The increase in the number of school-aged children diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) in the United States is a cause for alarm, not only for the children and their parents but for the public as well. In its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that ADHD diagnosis increased by an average of 5.5 percent every year from 2003 to 2007 and parent-reported diagnosis increased by 22 percent over the same period. Most of these parent-reported diagnoses were among multiracial children and those covered by Medicaid. However, there’s no indication if these two findings had any relation to the reporting, or if the overall rise in the incidence of ADHD is caused by the increase in risk factors or is a result of media-generated awareness. There have been studies that point to a possible over-diagnosis of ADHD.
What’s inescapably true however is the fact that sales of ADHD medicines are soaring to billions of dollars, making the cash register for pharmaceutical companies eternally ringing. One drug alone has posted growth revenues of $111 million for the first quarter of 2011, up by 21 percent. It boggles the mind to think of calculating revenues of all the ADHD drugs combined. What’s even more disturbing is the report that in 2004, an estimated 94 percent of all ADHD drugs sold worldwide were sold in the US, when diagnosis rates rose and the pharmaceutical industry took advantage of the circumstances to further their profits.
What is ADHD?
For the unaware, here are a few facts about ADHD. This condition is a developmental disorder that begins in childhood and lasts into adulthood. It's one of the most prevalent illnesses in the mental health field and can cause significant interference with intellectual performance and social interactions. ADHD has no known cure but is manageable.
Symptoms of ADHD are grouped into three major areas: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Certain behaviors in children characterize these areas and management is important since these behaviors can often lead to grave consequences.
Symptoms of inattention:
- Having a hard time paying attention to details
- Making mistakes in schoolwork
- Cannot concentrate on tasks or play
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to
- Is easily distracted and is forgetful
Symptoms of hyperactivity:
- Is constantly moving and unable to remain seated for long
- Fidgets with hands and feet frequently
- Talks excessively; cannot play quietly
Symptoms of impulsivity:
- Often interrupts others
- Acts and speaks without waiting for one’s turn
Causes of ADHD
Popular myths that ADHD can be a result of too much sugar in the diet, watching too much TV, parental mishandling and poverty have no scientific basis. What have been proven to cause ADHD are:
- Brain injury
- Exposure to toxins (ex., lead)
- Smoking and alcohol intake during pregnancy
- Low birth weight
- Premature childbirth
ADHD Modes of Treatment
Medicines that physicians prescribe to control the behavior of children with ADHD are stimulants, non-stimulants, antidepressants and anti-hypertensive drugs. Response to therapy has been positive but the public is largely unaware that there are serious concerns about the side effects of these drugs and the unidentified dangers that long-term use might bring. Among the problems to watch out for in children on prescription medications are:
- Suicidal tendencies
- Strokes in children
- Liver injury
These medicines are contraindicated in children with heart defects and mental health issues. They are also not given to children below five years old unless the symptoms are severe. There is no evidence that proves that long-term therapy has beneficial effects on the educational and social functioning of persons with ADHD. They may even have adverse effects on the body with long-term use.
Behavior therapy is a major part of the treatment plan for children with ADHD. Children grow into teens and adults but the condition remains with them throughout their lifetime. Behavior of persons with ADHD can have serious negative consequences such as difficulty in relationships, risk of injuries, conduct disorder and learning disorder. These affect not only the ADHD person but also the family and peers, thus living with an ADHD individual becomes a daily challenge. Here are some activities that can keep symptoms at bay:
- Having a routine and maintaining organization
- Avoiding distractions during study periods
- Limiting choices to avoid overstimulation
- Setting goals and rewards
- Talking in simple and direct language
- Using discipline properly
- Finding an activity that interests the child
Persons with ADHD react to certain foods by showing behavior that becomes more disturbed. A diet that has a good balance of carbohydrates and protein is recommended, especially carbs that are high in fiber, to maintain desirable adrenalin levels and avoid overstimulation. Avoid foods that contain a lot of artificial flavorings and preservatives and foods that are known allergens since allergenic ingredients increase hyperactivity.
Pyridoxine, niacin and thiamine are vitamins that help in controlling behavior of children with ADHD. So are the minerals magnesium, iron and zinc. Make sure your child gets these vitamins and minerals as food or in supplements.
Natural Herbal Supplements
Herbal supplements act as stimulants but these organic stimulants do not have the side effects that chemical ones have. Known herbal ingredients that have been proven to benefit persons with ADHD are gingko biloba, bacopa monniera, Siberian ginseng, gotu kola and green oats. These are available as supplements in the form of pills, gels and liquid. There are also Chinese herbal formulas for persons with ADHD.
In light of the findings that the efficacy of prescription drugs for long-term use are debatable and there are unknown risks of taking them for the duration of a lifetime, behavior therapy and a healthy diet supported by natural supplements seem to be the better alternative. If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD, think carefully about the treatment plan you will use. Your child is a precious person, and there's no sense in turing a vivacious child into a zombie.