My Child Was Diagnosed With an Attention Disorder...Now What?

"A child with inattentive ADHD can appear distractible, withdrawn, and constantly caught up in daydreams, while a child with hyperactive ADHD can be restless, loud, and prone to interrupting others"
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The realization that my kid had what's referred to in medical circles as an attention deficit disorder was greeted with mixed – and opposing – feelings. On the one hand, there was a sense of relief. I knew that my kid was smart, sincere, and wanted to succeed. He worked hard at tasks he was motivated to do and carried through on less motivating ones, too, but only if he was constantly guided back onto tasks. While this need was extreme and could be maddeningly frustrating, knowing that his struggles were all related to concentration gave me a framework for helping him move forward.

Accompanying and opposing that rather hopeful feeling was one of intense defensiveness. I knew that kids with attention disorders are often medicated with drugs powerful enough to land healthy adults in jail – drugs known as "speed" on the street. On the other hand, I also knew that these drugs had a paradoxical effect in kids with an attention disorder; rather than speeding them up, they slowed them down and helped them concentrate. They have helped a lot of kids. Nevertheless, for me, giving my kid a daily stimulant drug was off the table.

The Promise and Problems of Stimulant Drugs for Attention Disorders

I am a person who prefers lifestyle/wellness solutions over pharmaceutical fixes whenever possible. At the same time, I fully understand that lives have been saved and improved by advances in conventional medicine, and I'm happy to use pharmaceuticals when appropriate. For example, I understand the importance of the health-promoting bacteria that live naturally in our bodies and therefore shy away from knee-jerk use of antibiotics. However, I will certainly take them if I have a serious bacterial infection. Deciding when it's appropriate to use pharmaceuticals vs. alternative approaches involves balancing different factors, chief among them are the side effects of the medication and the availability and efficacy of the alternatives.

The main types of drugs prescribed for an attention disorder are stimulants that exert significant effects on sleep, growth, and other biological functions. These side effects are generally deemed mild by the psychiatric community, and the medications are considered safe; they have helped many kids with severe attention disorders get their lives back. Still, they are a dose of powerful medication to be taken every day throughout childhood, something many parents, myself included, would rather avoid if possible. Alternative approaches, like simple lifestyle changes, homeopathic medication, and therapy,­ have helped many children, without the side effects of stimulant pharmaceuticals. 

Recognize the Signs & Symptoms Specific to Your Kid

It’s also worth mentioning that not all kids experience the same ADHD symptoms, so why offer a one-size-fits-all approach? A child with inattentive ADHD can appear distractible, withdrawn, and constantly caught up in daydreams, while a child with hyperactive ADHD can be restless, loud, and prone to interrupting others. Both children have trouble with their executive functioning, but they express these troubles in different ways. Finding a way to personalize your plan will provide the most success for your child.

We are, after all, individuals, and the lifestyle modifications that we need are different, too-- there are no cookie cutter magic pills that will fix everyone. Personally, I believe that increased awareness of attention deficit difficulties can be helpful for kids whose academic or social struggles are rooted in attention challenges but that only a small subset of kids with these difficulties need stimulant medication. 

Overdiagnosis or Underdiagnosis of Attention Disorders

One question I ask when it comes to the necessity of American childhood staples from tonsil removal to orthodontics is, "How do other countries deal with these issues? Are the interventions we take for granted really necessary or are there alternative approaches?"

An attention disorder is diagnosed – and stimulant drugs are prescribed – more often in the United States than in other countries. In fact, the diagnosis of attention disorders varies widely even within the U.S. Depending on how this variation is framed, you could argue that some kids are not getting the care they need, or you could argue that [an attention disorder] is an over diagnosed condition that allows a "quick fix" for parents and high profits for pharmaceutical companies. The truth is probably somewhere between these extremes.

Talk to Your Child About the Diagnosis and What it Means

For me, my first impulse upon realizing that my kid had attention challenges was to guard against him being defined by them. Instead, I would like to help him with his challenges, while defining him as a unique individual whose brain simply works differently from others.

It’s important that your child feels loved and accepted. Let them know that you’re going to do all you can to help and that they shouldn’t see ADHD as a flaw, but a mere difference. Despite this difference, your child should also know that there are many, many other kids (and adults!) who also have ADHD. He or she is not alone in their diagnosis. It might even be helpful to point out some celebrities who have ADHD, such as the U.S. Olympic champion Simone Biles, Grammy-winning singer and actor Justin Timberlake, actress and activist Emma Watson, and more.

You and your child can both commit to learning as much as you can about ADHD through websites, books, podcasts, or whatever might hold your child’s interest. Being informed is one of the easiest ways to help your child feel empowered.

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Look Into Treatment Options 

There are so many treatment options used to treat ADHD, with stimulant drugs being just one of them. Exploring the pros and cons of each option will help you make an informed decision, perhaps even combining different treatments for a more well-rounded approach. These options include:

  • Psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT), which helps patients change their negative patterns of thinking and alter the way they feel about themselves and their abilities
  • Behavior therapy, which includes training for parents
  • Classroom accommodations, such as extra time on tests, instructions tailored to the child, and multiple breaks 
  • Non-prescription homeopathic medication like Brillia, which uses antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, a key regulator in many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, to reduce ADHD symptoms without harsh chemicals or harmful side effects
  • Herbal remedies like ginkgo biloba, gotu kola, and ginseng
  • Nutritional adjustments, such as adding more omega-3s to your child’s diet, cutting out sugar, and limiting processed foods
  • Prioritizing sleep; studies show that just one extra half-hour of sleep can help reduce impulsivity and restlessness1
  • Mindfulness techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, etc. 
  • Controlling screen time, as the effects of excessive screen time have been shown to mimic and exacerbate ADHD symptoms
  • Prescription medication, which includes non-stimulant and stimulant drugs 

Talk With Your Child’s School

Teachers play just as important a role in your child’s ADHD management as you do. There are numerous things your child’s teacher can provide to help your child thrive, including the classroom accommodations listed above. Other ways to help include providing a daily progress report, which allows easy communication between teachers and parents, and offering rewards when outlined goals have been met. Employing a tutor or coach for your child can also help them stay on task and get more support outside of the classroom. 

