One of the world’s most controversial topics when it comes to children.
When the teacher asks for a meeting to discuss your child’s lack of concentration, inability to sit still, lack of task completion and difficulty in following through with instructions.
What does this all mean?
Most of the time, they will ask you to send your child for a pediatric assessment or to visit an educational physiologist. To the professionals, this is a conversation that they have had many times and does not require much thought as they have been trained to look for these tell, tell signs. To the Mom, it is the most heart breaking, disheartening discussion. Mom walks away, confused, upset and feeling guilty wondering where she went wrong. The reason for this is lack of understanding and fear of medicating your child. Unfortunately a lack of understanding creates fear in parents, as well as all the miss information that we are fed. I have decided that instead of the usual debate about whether you treat your child with Ritalin, homeopathic remedies, or nutrition. I will leave this decision up to you as I know that a Mom always knows best and you will do what you believe is write for your child. Instead I decided to help you understand what ADD/ADHD actually is and why it affects our children.
Here are a few facts that you need to understand, in order to deal with ADD/ADHD and the choices you make when treating it.
WHAT IS ADD/ADHD?
There are 5 main chemicals in the brain that ADD/ADHD people lack that create their disorder.
The brain is full of Neurotransmitters, these are electrical and chemical signals that don’t touch each other, but are delivered through something called the synapse. The welcome receptors open gates which light up the receiving neurons. This is the language the brain used to understand, communicate and function. These Neurotransmitters allow us to think and act. Let me give you a Moms understanding of what this all means.
What are neurotransmitters, and how do they work?
Our brain contains specialized nerve cells, called neurons, which are responsible for receiving information, processing it, and transmitting it to other cells. In order for neurons to pass messages to each other, they rely on highly specialized chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are made out of amino acids, which come from proteins – this is why a balanced diet is so very important. The formation of neurotransmitters requires sufficient levels of dietary protein, in addition to certain vitamins and minerals. The neurotransmitters essentially bridge the “gaps” (called synapses) between neurons to relay their messages. When these neurotransmitters exist at insufficient levels, important information may not be passed along correctly.
HERE ARE THE 5 NEUROTRANSMITTERS RESPONSIBLE
This Neurotransmitter is responsible for sleep, it also needs to be balanced with Dopamine levels in the brain to calm hyperactivity. Serotonin is a signal mediator that helps you to know what you need to pay attention to. If Serotonin is lacking, your brain will get stuck in sleep mode and you will have difficulty processing signals. It will feel like there are hundreds of different T.V.s on at the same time and you are trying to work out which one you need to pay attention to. This will cause you to feel confused, irritable and ultimately it will affect you in the classroom and social situations.
Dopamine is responsible for your memory, attention and problem solving. Dopamine is often referred to as the motivating chemical. Dopamine gives you a feeling of reward when doing a task. A lack of dopamine is often the reason why people have the thrill of starting a task, but then they have to follow through and finish it but there is no motivation or satisfaction to finish. Dopamine controls the flow of information in the brain, a lack of dopamine will cause you to be easily board, it will also leave you with difficulty controlling your body’s movements, and this is where the fidgeting and lack of sitting still comes from. Dopamine is very important for focus and without it you will find things very frustrating.
Opioids are the body’s natural pain reliever. They manage your fight or flight responses. Opioids make you feel relaxed or geared up for an emergency. An imbalance of opioids can leave you with a large feeling of anxiety, because you will not be able to control when you are supposed to be in flight or fight mode. Opioids are also responsible for triggering the release of dopamine. They also affect the levels of GABA in the brain. If you lack levels of opioids, it forces the level of GABA down, which will leave you with a sense of urgency and makes you feel hyperactive and hyper-virulent. You will be over alert and the problem with this is that unless you are under attack, you should not be feeling like this.
This Neurotransmitter regulates your body’s excitability It is a signal mediator that stops the brain cells from firing unnecessary messages. GABA keeps your brain from being bomb badder with tons of signals. GABA is also the building block for the other neurotransmitters. It is like the raw ingredient that you need for everything else to work. If you don’t have enough GABA, you cannot process tasks and you will left feeling overwhelmed. A lack of GABA will leave you with a Dopamine and Serotonin deficiency. You will always feel anxious and over alert. You will feel like you are in constant crisis mode.
