Parents are caught in a double bind when a child is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). On the one hand, they want to help their child focus and do well in school. Treating the condition can make a big improvement in how well a child does in school or even how he plays with friends.
On the other hand, though, many parents are concerned about stimulant medications. Far too often, a diagnosis is made and a prescription is written for Ritalin or Adderall without adequate counseling. Parents may be taken aback if they read the official prescribing information on these drugs. Adderall, for example, has a scary warning inside a black box:
“Amphetamines have a high potential for abuse. Administration of amphetamines for prolonged periods of time may lead to drug dependence and must be avoided…Misuse of amphetamine may cause sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse events.”
Any parent who reads such a caution may wonder whether a school year is a “prolonged period of time.” The information also lists side effects such as psychotic episodes, tics, stomach upset, restlessness, insomnia, tremor, heart rhythm disturbances, loss of appetite and weight loss. No wonder parents or grandparents may worry that the treatment could be worse than the condition.
We recently heard from a woman concerned about her 9-year-old grandson:
“He has behavioral issues and has been diagnosed with ADHD.
“During his visit, we did not give him his usual medications. His behavior improved considerably. After five or six days, I took him to visit my friend who is a school psychologist. She found NOTHING: no ADD or ADHD.
“He does have some behavior problems, but they respond to therapy and discipline. I am very worried about the effects drugs are having on his young organs and brain.”
Diagnosing attention deficit disorder is actually more complicated than many people assume. There is no single test for ADD or ADHD. Instead, it must be diagnosed from behavioral patterns. Inconsistent focus and unexplained underachievement are tip-offs, according to Edward Hallowell, MD.
Dr. Hallowell is author of Delivered From Distraction and is one of the country’s leading experts on ADD and ADHD. He suggests that successful management of these conditions requires four basics: adequate sleep, daily exercise, structure with reliable routines and diet. There is growing evidence that junk food with additives may make ADD worse (Lancet, Nov. 3, 2007).
Dr. Hallowell believes that medications can play a valuable role in treatment but the basics must come first. He also recommends dietary supplements including Pycnogenol (pine bark extract), grape seed extract and fish oil. For more details on Dr. Hallowell’s approach to ADD we offer a CD of our recent one-hour radio interview with him. Anyone who wants this CD may send $16 to: Graedon Enterprises; Dept. CD-663; P. O. Box 52027; Durham, NC 27717-2027. You can also find show #663 on this web site.
Kids don’t automatically outgrow ADD. Many adults have a history of inconsistent performance and underachievement. They too can benefit from sleep, exercise, diet and appropriate structure in their daily routines.