The Gifts of Attention Disorders

Among the most helpful approaches to attention challenges is that of Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, who has framed an attention disorder as not only a set of behavioral challenges but also as a set of unique gifts and talents. For example, people with attention disorders tend to be highly creative, energetic and intuitive. These gifts are the other side of a coin that includes getting bored easily, being disruptive, and jumping to conclusions rather than listening carefully – real challenges to be sure, but still only half the picture. Dr. Honos-Webb believes that the focus on attention disorders has resulted in low self-esteem and underachievement because people with attention disorders see themselves as disordered rather than uniquely gifted. So, rather than focusing on their strengths while also working on their challenges, they only see the challenges, and therefore think of themselves as disabled or under-abled. A more holistic approach to attention difficulties is to focus on strengths while also addressing weaknesses, including by changing the person's environment to one that is better suited to someone with an attention disorder. For a child, this can mean talking to teachers about options that are better for their learning style or changing to a more appropriate school – say, one with a more projects-based focus with lots of opportunity for physical movement. For teenagers and adults, this can mean gravitating toward careers that are stimulating and that value innovation and creativity, rather than those that involve routine or that center around following rules.

Understand Your Child’s Challenges

There are many misconceptions about kids with ADHD, one of them being that children with this condition are just lazy. However, brain imaging studies have proven that there are differences in brain development between people who have ADHD and people who don’t, especially when it comes to the prefrontal cortex where executive functions stem.2 Knowing that your child’s challenges are related to executive dysfunction can be a helpful guide in outlining what these challenges are (which may vary according to the individual child):

Common ADHD challenges:

  • Inability to plan ahead
  • Poor impulse control
  • Trouble staying organized
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of focus
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Trouble with multitasking
  • Difficulty following instructions 

Lifestyle-Based Approaches Honor the Whole Child

The biggest advantages of lifestyle-based approaches in the treatment of an attention disorder is that they are not simply focused on a child's weaknesses. Instead, approaches based on cognitive health and mindfulness, along with physical wellness approaches like nutrition, advance the whole child – strengths and weaknesses alike. That's why I took these approaches as my first steps to addressing attention challenges. I am hoping that these interventions, which are fundamentally about how to lead a healthy, fulfilled life regardless of diagnosis status, will be all we need. So far, so good, although I do think it involves more effort on the part of parents and teachers than an approach based on medication.

Of course, medical solutions are also supposed to incorporate lifestyle changes. However, the parents I know whose kids are on prescription attention disorder medication have received little if any guidance on lifestyle approaches, and their children's attention disorder is firmly treated as a medical disorder, a disease, rather than a difference that is challenging but also provides its own strengths. Personally, I am not convinced that an attention disorder is truly a disease-- it could be thought of more as simply a genetic characteristic-- and I'm suspicious of an approach that characterizes a challenging difference as a disease in large part because a drug can make life easier. (By that same logic, since amphetamines in adults can keep them awake for days at a time, does this mean that sleeping is a disease? Certainly not. It is a challenge to need to spend ~1/3 of our lives sleeping when we could really use that time to get things done, but that challenge is simply a part of who we are as human beings. We can address our time limits through different means.)

A lifestyle-based approach without stimulant drugs can be a challenging path to follow – a rougher road, but perhaps a more rewarding one. At the very least, though, we owe it to our children to start by trying non-pharmaceutical approaches. If after trying lifestyle-based approaches, we feel our child still needs medication, we can always move forward from there. Another advantage to this approach is that the lifestyle approaches will convey some degree of benefit, so that perhaps a lower dose of prescription drugs are needed.

Above all, as you choose the best path forward, remember that your child is not flawed but is a unique individual with gifts to be nurtured and harnessed, not suppressed. Yes, it's challenging, but remember that while attention disorders may be officially designated as a disorder, others view attention disorders as a superpower – one shared by entrepreneurs such as Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, and JetBlue founder David Neeleman, who has said that "if someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your [attention disorder], I would take [attention disorder]." Never lose sight of your child's fundamental nature as a unique little superbeing who can change the world with their gifts, given the support and guidance to let those gifts blossom. Brillia’s five-pillar approach is a gentle way to do this. With an approach based on optimizing a child's health and gently assisting with the challenge of attention disorder symptoms, Brillia may be just what you need to let your child bloom.

And if you need more support, try non-prescription Brillia for Children, clinically proven to reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, and restlessness by stabilizing the S100B protein as well as the level of feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain. The medication is not habit-forming, does not cause drowsiness, lethargy, or depression, nor does it mask your child’s personality.

Learn more about how Brillia works and find more resources and tips for parents on managing ADHD symptoms at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/can-you-treat-adhd-without-drugs, 2https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11462751/

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