Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Minimise the Chance of a {Genetically Prone} Child Being Diagnosed with ADHD

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
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Before last year the extent of my knowledge of ADHD was my mother complaining that my father must have it, because, you know, he never listened ;). Indeed my father does have some sort of minor learning disability that went undiagnosed, and still is undiagnosed, meaning his school career was pure torture. However, he managed to find a niche that he was very successful in, practical work, namely mechanics and engineering.

Sadly, my experience with ADHD was not to end with my mothers' exasperation of my fathers listening skills. Last year we realised my husband was suffering with an attention deficit disorder, which was making his work-life difficult, to say the least. I took him to one of the best psychologists in the country with ADHD and autism experience and he confirmed our fears. The worst part is that because it has gone undiagnosed for his entire life, he has now picked up awful coping mechanisms. But this post is not about my husband.

My poor Jesse now has an attention disorder and a learning disorder on both sides of his family. At least I am raising him with my eyes wide open for any signs that he may suffer from either. To start he is an energetic soul, full of life and with big emotions. At 16 months he keeps me very busy, demanding stimulating activities and positive attention. I hope to give him the tools to harness all this incredible intelligence and sensitivity in a successful direction. 

Firstly, what is ADHD? It is a common behavioural disorder that affects an estimated 8% to 10% of school aged children. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it. Interestingly boys requirements for essential fats are higher than girls. More on this below. 

Sufferers of ADHD sometimes act without thinking, are hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what is expected of them, but have trouble following through because they can't sit still, pay attention, or attend to details. Of course all children act this way sometimes, especially when excited, the difference is that with ADHD the symptoms are present over a longer period of time and occur in different settings. They impair a child's ability to function socially, academically, and at home. 

There are three subtypes, each with its own patterns of behaviours:
1. An inattentive type
2. A hyperactive-impulsive type
3. A combined type, which is most common. 

There are medications one can take to manage ADHD, but, as with all disorders, prevention and natural management is better than a chemical cure with dreadful side effects. If you suspect a loved one of suffering from ADHD I definitely recommend a full diagnoses by a trained professional, however, before you jump to habit-forming medications first research your options. 

No single cause for ADHD has been identified, but there seem to be a number of genetic and environmental links. Whilst I have no control over Jesse's genetics, I can control his environment. 

Here are a few links that have been made:
  • Children with ADHD usually have a close relative with the same disorder. 
  • Chemical changes in the brain have been found, and certain areas are 5% to 10% smaller in size and activity in sufferers of ADHD.
  • Excessive television watching has been linked to attention problems. Children under two years of age should not have ANY screen time and children that are two years and older should be limited to 1 hour per day, if any at all. 
  • Many sufferers of ADHD also have a learning problem such as dyslexia. 
Although Jesse is more prone to suffering from ADHD, as his father suffers from it, and merely because he is a boy, I make sure I do all I can to minimise the likelihood or at least the intensity of his suffering from ADHD. 

Most importantly, Jesse is on a strict and incredibly healthy diet. His diet is high raw and full of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. He consumes absolutely no refined sugar, refined carbohydrates or any other processed foods, additives or preservatives. Jesse is impeccably healthy, for more information on his diet read this

Sugar is highly toxic for anyone, but especially for children with developing brains. Balanced blood sugar levels are vital to mental health.
Refined carbohydrates promote hyperactivity and aggression. 
Essential fats (found in seeds and oily fish) are crucial for concentration. Omega 3 in particular have a clear, calming effect on children with ADHD. 

I also supplement Jesse's diet. It is important for children with ADHD to be taking a good multi-vitamin and mineral. See more on supplementing your child's diet here. Zinc and magnesium are the most commonly deficient nutrients in people with ADHD. 

Also, keep your eye out for potential food allergens such as wheat, dairy, yeast, soya, chocolate, oranges and eggs. 

Jesse does not watch television, and I do not plan to add it to his routine any time soon. As I mentioned above, television has been directly linked to attention problems in children. Not only that, for every hour your child is sitting in front of the television, that is an hour lost from their day where they could have been learning a new word, grasping a new concept or stimulating their brain in a positive way. Television is stimulating but in all the wrong ways, in fact it is over-stimulating. 