NOREPINEPHRINE / EPINEPHRINE
This Neurotransmitter is a natural response to emergency. It increases heart rate and physical readiness. Norepinephrine/ Epinephrine also releases energy. It is like adrenaline, it stimulates the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. If you have a lack of Norepinephrine/ Epinephrine, your vital functions will be way less efficient. This will leave your brain thinking that nothing is critical enough to focus on, and therefor it will be less lightly to think.
All of the above brain chemical levels control, anxiety, focus, mood, and motivation. Now that you have an understanding of the Neurotransmitters in the brain, you will have a better understanding of an ADD/ADHD brain and why the imbalance of these chemicals has the affects it does.
Studies show that brain chemicals, don’t work the same in children with ADHD. There also tend to be differences in the way nerve pathways work. Certain parts of the brain may be less active or smaller in children with ADD/ADHD than those without the disorder.
ADD/ADHD IS HEREDITARY, IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE WAY YOU PARENT although we all know that lack of discipline and boundaries in children can give them a feeling of free will and a lack of listening to commands and tasks given, this will not make a child ADD/ADHD.
MANY CHILDREN ARE MISDIAGNOSED: If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from ADD/ADHD, make sure that you get the correct medical advice, this is a very complexes disorder and the wrong treatment can aggravate the situation and leave your poor child worse off than before. Here are some other examples to look out for. Anxiety, this can often be mistaken for ADD/ADHD because the area of the brain that creates the feeling of anxiety is the same area used for concentration. Therefor if your child is anxious they will not be able to concentrate. The lack of concentration is often picked up in the classroom, but you need to determine if the lack of concentration is due to ADD/ADHD or Anxiety. Another common misdiagnosis is epilepsy, an epileptic child may be suffering from petit mal seizures. These may be confused with daydreaming. There are 7 different types of ADD, it is not as easy as looking at a child and deciding that they do in fact have ADD/ADHD. So Mom, do your homework and always trust your gut feel.
VITAMINS AND DIET CAN HELP WITH ADD/ADHD, BUT IT CAN NOT CURE IT. You can bend over backwards ensuring that your child is the perfect example of nutrition and a balanced diet. This will most definitely help your child to manage their disorder, but unfortunately it will not cure an imbalance in the brain. EPA AND DHA FISH OILS ARE ALSO A VITAL FOR BRAIN FUNCTION.
DIET AND ADD/ADHD CHILDREN: Diet is very important in all children, but children suffering with ADD/ADHD especially must be monitored when it comes to food. Ensure that your child is eating to feed their brain and not their desires. The wrong diet can have a very negative affect on ADD/ADHD children. Ensure that your child is getting the correct amount of protein, protein helps balance the blood sugar levels in the body, it is also necessary for the brains building blocks. If your child is not a big eater or a picky eater, find a protein powder that can be a good source of protein, this will boost their focus and concentration. The brain needs lots of water to function, 80% of the brain is water, so ensure that your child is keeping their brain hydrated. (If you think of it this way that alcohol dehydrates the brain and this causes impaired brain function and lack of judgement.) There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When it comes to food, this pot of gold is called antioxidants. So ensure that your child is eating from a rainbow of colors when it comes to fruit and veg. We all know the saying:” you are what you eat” this is true, try and always eat healthy, fresh foods that don’t contain additives, preservative and artificial flavorings. The healthier you eat, the healthier you are.
I recently had the opportunity to join the South African Sugar Association at their annual nutrition talk. It was incredibly interesting, but what I found most interesting was to learn that through all the millions of studies done to date, to prove that there is no link between sugar, and hyperactivity. Sugar is a vital part of the diet, it provides energy in the purest form. The reason so many people mark sugar in children as the baddy is that they are not talking about table sugar, the component of sugar cane, they are talking about sweets with loads of added flavorings and colorants in it. Table sugar as we know it is made up of two molecules, Glucose and Fructose. When digested the glucose moves to the blood and the fructose to the liver. Fruit contains the natural sugar fructose. If sugar was the cause for hyperactivity, why don’t children become hyperactive when they eat an apple? One large apple, contains approximately 23 grams of sugar. As previously mentioned, ensure that your children get a natural balanced diet. Don’t cut out natural sugar completely as children require it for energy.
