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Attention Deficit Disorder
4) Therapies that reverse symptoms of ADHD
ADD/ADHD Article Index

At five years old, Jessie was a highly imaginative child. She could spend hours making up stories and play-acting the parts of the characters. She was strong-willed with a tendency to exhibit very high highs and very low lows. Physically, she had shown great caution, shying away from attempts to learn to swim or ride a bike. Her strengths were more verbal and creative. Because of this, her mother Anne thought Jessie would do well in school academically, but that the controlled atmosphere might present a bit of a challenge. She was not, however, prepared for the extent of that challenge. Shortly after Jessie started kindergarten, Anne began receiving calls from Jessie’s teacher, informing her of her daughter’s disruptive behavior, which continued and worsened throughout the school year. Jessie was obviously intelligent.

The fact that she was having difficulty adapting to life in the classroom was frustrating for everyone involved. In retrospect, Anne recalls Jessie’s kindergarten year as marked with some very rough spots. It wasn’t until the first grade, however, when the classroom environment became more structured and regimented, with more emphasis on sitting still, focusing and paying close attention, that it grew increasingly difficult for Jessie to cooperate. A typical school day was punctuated by periods of Jessie bursting into tears, for reasons that were not understood and that she could not articulate. Anne, who was a part-time volunteer assistant in Jessie’s class, saw how these outbursts influenced the teacher’s ability to successfully teach the rest of the class.

Anne knew that something needed to be done to help her daughter cope, to preserve her self-esteem and to ensure the success of her education. On the advice of a friend, she took Jessie to see a psychiatrist. 

Ten minutes into their visit the psychiatrist pulled out a diagnostic manual, asked Anne to answer yes or no to a list of about 10 questions, then promptly suggested Jessie be given an I.Q. test. After they left the cold and clinical environment, Jessie begged her mother to never make her go back again. Jessie took the I.Q. test, and she and Anne did return to the psychiatrist. When asked to interpret something visually, Jessie had categorically scored in a much lower percentile than in any other area. However, the psychiatrist failed to suggest that Jessie  might need an eye exam.

Instead, the psychiatrist simply parroted the obvious symptoms back to Anne. “I felt as though she’d had her mind made up about what was wrong with Jessie since the minute she flipped open that diagnostic manual, 10 minutes into our first visit. I could have done that myself,” Anne said. “After six hours altogether of intensive evaluation, all she was saying, basically, was ‘here’s your label, here’s your medication.’”

The label was “a mild case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with co-existing anxiety.” The medication was an anti-depressant. 

A red flag went up for Anne. She had heard of ADD and knew of other parents whose children had been diagnosed similarly and then subsequently medicated. But a gut instinct told her that putting her seven-year-old on a psychotropic, anti-depressant drug was not the right choice.


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On the same day Anne was researching alternative treatments on the Internet,  she received another phone call from Jessie’s teacher, reporting that Jessie had cried all day, consistently interrupting her ability to teach. “At that point, I had already begun researching various schooling options. I was prepared to start home-schooling if I had to,” Anne says. “Things had reached a breaking point. Something had to give.”

It was on that very day that Anne came upon The HANDLE Institute’s Web site. Her interest was sparked and she gave them a call. “I must have kept the person who answered the phone on the line for at least an hour. It was the first time I felt like I was getting answers to my questions that really made sense.”

Soon thereafter, Anne attended the community information night that The HANDLE Institute provides regularly, where Judith Bluestone, the institute’s founder and director, or another certified HANDLE practitioner, gives an overview of HANDLE’s basic philosophies and treatment methods. (“HANDLE” is an acronym for Holistic Approach to Neurodevelopment and Learning Efficiency and the Institute is located in Seattle.) “I learned more in those two hours than in all the previous months combined,” Anne says. “Needless to say, I was relieved. Not only were my questions finally being answered, Judith was the first person to say to me, ‘we can fix this.’”  Judith also explained that while stimulant medication may help a person focus attention by speeding up neural processing, the same thing can be encouraged to develop naturally by increasing the white fatty myelin sheath on connective neural fibers. Fatter nerves process more rapidly. And myelin, the “fat,” increases with repeated organized stimulation/movement and proper nutrition.

Once Anne began to understand the neurobiological roots of Jessie’s disorder, things that hadn’t previously connected began to come together. For instance, in the classroom, Anne had seen a certain look come over Jessie just before she would suffer one of her meltdowns. Her body would tense and stiffen and her eyes would seem to lose their focus. Anne had seen that same look come over her just before she’d suffer a bout of carsickness. She’d sensed a connection, but it wasn’t until she began to learn about the vestibular system that it all started to make sense.  The vestibular system is in the inner ear and not only controls balance but also aids in processing all information from the body, eyes and ears—everything other than smell, taste and touch. [Publisher’s note: many children who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD also have had repeated ear infections; and ear infections can disrupt the vestibular system.]