I make sure that Jesse gets plenty of exercise, fresh air and time to potter around outside. It is so important for your children to spend time outside each and every day, regardless of the weather. Not only does it diminish the likelihood of them suffering from a vitamin D deficiency, but it gets the heart pumping and promotes physical well-being. Exercise is the best way to burn off all the hyperactive energy associated with ADHD. 

I actively concentrate on making Jesse's day stimulating in a positive way, with planned activities, plenty of unplanned play and time for him to merely do his own thing with his puppy. 

I practice natural and attachment parenting, ensuring that Jesse's emotional needs are met to the best of my ability. For more information on attachment and natural parenting, please see the Natural Parents Network

I actively research and read up on ADHD, watching for any new study results and recommendations. I can highly recommend Patrick Holford's book, Optimum Nutrition for your Child as a resource for parents to ensure that their children are getting their required nutrients and therefore prevent ADHD. This is probably the most important step, as all the other steps I would be doing anyway, to ensure my son has the best start in life.

Do you have any experience with ADHD? How do you ensure your children remain mentally healthy? I would love to hear from you! 

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)

25 comments:

  1. You are being so proactive! I love all your ideas! Jesse is extremely lucky to have you as a mama :)

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    1. Aw, thanks Gretchen. This is just an area that worries me. Im not usually so proactive ;)

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  2. Very informative. Thank you for sharing this! Best of luck to you and your little J. :)

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  3. My kids have this on both sides of their family, along with other learning problems. We use only/mostly whole grain products, little processed foods, try to make wise choices at home and they take an extra dose of fish oil. I figure none of this will hurt anything! I am open and honest with the teachers that we are on the lookout for ADD/ADHD. So far, one of my children likely does NOT have it. I am on the fence with another and it is too early to tell with my younger crew.

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    1. I think thats the best we can do, just be aware and know all our options, best of luck to you, and thanks for stopping by :)

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  4. I think too many people underestimate the negative effect of TV on kids. I think that it was important that you noted this (as well as the no refined sugar which we try to steer clear of with out child).

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    1. Yip, I have witnessed the effects of excessive TV viewing on young children with a family member, so its an issue which is close to my heart. He is now on medication, going to OT and almost coping at school, most of which could have been avoided if he had spent his toddler days outside playing and with stimulated activity.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Thanks for this list of natural ways to help a child with ADHD. I hear all to often of children being highly medicated for ADHD.

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    1. I think medication is definitely the most convenient solution, but not always the best solution :)

      Thanks for visiting!

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  6. I've never heard of these steps you could take to minimize the risk. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom! You've clearly done a lot of research, and Jesse's lucky to have you supporting him.

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    1. Thanks Lauren, and thanks for hosting :)

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    2. Thanks Lauren, and thanks for hosting :)

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  7. If more parents followed this advice (as well as adults for themselves, we would see far fewer cases of depression/anxiety for example. Diet is so critical and yet so undervalued. Interesting post!

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    1. I agree, diet is critical and should be the first place one should address the issue.

      Thanks for visiting!

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  8. I didn't know that Jesse had attention disorders on both sides of his family like this! It is true that there is a genetic link and that a positive environment can help mitigate the strength of a child's experience of ADD/ADHD. Sometimes I get a bit frustrated with the natural community's opinions about treatment of this disorder, which as you know my 7 y.o. son has (or likely has; no official Dx yet but we are close). I think that diet and other lifestyle choices can be effective, don't get me wrong! I'm all about supplements, diet, exercise, minimizing screen time, etc. But sometimes there is too much criticism of medication. And diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes help, but they are not enough on their own for a great percentage of ADD children (and adults). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Occupational Therapy can also help, I have read. But sometimes medication is a necessary part of the mix.

    I think I'm too sensitive about it, though. Like anything else I believe in (natural birth, breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding, and etc), the push is against a non optimal norm, so we push pretty hard for what we believe in. Then parents feel criticized. The ideal is to recognize that medicating a condition like ADD/ADHD and not paying any attention to other factors like diet, supplementation, and activity level is simplistic and unfair to the child.