TECHNOLOGY AND ADD CHILDREN: ADD/ADHD children often appear that they are addicted to technology. The reason for this is that when these children play with an electronic gadget, it looks like concentration, but it is not. They use a different type of focus on technology in a very different way than the attention they will use at school or in everyday life. The reason for this is that technology attention is sustained attention with frequent rewards. Games enable children to rack up points, move up to higher levels, unlock new settings etc. This all stimulates the dopamine neurotransmitter and it increases every time they achieve. The increase in dopamine leaves gives them the same feeling they get when they are on Ritalin, so electronics to ADD/ADHD children is like self-medicating. Leaving them feeling the same way they do on Ritalin. Technology does not cause ADD/ADHD, but now you can understand the link as to why children who suffer with ADD/ADHD often appear to be addicted to technology. When you understand this, it makes it easier to understand why they are able to spend long periods of time with technology, but they don’t seem to be able to concentrate or sit still for 5 minutes without it.
GETTING THE MEDS CORRECT
My ADD Is Not Your ADD by Daniel G. Amen, M.D., double-board certified psychiatrist / photos credited to Amen ClinicsADD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, autism, and other conditions are not single or simple disorders. They all have multiple types. ADD affects many areas of the brain—the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum primarily, but also the anterior cingulate, the temporal lobes, the basal ganglia, and the limbic system. The 7 types of ADD that I studied are based around three neurotransmitters—dopamine, serotonin, and GABA.The other problem is that a lot of ADD/ADHD cases have another link that lies side by side, for example Anxiety. The process of the correct medication for your child may be an exhausting one so be prepared.
To end I would like to tell you my story with my first son Keagan.
We were called it to the school and told that they wanted Keagan to be assessed for ADD/ADHD. I had been raised to believe that medication was not necessary and the wrong way to go about things. My husband and I had a no way attitude towards medicating our son. From my tummy onward, Keagan had always had vitamins and minerals, top quality fish oils, he ate a good balanced diet, we were doing everything correctly, so why the need for medication? We sent him for recorder lessons to help with his fine motor skills and one on one concentration, and it did help. The following year we were brought in for the same conversation. The problem is that Keagan needed Ritalin. Now don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that it is the same for every child and as I said before, you have to go with your gut feel. We finally had all the tests and assessments done and decided that we had tried everything so maybe it was time for Ritalin. (When I say we tried everything, I mean everything. We took him off wheat, sugar, sweetened dairy the works.) After one week on Ritalin, the difference was amazing, I actually checked if the teacher had accidentally sent the wrong book home as his coloring was beautiful, his writing had improved and he was completing all his work, which was not the norm. The problem is that because we waited so long before we put Keag’s on meds, he is still playing catch up in grade 5. He missed all the fundamental elements needed to write and read. The reason for me sharing this story is to let you know that although I do believe that society has become accustomed to giving children Ritalin and it is not always needed, there are most definitely situations where it is. Here is a prime example: I got a phone call from Keagan’s teacher about a year ago, and she was very concerned and wanted to check that everything was ok. When I asked why she said that Keagan had such a bad day at school, his day was almost a non-starter, he never did any work, and he was irritable and emotional and was not himself. I told her that I would see if there was anything bothering him, but I could not put my finger on what it could be. Later that evening when I was cooking, I was still trying to wrap my head around what could possibly be the problem until the penny dropped that I had forgotten to give him his meds that morning. My boy needs meds. My boy is also funny and sensitive. He has a natural draw and love for nature and he is highly intelligent. He can tell you anything about any animal because that is what he cares about, but sadly he cannot remember to bring his school shoes or lunch box home.
I hope that now that I have helped you understand exactly what ADD/ADHD is. I always stick by the fact that knowledge is power. When you have the knowledge, you can make an informed decision that will be best for you and your family. I am no doctor, I am just another Mother that had to make a hard decision as to what would be best for my Boy. It has been a long, exhausting journey, but I have learned so much along the way, and love the fact that I now have the ability to help others. If you would like to share your comments and experience with us we would love to hear from you.