Jessie’s first appointment at The HANDLE Institute was remarkably different from her previous experiences with other health-care professionals. “Judith made Jessie feel at ease, almost at once. For one thing, she spoke directly to her, as opposed to speaking to me about Jessie as if Jessie wasn’t even in the room.” While speaking to her and asking her questions and directing her to perform certain tasks, Judith observed Jessie’s behavior—essentially, how she used her body while performing these tasks.

For one task, Jessie wrote something as she normally would, with her eyes open, and then was asked to write the same thing again, this time with her eyes closed. Another involved tracking moving objects with her eyes without moving her head. For Judith, such tasks were insightful in determining what was happening neurologically with Jessie. As analytical as the tasks were, Jessie never felt pressured or scrutinized. In fact, she was having fun. “She was laughing much of the time during that first visit,” Anne says. As opposed to the experience with the psychiatrist, Jessie literally “couldn’t wait to go back.”

When they did go back the next day for the follow-up appointment, Judith presented Jessie with a profile of her neurological strengths and weaknesses. No label, no medication: just an outline of what the specific neurological challenges were that Jessie was facing as an individual, and then a program of non-drug, gentle at-home activities aimed at correcting them.

Anne and Jessie began the suggested at-home activities immediately, many of which seemed deceptively simple. For example, one activity that builds and strengthens neural connections between the left and right sides of the brain, enabling a person to integrate or communicate between the two more easily, resembles a pat-a-cake game. “The Seated Clapping Game” is specifically designed to simulate cross-pattern crawling, and in so doing, enhance “interhemispheric integration.”

Another activity Jessie performed was designed to help her establish which of her eyes would be “dominant.” We all have a dominant eye that is responsible for focusing, and a non-dominant eye that monitors the periphery. In Jessie’s case, which of her eyes would play the dominant role had not been established. This caused her eyes to rapidly and consistently switch dominance, which in turn caused her attempts to read to be difficult and frustrating. In the activity “Blind Copy,” Jessie would wear a pair of glasses with two different colored lenses, then draw or write with a colored pen that disappeared behind the lens of the non-dominant eye. Through this activity, which took only a few minutes a day, her visual problem was being corrected by training her dominant eye to stay dominant. It was extremely important to monitor that Jessie did not overdo this, or any other activity,  because that, too, could weaken or even damage the very systems that needed strengthening.

The results of such activities, employed through the HANDLE philosophy of Gentle EnhancementSM, were not immediate, but they have been permanent. “We began the therapy in March of her first grade year. Definitely, by the summer we were noticing huge improvements in her large motor skills.” That summer, Jessie learned to do a cartwheel, bicycle and swim, feats that had appeared much too daunting to her before. “We were very anxious to see what the next school year would bring.”

They devotedly followed the individualized therapies throughout the summer, as Jessie’s program changed in keeping with her progress in various areas of development. The beginning of Jessie’s second grade year was uneventful. “One of the effects of her disorder was that she had tended to miss social cues. Because her eyes were not able to properly focus, she couldn’t make eye contact for long, and was not adept at reading emotions, like anger or sadness from peoples’ faces. For the first time ever, she started not only making friends, but also keeping them.”

Academically, she had some catching up to do, but she was managing it well. “She was keeping up. For the first time, Jessie was just another kid in the classroom. Not a behavior problem.”

Anne feels this could not have happened without the help of The HANDLE Institute. She is grateful for what they have done for her family, and especially for Jessie. I overhear parents talking about how they won’t be satisfied unless their child is at the top of their class,” Anne says. Considering Jessie’s level of intelligence and her vivid imagination, there’s a fine chance that once she’s completely caught up, she might just be one of those kids. However, it’s always a matter of perspective and after everything they’ve been through, the fact that “Jessie fits in now,” is satisfaction enough.  

Other Effective Non-Drug Treatments for ADD/ADHD
Jessie’s success story is inspirational, but it isn’t unique, except for the fact that her mother chose not to go the conventional route. Many to most children who have ADD (which The HANDLE Institute has renamed “Attentional Priority Disorder”—see article II), frequently require a program such as HANDLE or Brain Gym (organized patterned movement to stimulate brain function) to organize the body-brain for perception and motor response. However, the use of natural healing remedies and the adjustment of diet also play a major role in healing.

Remove Foods with Additives and Eat Organic
As far back as 1967, Dr. Ben F. Feingold, a pediatrician and allergy specialist, came to suspect that hyperactive behavior in children—or what was being referred to back then as “minimal brain dysfunction”—can often be linked to artificial colors and flavors in foods. He found that since WWII, there had been a dramatic rise in these cases that directly coincided with the rise of synthetic additives in certain foods and soft drinks. Contrary to what he suspected at first, he found that children are not allergic to these additives, but that the adverse reaction stems from “no natural body defense against the synthetic additives.”

After putting numerous hyperactive children on his now famous “Elimination Diet,” and witnessing a success rate that was impossible to ignore, Dr. Feingold became convinced that his theory was correct. His book, Why Your Child is Hyperactive, covers many of these cases. It also explains how the elimination diet works and offers advice on menu planning as well as some basic, easy-to-prepare recipes.

