Tuning In Your ADD/ADHD Child

tv-head-childAll of us know children who have a hard time staying still, who find it difficult to listen, who can’t follow directions no matter how many times you present them, and who occasionally blurt out comments at the most inopportune times. Often the criticism is poorly aimed. Are they just being kids, or could they be suffering from attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?  ADD/ADHD can make it difficult for a person to inhibit his spontaneity. The diagnosis is not a simple one, and too often relies on nothing but subjective reports from school personnel and parents, leading to a prescription pad resolution. A complete examination is required for diagnosis. Have there been any sudden life changes, such as divorce, moving, death in the family, or entering a new school? Have thyroid and sleep problems been considered? How about anxiety or depression? Could there be heavy metal toxicity or other toxic exposure?

Some kids with ADD are hyperactive, but not all. Some have a physiological reason, some don’t. Many are able to pay close attention to things they like, while others get bored quickly. Some are impulsive or quick-tempered. Those who seem disobedient may not be so intentionally. Whether they outgrow this or not is anyone’s guess; there are plenty of adults with ADD/ADHD.  As often as drugs are prescribed, they might not be the best option for you or your child. At one end of the spectrum, there are the hyperactive kids; at the other end are the quiet dreamers who stare off into space. Bad parenting is not an issue, but effective parenting strategies can go a long way to correct problems.

One theory of ADD/ADHD has to do with a person’s executive function, which involves the cognitive processes needed to organize thoughts and actions, to prioritize tasks, to manage time efficiently, and to make decisions. Looking at this list, we might know more people with executive dysfunction than we thought, especially when it comes to situations that require the control of habitual responses or of resisting temptations. Occasionally a parent hears that his child is a joy in the classroom, making the parent wonder why that doesn’t hold true at home. More often, however, the parent hears the opposite. In school, the teacher’s strategies to manage executive function problems might include inhibition, organization of materials, peer tutoring and other student-friendly approaches. Parent strategies often stop at inhibition, others being clouded by frustration. Weakness in executive function may not be characteristic of all cases of ADD/ADHD, but appear to be one important component of the disorder (Willcutt, 2005).  Adults with frontal lobe damage exhibit similar behaviors as children suspected of having the ADD/ADHD spectrum, leading some researchers to associate the physiological dysfunction while implicating the catecholamine neurotransmitters that respond to the stressors that arouse fight or flight (Faraonea, 1998).

Have you ever heard static on your radio or seen a snowy picture on the TV? That kind of interference in a child’s brain can jostle the connections. You might be able to tune out extraneous input and focus on what has your interest, like Sunday’s football game, but kids can’t always do that because, first of all, their brains are far from being completely wired and, second of all, they might have a few aberrant neurons. Multiple, simultaneous stimuli compete for neural attention, whether visual or auditory in the case of formal education. It requires purposive attention to separate stimuli and to focus on an assigned task. Therefore, goals need to be announced prior to a task and motivation needs to be stirred. The first part is easy; the second, not. Even in the presence of imminent reward, children may be hard to motivate. Negative feedback or punishment is futile (Stevens, 2012) (Crone, 2003). In some instances there is a need for family counseling, especially where cognitive disorders appear to have a heritable nature.  Attendant conduct disorders (Toupin, 2000) can amplify and become legitimate societal concerns. Socioeconomic status may or may not be involved, although attention disorders may interfere with economic wherewithal, present and future. This may co-occur with food insecurity, in which case nutritional deficit plays a role in ADD/ADHD, where even subtle nutritional irregularities can affect attention and motor behavior (Conners, 1982).

It has been suggested that children of lower socioeconomic status who are academically and behaviorally challenged be supplemented with micronutrients and essential fatty acids to learn if positive changes in cognition, learning and behavior occur, for such effect has been seen in developed and developing societies (Frensham, 2012). No reason was given for targeting this population. Since many educators have had remarkable social and academic interactions with this group, this is curious. Although the cause of ADD/ADHD has not been absolutely identified, its link to vitamin/mineral/fatty acid deficiencies has been proposed. Zinc, iron, magnesium and iodine, and the long-chain polyunsaturated fats may have a profound impact on the development and aggravation of ADD/ADHD symptoms (Konikowska, 2012). The fact is that all of us should keep an eye on levels of these nutrients (Milne, 2000) (Fuchs, 2002).

It has been established that zinc is a co-factor in more than a hundred enzymes, including those that metabolize carbohydrates, prostaglandins and nucleic acids. It has a striking effect on neurotransmission, as well, and may be factored in hyperkinetic disorders, especially noting that children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD suffer from low levels. Low zinc values may point to other nutrient deficits, such as outright malnutrition.  Feasting on bags of snacks and sweets may fill an empty belly, but doesn’t answer physiological needs despite the low cost. Maternal habits that increase exposure to additives, alcohol and smoking during pregnancy are other factors to consider (Dodig-Curkovic, 2009). Magnesium is part of more than three enzymes, and its shortfall is conspicuous in ADD/ADHD individuals. That many youngsters avoid a wide range of vegetables, limiting themselves to corn and French fries, helps to explain this.  Supplementation with these minerals has brought positive outcomes (Starobrat-Hermelin, 1997, 1998) (Kozielec, 1997).

Whether ADD/ADHD will pervade a child’s life or not is undetermined. Many have outgrown the disorder, or at least have matured to the point of controlling the outward signs. Because mature gustatory sense admits a variety of plants into the diet, this alone might make a difference. Being proactive matters and introducing a child to one concept, task or image at a time can make a considerable difference in forming concepts from percepts.

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