I first began doing research on ADHD in 1997. Following an imagery workshop and over a margarita, my friend, Dr. Annabelle Nelson, and I decided to write a grant together for NCCAM funding. This led me to pursue a PhD in psychology.
I continued with ADHD research, leading to a doctorate on ADHD, examining everything from biochemistry to patient beliefs. When I turned in a paper to Dr. Stanley Krippner on the Neurophysiology of ADHD, he had only one question for me, “do you believe in the diagnosis?” It is a good question.
What I discovered is that some like the diagnosis for reasons such as insurance coverage or additional care in school, or simply because it helps to have a name for something and the feeling that you can now do something about it. Others do not like it. They do not want their child to be labeled, marginalized, or discriminated against.
Out of concern for children’s growing sense of self and self-esteem, I explain the condition in terms of brain diversity rather than calling it a disorder. I do not see any helpfulness or healing value in telling a child that they are disordered. Possibly the DSM will in time drop the last D for this reason, as the military did for PTS (formerly PTSD).
One of the discoveries of my doctorate research was the emergence of a new cultural construct of ADHD children as the rhythm keepers of society. Children diagnosed with ADHD are naturally drawn to rhythm, and rhythm naturally heals by limbic arousal and dopamine release along the pleasure pathway in the brain. We have a need for rhythm keepers in society, think of musicians, dancers, poets, painters, potters, athletes, astronauts, monks, and shamans. As the biomedical explanatory model of ADHD shows dopamine inhibition, dopamine release by rhythmical activity may be an important part of the solution.
What I know for sure is that it helps to address ADHD individually and holistically. Yes, ADHD is an umbrella diagnosis. Trauma can cause symptoms that look like ADHD. In 83% of cases in my doctorate research, a stressor (e.g. divorce, move, changing schools) preceded the diagnosis.
Pharmaceutical therapy works for some, but others do not like it. Children often tell me that they stop taking their medications because they don’t like the way it makes them feel. At least 60% of the time, children create their own pharmaceutical regime. Parents are usually (73%) aware of the adverse effects of pharmaceuticals. In my opinion, due to the potential harm that drugs could have on the developing brain and our lack of research on long-term effects, pharmaceutical therapy should be a last resort, rather than a first line treatment approach in children.
Biochemical support from diet, nutrition and natural supplements makes a lot of sense. When it comes to supporting the ADHD brain biochemically, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, zinc, and B-complex vitamins are a no brainer. There is ample evidence that these nutrients can be deficient in this condition and that supplementation can be beneficial for this condition.
Can children also learn skills to better manage their condition? Absolutely. I began doing therapy with children diagnosed with ADHD in 2003. What we found were improvements in parent, child, and teacher ratings on the Conners Rating Scale for ADHD using mind-body therapy. This mind-body therapy was comprised of expressive art, meditation, education, and imagery. It results in the building of emotional intelligence and self-esteem, and the training of attentional and relaxation skills. Children gain positive coping and resilience.
ADHD is a multi-faceted condition which may need a multi-faceted treatment approach. A holistic solution for ADHD embodies assistance from food, supplements, and exercise, emotional support from counseling/therapy, and your personal spiritual practices. The holistic solution for children diagnosed with ADHD includes the parents-helping parents to manage stress, cope with feelings (50% of moms feel guilty) and answering parenting questions. In addition, holistic solutions for ADHD involves lifestyle choices: make use of what betters the condition (e.g. routine, stability, exercise), allow your child to pursue their interests, play to your child's strengths and unique gifts and talents, and address learning style and optimal learning environment. In grounded theory analysis, we found that children diagnosed with ADHD are talented and gifted children (93%).