms as a “typically” hyperactive ADHD child will very likely be able to watch TV or play PC and TV games for hours without showing signs of hyperactivity.
Everyday Health: What role does diet play in ADHD behavior?
A well balanced healthy diet is essential for anyone. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a diet of too much junk food is unhealthy.
It does seem however, that a child or adult with ADD or ADHD is more affected by the lack of nutrients in their diet than others may be, and I have seen how some children’s symptoms can be reduced or become more manageable simply by adjusting their diet.
But, not all children can manage the symptoms of ADD or ADHD with just a balanced diet, and this is a mistake made by too many parents.
Eating whole or organic foods and supplementing with added fatty acids and multi-vitamins is also hellishingly expensive and very difficult to maintain. And if you do decide that managing your diet is what works best for your ADD or ADHD child, then you have got to stick to it 100%, with no compromise for “special occasions”. You can’t do it for a week and then take a week “off”.
And please, for the sake of your child, don’t take dietary changes as the be-all and end-all. If your child is still battling at home and at school, consider additional treatment options.
So what do you think?