    As a person with an anxiety disorder, I can say that natural remedies can be powerful and helpful. I use them and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) alone to treat my disorder. But I know that some people who have my condition do not respond to these same natural approaches and may need medication to help keep them alive, mitigate their symptoms, and help them cope with life. (I resent Julie's comment that my failure to follow your diet advice is the cause of my anxiety, though. That is just not very well informed. Perhaps she meant something different than I read it as, though!). I think that it is similar for children with ADD/ADHD. This syndrome is real. It is powerfully debilitating. It ruins self esteem, academic competence, friendships, and relationships. It is entirely unfair to criticize pharmaceutical use for these children when it so clearly improves their impulsivity and focus.
    Man this comment is becoming a book!

    I actually REALLY appreciate this post even though I sound so critical. I guess my own issues and emotions are getting in the way of me responding positively. This approach rounds out the medical approach so well, and can make some children have lower medication doses and other children wean from medication at a younger age, and in some (mild) cases eliminate the need for medication altogether. And for some children who might be prone to ADD/ADHD genetically, this approach could tip the scales away from actually having the disorder, which is super fantastic! =)

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  9. p.s. your posts fire me up, apparently! I always have lots to say about your carnival posts =) I think we would make awesome IRL friends; too bad Canada is so far from S. Africa! Also: I didn't respond to your recent FB NPN post because I got sidetracked, but I've been thinking of you. {{hugs}}

    I have to put your blog in my blogroll so I remember to follow your blog even outside carnivals, I'm sure we would have lots of interesting discussions =)

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    1. Thanks for your heartfelt comment Melissa, Im sorry my post pushed buttons for you. I know my South African bossy know-it-all tone can often do that ;)

      Prevention is always better than cure, and that is what I am *trying* to do here, but I don't have a son with ADHD (yet) and so don't have any experience with dealing with it naturally. I can imagine that there comes a stage where medication is a child's only hope, perhaps a last resort though? Sure, I understand it is incredibly important for some, life-saving etc. but I hope that we will get through it naturally, really hope.

      Im also a sufferer of an anxiety disorder, so I can relate there. I have managed to get through it with changes to my diet and avoiding stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine, which I am grateful for, but Im interested to learn more about CBT!?

      I agree, I think we would have some seriously good conversations, if only we were closer!

      Thanks for the follow :)

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  11. You're such an amazing mother. I "aim" to do all these things for my daughter, but have fallen short here and there. I can easily imagine that Jesse might have already suffered from some form of ADHD but for your parenting choices. I especially believe the food and nutritional aspect is incredibly important. I've just been re-thinking it all for my daughter too. Because even though she is healthy and has no obvious issues, I wonder if she might feel even better, more focused and have relief from some smaller things if she was eating even more exclusively whole foods.
    We've let too much t.v. creep in as well. we're really ready to get rid of the whole thing.
    This is a great list and one I'll share with anyone I meet or know with these issues. You make it so clear and since it's just what you're doing it comes across really well.
    I hope your husband is doing well also. I can imagine the effort it takes to "un-do" those old coping mechanisms. He is also lucky to have you for support. I hope you get support as well...

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    1. Thanks Teresa!
      I agree, you will probably find an improvement in your daughters energy, health and even mood if you cut out the odd unhealthy item she is currently having, I'd be interested to hear how it goes :)

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  12. This is different from any article I've read on ADHD. Thank you so much for this holistic take on ADHD treatments and prevention. I'm not sure I've ever heard prevention discussed before, this is fantastic. This is a great resource I'll be sharing!

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    1. Thanks Erica, and thanks for stopping by!

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  13. This was really interesting. I think it's a great idea to try all these ways of minimising your son's risk - it does sound as though they're likely to be helpful and, even if it turns out they don't prevent ADHD, they're bound to keep him physically and probably mentally healthier in other ways, so it's a no-lose idea!

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    1. Thats what I reckon, definitely cant hurt to try :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

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