Many children are taken to a health professional with a complaint about their behaviour. Sometimes it becomes clear that it is not the child who has the problem, but the parent, who may be unable to cope with a strong minded and very boisterous child. Sometimes, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the child really does have a problem which causes great distress not only to the child but to all those who come into contact with them. Such children are often labelled as suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder) or one of its satellite disorders - ADD (Attention Deficit), ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), CD (Conduct Disorder). There is no blood test or indeed any test to help make a certain diagnosis of ADHD, it is diagnosed on the symptoms alone and these can be variable. Let’s look at the most common of these.
What are the main symptoms?
There are many symptoms of ADHD. Very few children will have all of them, but most children will have the basic three symptoms with the addition of one or two others as well.
The main three symptoms are:
SHORT ATTENTION SPAN
These children may be much unfocused, easily bored, and may be prone to day dreaming. They tend to be unable to concentrate for longer than a few minutes and will often perform badly at school.
These children do not seem to think before they act, and often act with complete disregard for any consequences. This may lead to fearless or reckless behaviour.
Hyperactivity has a few components. There is the physical restlessness with constant kinetic activity - swinging on chairs, tapping toes, constantly moving around, being unable to sit at their desk at school, and only being able to spend a long time doing something if it stimulates them sufficiently e.g. computer games, especially violent ones or arcade games. There may also be extreme loquacity, sometimes with constant humming or whistling.
These are the main symptoms that are common to all cases of ADHD but there are a few others that are commonly seen.
This is not always present but when it is it can be to varying degrees. This can take the form of breaking toys, tearing of books, sometimes just through over boisterous play, or deliberately setting fire to things and cutting up clothes.
Again not always present but when it is again the degree varies, it may take the form of hitting or biting if over excited when playing or bullying and cruelty in an older child.
This is most often seen in oppositional defiance disorder but can be part of ADHD. When a child is asked to stop doing something they will simply say “No”. A teacher may ask a child to put down a game to which the reply will be, “make me”. Abusive behaviour, cursing and swearing is often part of this pattern.
LOW SELF ESTEEM
Thеse children will often have a very low self-esteem from being constantly told off,” you are bad” “you are naughty”. Low self-confidence can also stem from falling behind in class.
These children are very difficult to deal with. When treating these children, who can be extremely challenging, it is important to understand that they are ill and not naughty. They genuinely cannot control their behaviour. This is little comfort to the parents or carers who are often at the end of their tether, having tried many different strategies to try to reach and understand their child.
The orthodox treatment for ADHD is a drug called Ritalin. In America, one in five children are being prescribed Ritalin and we are fast catching up on this side of the pond. This drug is a derivative of cocaine. Its active ingredient is an amphetamine-like chemical called methylphenidate. It may seem strange to prescribe a stimulant to an already over stimulated child but doctors believe that ADHD is caused by a lack of the neuro transmitters that take messages to the brain. By altering the amount of Dopamine (one of the brain's chemical messengers), doctors believe it can help a child to focus. It does seem to help some children, but it is not a cure and has some very disturbing problems associated with it. The side effects are tremors, weight loss, sleeplessness, and possible long term effects on the heart and the endocrine system. Even more worrying is the rapidly growing black market in Ritalin as a recreational drug. The tablets are sold at schools for anything between fifty pence and three pounds per tablet. It is in the top ten lists of stolen drugs. There are plenty of cases emerging of British children raised on Ritalin becoming addicted to it, as well as other stimulants. Many parents or carers do not want their child to be put on to this drug but those who are resisting this medication are getting a hard time from their Doctors and their school. Parents or carers who do put their children on to Ritalin are then eligible for £53 a week disability allowance - a big incentive in poorer areas where the misuse of the drug is also more likely to be rife. Worse still, schools in which a child is on Ritalin get £3300 pound per year extra funding. Take the child off Ritalin and the school gets nothing. It comes as no surprise then that parents who resist Ritalin find themselves being backed into a corner.
What causes ADHD and what can be done to help affected children?
There is probably no single cause of ADHD, rather a complex group of probabilities. The world has changed dramatically, there is now more to do than anyone has time for, television for all children is arranged in two minute sound bites, as that is reckoned to be the average concentration span today. Children are exposed to more violence than ever before in computer games and on television, whilst being fed a diet of chemical cocktails. We all suffer from environmental overload to some degree. The number of children on Ritalin is in the millions worldwide and increasing daily, so whatever the cause it is clearly a problem that cannot be ignored.
The first thing that can be done to help these children is to look at their diet. In a lot of these cases, there seems to be an imbalance in the endocrine system or some weakness in the adrenals and the pancreas. This may lead to an imbalance in blood sugar levels and hunger may make a child’s behaviour worse, after coming out of school for instance. The Adrenal glands are often depleted and this too may lead to erratic energy and highs and lows of mood.
The diet should first of all be altered to address this. All Adrenal-stimulating foods should be avoided wherever possible. These include:
Most parents or carers may already be avoiding food colourings and other additives in food, and this can certainly prove helpful in certain cases.
Homeopathy can be very helpful in these types of cases.
Unscrupulous parents seek ADHD diagnosis for benefits bbc news
The Ritalin Wars Continue West J Med. 2000 Dec; 173(6): 366–367
Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects
Daily Mail: Parent of a child with ADHD? Have a free car under £1.5bn taxpayer-funded scheme