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Lucas Martin was a bright, lively, cheeky little boy who liked running in the park and jumping on the sofa. He enjoyed playing on the computer and drawing and often argued with his older sister. His parents saw nothing unusual in his behaviour and expected that he would start school without any hiccups. However, a couple of months into reception class, the teacher took Lucas’s parents aside and uttered the words that every parent dreads – “We think there might be a problem”.
“They said Lucas was being disruptive in class,” his mother, Jane explains. “He would concentrate but only on the things that interested him but the rest of the time, he couldn’t focus. He was also quite emotional and was getting into fights with the other kids. The school was supportive,” she continues, “and recommended we have him tested for ADHD but when I asked what we could do at home to help him, they didn’t have any ideas.”
Nevertheless, there are alternative ways of tackling ADHD and where the child’s symptoms aren’t too severe, says Professor Eric Taylor, Head of Child Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and an adviser with ADDISS, a charity providing information, training and support to parents and professionals dealing with ADHD, parents are well-advised to try them. “The most important thing is for parents to stay calm and positive,” Professor Taylor advises. “Obviously, this can be very difficult but offering encouragement can be helpful.” Taking a parenting course is a good way of finding out about such techniques, he suggests, adding, “but ADHD is absolutely not due to bad parenting and it’s really unfortunate when other people take that attitude. It’s 80 per cent in the genes.”
One thing to try, Taylor suggests, is to note any foods that seem to exacerbate a child’s behaviour. “It would be different for everyone,” he says, “but citrus fruits, dairy produce, wheat flour and preservatives are commonly found to cause problems. Eliminating them from the diet should be done with the help of a dietician.” Studies published in recent years have shown that high doses of fish oil can hugely improve concentration and behaviour in children, however, in Taylor’s opinion this will only bring about a 5-6 per cent improvement.
Another study, published in July this year in, ‘Mind & Body, The Journal of Psychiatry,’ in the USA, found that transcendental meditation improved brain function in children with ADHD. First introduced to the UK in 1959, TM is a method of relaxing and rising above mental activity in order to achieve wellbeing. To learn how to do it you have to have an initial individual session with a teacher who gives you your own secret mantra, a word for you to chant which, it is claimed, produces a balancing effect in the brain.
Some parents may be spooked by this secrecy, fearing a cult-ish approach, however, David Hughes, Director of Communications with the Transcendental Meditation organization in the UK, says this is not the case. “It’s a technique, not a belief system,” he argues. “You don’t have to join any group or be part of any particular religion. Children like it because it’s something they can do for themselves.”
Hughes, himself a TM teacher, says that he has seen many young people helped by the practice. “I once had to give a talk about TM to a sixth-form college,” he continues. “I was surprised because the room was packed and when I asked someone why the talk was so popular they said, ‘we all know the kids here who are already practicing TM and we all want to be like them’. It gives people an aura of calmness and confidence.”
“Within a month we began to see a difference and now my daughter is more organized and can follow instructions”
Linda Drummer from Northampton sought help from homoeopath, Philippa Fibert when her two children, Robin, 8 and Sally, 11, were diagnosed with ADHD. Homoeopathy is an alternative therapy whereby practitioners give their patients minute doses of substances which, they believe, in larger amounts, would cause the condition they are trying to cure. Although it is said to be 100 per cent safe, not everyone is convinced that it actually works.
Drummer, however, has been amazed by the improvements she has seen in her children’s behaviour since taking homoeopathic remedies and hopes that they will soon be able to discontinue their conventional medication.
“It has made a huge difference, not only to their ADHD but to their general health,” she explains. “It’s more than I could ever have hoped for. Within a month we began to see a difference and now, several months into the treatment, my daughter is more organized and can follow instructions,” Drummer continues. “My son’s meltdowns have stopped and he’s able to explain how he feels using words.”
