When most parents hear “ADHD” their minds immediately jump to medication. While medications such as Ritalin and Adderall have been miracle drugs with some children, most children see the most significant improvement in focus and behavior when combining medication with therapy. Behavior therapy has proven to be very effective in improving behavior in every day situations and social skills.
TherapyWorks offers treatment for children with ADHD and can help come up with behavior goals, social skill training and how to improve social interactions with peers. We also offer a social skills group so your child can practice their social skills with peers. This article by Jocelyn Block, M.A., and Melinda Smith, M.A. highlights alternative treatments and how therapy can work in conjunction with medication.
Treatment for ADD/ADHD isn’t just about taking medication. There are many other effective treatments that can help kids with ADD/ADHD improve their ability to pay attention, control impulsive behavior, and curb hyperactivity. Nutritious meals, play and exercise, and learning better social skills are all part of a balanced treatment plan that can improve performance at school, improve your child’s relationships with others, and decrease stress and frustration. (cont’d)
ADD / ADHD treatment and help: Medication isn’t the only answer
Stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are often prescribed for attention deficit disorder, but they might not be the best option for your child—and they’re certainly not the only treatment.
Medications for ADD/ADHD may help your child concentrate better or sit still, at least in the short term. But to date, there is little evidence that they improve school achievement, relationships, or behavioral issues over the long term. And even in the short term, medication won’t solve all problems or completely eliminate the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
Furthermore, there are concerns about the effects these powerful drugs may have on a child’s developing brain. And the side effects—such as irritability, loss of appetite, and insomnia—can also be problematic.
The bottom line: medication is a tool, not a cure. And it is most effective when combined with other treatments that address emotional and behavioral issues.
What you need to know about medication for ADD / ADHD
- Everyone responds differently to ADD/ADHD medication. Some children experience dramatic improvement while others experience little to no relief. The side effects also differ from child to child and, for some, they far outweigh the benefits. Because everyone responds differently, finding the right medication and dose takes time.
- Medication for ADD/ADHD is more effective when combined with other treatments. Your child will get much more out of your medication if he or she is also taking advantage of other treatments that teach new coping skills.
- ADD/ADHD medication should always be closely monitored. Medication treatment for ADD/ADHD involves more than just taking a pill and forgetting about it. Your child’s doctor will need to monitor side effects, keep tabs on how your child is feeling, and adjust the dosage accordingly. When medication for ADD/ADHD is not carefully monitored, it is less effective and more risky.
- If you choose to put your child on medication, that doesn’t mean he or she has to stay on it forever. Although it isn’t safe to bounce off and on any drug repeatedly, you can safely decide to stop treating your child’s ADD/ADHD with medication if things aren’t going well. If you want your child to stop taking medication, be sure to let your doctor know your plans and work with him or her to taper off the drugs slowly.
As a parent, you have a huge influence over your child’s treatment. Evidence shows that eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and making other smart daily choices can help your child manage the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. That means your child can begin treatment for ADD/ADHD today—at home.
The power of exercise in the treatment of ADD / ADHD
The benefits of “green time”
Studies show that spending time in nature can reduce the symptoms of ADD/ADHD in children. Encourage your child to play outside for at least 30 minutes each day, if possible.
Exercising is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise and medications for ADD/ADHD such as Ritalin and Adderall work similarly. But unlike ADD/ADHD medication, exercise doesn’t require a prescription and it’s side effect free.
Activities that require close attention to body movements, such as dance, gymnastics, martial arts, and skateboarding, are particularly good for kids with ADD/ADHD. Team sports are also a good choice. The social element keeps them interesting.
The importance of sleep in ADD / ADHD treatment
Regular quality sleep can lead to vast improvement in the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. However, many kids with ADD/ADHD have problems getting to sleep at night. Sometimes, these sleep difficulties are due to stimulant medications, and decreasing the dose or stopping the medication entirely will solve the problem.
However, a large percentage of children with ADD/ADHD who are not taking stimulants also have sleep difficulties. If your child is one of them, the following tips can help.
- Set a regular bedtime (and enforce it).
- If background noise keeps your child up, try a sound machine or a fan.
- Turn off all electronics (TV, computer, video games, iPhone) at least an hour before bed.
- Limit physical activity in the evening.
Good nutrition can help reduce ADD / ADHD symptoms
Studies show that what, and when, you eat makes a difference when it comes to managing ADD/ADHD.
- Schedule regular meals or snacks no more than three hours apart. This will help keep your child’s blood sugar level, minimizing irritability and supporting concentration and focus.
- Try to include a little protein and complex carbohydrates at each meal or snack. These foods will help your child feel more alert while decreasing hyperactivity.
- Check your child’s zinc, iron, and magnesium levels. Many children with ADD/ADHD are low in these important minerals. Boosting their levels may help control ADD/ADHD symptoms. Increasing iron may be particularly helpful. One study found that an iron supplement improved symptoms almost as much as taking stimulant medication.
- Add more omega-3 fatty acids to your child’s diet. Studies show that omega-3s improve hyperactivity, impulsivity, and concentration in kids (and adults) with ADD/ADHD. Omega-3s are found in salmon, tuna, sardines, and some fortified eggs and milk products. However, the easiest way to boost your child’s intake is through fish oil supplements.
Although there are many ways you can help a child with ADD/ADHD at home, you may want to seek professional help along the way. ADD/ADHD specialists can help you develop an effective treatment plan for your child. Since ADD/ADHD responds best to a combination of treatments and strategies, consulting several specialists is advisable.
Part 2 will be published Friday, May 30.