Organic food is the safest and best food to eat, especially for those with ADD. Organic food is usually free of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, don’t contain synthetic preservatives and additives, are minimally processed, are more nutritious and taste better. The health benefits far outweigh the little additional cost associated with organic foods.

Reduce or Eliminate Sugar
Unfortunately, a common food we feed our children also happens to be the most detrimental to their health. Sugar has been implicated in countless studies as being the key or sole contributor to hyperactivity in children. Skye Weintraub, N.D., the author of Natural Treatments for ADD and Hyperactivity, writes “Many children are highly sensitive to sugar and most of the sweets in their diet. This is because most children are fast metabolizers. When there is the combination of a fast metabolism and excessive sugar intake, the result can be behavior that is bizarre, anti-social or even destructive.”

All of us who have eaten sugar have experienced the low that overcomes us once the initial speedy effects of the sugar have moved through our blood streams. This low is exaggerated in children and can take the forms Weintraub mentions. As you attempt to find a long-term cure for your child’s symptoms, eliminating sugar from your child’s diet—in all of its sly and well-disguised forms, including cereals, baked goods and especially soft drinks—is a good first step.

Natural Medicine
Another successful natural treatment for ADD involves the process of detoxification and reversing nutritional deficiencies. Either inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals or an inability to assimilate vitamins and minerals because of toxin overload can cause nutritional deficiencies, which in turn debilitate the overall health and the capacity of the brain to function normally.  When attempting to determine the cause of a problem, naturopathic doctors routinely screen for nutritional deficiencies as well as for the prevalence of various forms of toxicity. Naturopaths will often prescribe a dietary change, use herbs and other natural substances to detoxify the body and suggest supplements which will build overall nutrition.*

Homeopathy has shown a high success rate in treating the symptoms of ADD. Relying on a principle called “the Law of Similars,” homeopathic medicine maintains that “substances that cause symptoms can also cure them.” Ironically, Ritalin works in a somewhat homeopathic manner. It is a stimulant, yet it calms down hyperactive children. However, as a psychotropic drug, Ritalin has many harmful side effects that homeopathic remedies, because of their extensive dilution and the fact that they are given in microdoses, simply do not[1].

In their book, Ritalin Free Kids, Judith Reichenburg Ullman, N.D., M.S.W., and Robert Ullman, N.D., present numerous case studies of children who end up showing remarkable improvements after being treated homeopathically, often after just one dose.

The Ullmans say that the key to treating a child who is suffering from ADD lies in determining what is unique about that child’s behavior and circumstance. “Each individual has a state. That state is the mental-emotional-physical stance that the person has adopted. For every imaginable state, there corresponds one homeopathic medicine” that best matches it.

One of the first cases presented in their book involves a young boy named Jimmy. Jimmy suffered profound abuse and neglect from his mother. Because of this, he “kept in constant motion out of a subconscious effort to dull his pain or to escape.” After evaluating him, the Ullmans prescribed the homeopathic remedy they felt matched his state most accurately, and after only two days, improvements could be seen in the level of his hyperactivity. They followed his progress for two years, during which time he continued to improve.

There are too many cases like Jimmy’s to ignore. Homeopathy is a valid and viable, safe and non-toxic approach to healing. It is also relatively inexpensive. “The only significant cost of homeopathic treatment is office visits. Once the person has responded well to the medicine…appointments are infrequent.” It is not recommended that you attempt to diagnose your child yourself and purchase a remedy from a health-food store. It takes a skilled naturopathic physician to properly evaluate a person, so that she or he can then prescribe the most appropriate medicine for the person.

Follow Your Intuition
Just as there are varying causes of ADD, there are also varying cures.

If your child has been diagnosed as having ADD, and you would like to avoid the conventional route of labeling and medicating, but you’re confused about which direction you should take, perhaps the wisest thing you can do is what Anne did: Follow your gut instinct, because there are highly successful natural options for curing ADD.

*More information on nutrition and toxicity specific  to ADD/ADHD can be found on The HANDLE Institute’s website: www.handle.org/index2.html.

>>> Continue to: Part 4

Bibliography

1. Anderson, Nina & Peiper, Howard. A.D.D. The Natural Approach. East Canaan, CT: Safe Goods, 2000.

2. Feingold M.D., Ben F. Why Your Child is Hyperactive. New York, NY: Random House, 1975.

3. Reichenberg-Ullman N.D., M.S.W., & Ullman N.D., Robert, Ritalin Free Kids. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996.

4. Sahley Ph.D., Billie J. Is Ritalin Necessary? San Antoinio, TX: Pain & Stress Publications, 1999.

5. Weintraub N.D., Skye. Natural Treatments for ADD/ADHD and Hyperactivity. Pleasant Grove, UT: Woodland Publishing Incorporated, 1997.

Notes

[1] Judith Reichenberg-Ullman, N.D., M.S.W., and Robert Ullman, N.D., “Ritalin Free Kids”, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, California, 1996.

Article By Carmela D'Amico & Larry Cook