Fibert, formerly a special needs teacher, is currently working on a research project looking at homoeopathy and ADHD. So far, she says, the results have been impressive. “Homoeopathy is good at helping with the emotional periphery of ADHD,” she explains. “The children who come to see me often have low self-esteem because of their condition. Some of them are quite anxious and have nightmares. Homoeopathy can calm them down.”
Other parents have turned to educational kinesiology, also known as Brain Gym, in an attempt to improve their children’s symptoms. This is a system of twenty-six simple, physical exercises designed to develop skills, such as eye tracking and balance which, it is thought, helps the brain to learn and focus. Often these exercises hark back to movements made by babies and young children as they develop.
Teacher and educational specialist Paul Dennison developed Brain Gym in the USA in the 1960’s and ‘70’s while working in remedial learning centres. He also consulted optometrists and chiropractors as part of his research. “Educational kinesiology is very individual,” practitioner Jennifer Hand explains. “The movements performed depend on the person and their needs. Kinesiologists observe, for example, how people use their bodies, the way they come into a room, and we also notice which movements seem to make them feel uncomfortable.”
Exercises might include following an object with your eyes, stretching across the body or gently rocking to and fro. Clients may be advised to gradually repeat these movements over subsequent weeks until they are ‘lodged’ in the brain, rather like learning new dance steps.
“Exercises might include following an object with your eyes, stretching across the body or gently rocking”
Natalie Powell from Berkshire took her son, Ben, 9, to see Hand because of his inability to concentrate at school. “He’s a bright boy and sits quietly and politely in the classroom but he ‘zones out’” Powell explains. “He’ll focus on one word that the teacher has used and then drift off in his imagination without hearing the rest of what was said. He’s behind in his reading and his writing’s not good, either.”
However, within a week the family had noticed some improvement in Ben. “He had been finding it hard to learn to ride a bike,” Powell continues, “but after just one session with Jennifer, he achieved it. It’s an enormous thing for him. A real confidence boost. We’ve only had two sessions so far but we think his concentration has improved, too.”
Interestingly, Powell says that when she thought about her son’s problems, she realized she didn’t always find it easy to focus, either. “I also tend to ‘zone out’ when people are talking to me,” she says. “It’s quite embarrassing! I’ve been trying the Brain Gym exercises, too, and they seem to make me feel more alert.”
However, despite their problems, it’s also important to recognize that ADHD children do have strengths. “They respond to the world intuitively and often make very good salespeople or performers,” Professor Taylor concludes. “Comedian Rory Bremner (Taylor was recently interviewed by Bremner for a radio programme on ADHD) is a prime example of this. We need to respect diversity.”
WHAT IS ADHD?
• ADHD stands for, ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,’ and is thought to affect between 3 and 7 per cent of children in the UK.
• The condition covers a range of behaviours classed as hyperactivity, impulsivity or inattention. Children can show some or all of these behaviours.
• Although these traits are common in most young children, to be considered symptoms of ADHD, they must be worse than expected for the child’s age and intelligence and should have been observed before the age of seven.
• The condition is thought to be due an imbalance of chemicals in the brain or because the parts of the brain which govern behaviour aren’t working properly.
• Boys are four times more likely than girls to suffer from ADHD.
• Conventional medication such as Ritalin is said to be helpful in 70-80 per cent of cases but there can be side-effects such as loss of appetite or difficulty sleeping.
Educational Kinesiology (UK) Foundation braingym.org.uk
Philippa Fibert [email protected]
Jennifer Hand movetolearn.co.uk
The Hyperactive Children’s Support Group hacsg.org.uk
Transcendental Meditation t-m.org.uk
Dreamers, Discoverers and Dynamos: How to Help a Child who is Bright, Bored and Having Problems in School Lucy Palladino tinyurl.com/lucypalladino
Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception Thom Hartmann tinyurl.com/addhartmann
The Kid Friendly Autism and ADHD Cookbook tinyurl.com/adhdrecipe
Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression, Schizophrenia Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride tinyurl.com/campbellmcbride
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