Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders in the world, and the incidence is on the rise (ADHD is now affecting almost 1 in 20 North American children!) None-the-less, it frequently goes undiagnosed, or is left untreated for extended periods.
Symptoms of ADHD can vary widely, and include the child being easily distracted, not listening when talked directly to, being impulsive, impatient and forgetful, and constantly moving around, talking or fidgeting. The symptoms of ADHD can easily be confused as signs of the child being “just” hyperactive or in need of discipline, but should be mentioned to your pediatrician if recurrent. This is especially important given the fact that ADHD is associated with a higher risk of having learning disabilities, anxiety, epilepsy and certain other disorders.
There is no known cause of ADHD, although genetics are suspected to play a large part, with ADHD being about four times as common in boys as in girls. Drinking or smoking cigarettes or cannabis during pregnancy has also been proposed to lead to ADHD, as has a number of dietary factors. Any parent with a child suffering from ADHD will have been told by someone at some point that sugar or artificial sweeteners, such as Aspartame, can worsen the symptoms, but there is actually no real evidence for this. That said, there is no reason for young children to be eating candy or drinking soft drinks in large amounts anyway. There is some evidence that food sensitivities or deficiencies play a role, and interestingly, several recent studies have shown that a lack of Omega-3 fatty acids in a child’s diet may contribute to the symptoms of ADHD.
So while giving your child Omega-3 supplements should definitely be considered as part of the treatment strategy, there are also several other options worth looking into:
- Comprehensive diet changes: Switching from a “western diet” to a healthy diet with little, or no, processed foods may help, but is likely most effective when used in combination with other approaches. There are complete diet plans designed specifically for children with ADHD available, but in addition to not having been proven to have an effect, many of these are highly specific and may be hard to implement and maintain whilst leading a busy life.
- Medications to reduce hyperactivity, such as Ritalin, Focalin and Adderall. These are generally very effective and safe, but they are not for everyone, and any drug regimen should be tailored specifically to your child’s need and discussed in detail with a specialist.
- Psychotherapy, including behavioural-, family-, and group therapy (or combinations of two or more of these) can help not only your child, but also your entire family to cope with, and adjust to, living with ADHD.
- Occupational therapy has been demonstrated to help improve the symptoms of ADHD in a number of studies. The occupational therapist (or sometimes physiotherapist or speech therapist) will design one-on-one activities aimed at “organizing” the child’s sensory system, and this can be done from home, in school, or at a clinic. Aside from being free from potential drug-related side effects, this approach also provides social stimulation, making it an attractive choice for many.
However, it is important to keep in mind that every child’s need is different, and what works for one child may not work for yours. Usually a combination of different treatment approaches will prove to be the most efficient, and there are treatment centers, such as the Boomerang Health clinic in Vaughan, Ontario, that specialize in a multi-disciplinary approach to treating disorders like ADHD, that are worth looking into.
And in the meantime, try to find an activity the child can enjoy despite the disorder; try to always be understanding and patient with your child; and try to ditch the fast food and sugary drinks in favour of healthier alternatives with more fresh fruits, veggies, and fatty fish.