You've got past the terrible twos and even threes, so you think that everything is going to be plain sailing. But then your child turns into a monster, and by the time that they are six or seven you are having real trouble. The school is complaining that your child is disruptive in class, he's in trouble for fighting and has a whole range of other problems. At home he seems to challenge you at every turn, temper is taking on new dimensions and everything you've tried doesn't work. Being strict is a waste of breath, bribery is a failure and reasoning is also a waste of time. You know that he's bright and is capable of good work and even better behaviour given the right circumstances.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Recognise the Problem
The first stage, and often one of the most difficult, is to acknowledge that a problem exists. People will tell you that the child is 'a character' or 'a live wire', but you must realise that there is an underlying problem.
Do not be afraid to think about the 'A' word - autism. The autistic spectrum is extremely wide ranging and covers a huge number of behaviours and symptoms. These range from a mild attention deficit though to hyperactivity and on to fully autistic children, with all shades between.
We shall confine ourselves to the lower end of this spectrum, as the more severe forms need different approaches.
So What Are We Talking About?
Hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder is known under the combined term of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and covers a range of behaviours that include restlessness, poor sleeping, low concentration levels and impulsiveness.
The Tell-Tale Signs
The signs associated with ADHD are as diverse as the children themselves and can include some (or all) of the following:
- Poor concentration
- Constant fidgeting
- Poor organisational skills
- Poor social skills
- Poor sleep patterns
- Inability to wait in queues
- Low self esteem
Recognising combinations of these symptoms can be a guide to help diagnose the problem. Remember that the problem of low self esteem can lead to other social issues and may need to be dealt with as a separate (though complimentary) problem.
What Does the Future Hold?
Children with ADHD are just as intelligent as others, and in many cases have above average intelligence. Unfortunately their level of achievement is undermined by their inability to concentrate, sit still, etc. Even mild cases of ADHD can cause problems in a busy class, where the teacher cannot cope with continued distractions. This can also lead to teasing and bullying from class mates making their poor social skills even worse.
Given help and with time these things can be overcome and the child will develop into a fully functional person and grow to their full potential.
How and Why?
Both how and why are the big questions when confronting ADHD. No one seems to be able to give an answer to either, but there are some clues. Boys suffer more than girls and blonde boys appear to be most affected.
This may point to a genetic cause, indeed in the case of identical twins if one suffers with ADHD then there is an 80% chance the other will also be affected. Non identical twins have about a 40% chance of both being affected.
Another strong possibility is dietary factors. Excesses of sugar, additives, preservatives, pesticides and salicylates have also been linked with the occurrence of ADHD.
Salycylates are Aspirin-like compounds that occur in many foods, such as apples, grapes, carrots, broccoli, some nuts, cola, tea, coffee, oranges and yeast in some products. Certain additives, such as E102 (tartrazine), have been known to trigger bouts of hyperactive behaviour.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency
Yet another possibility is a deficiency of key vitamins and minerals. A low level of vitamin B6 has been shown to affect behaviour in adults as well as children. Studies in the US have shown great results when using B6 supplements on violent offenders in juvenile prisons. This is often aided with fatty oils such as those in fish. Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids as found in oily fish, cabbage and spinach are thought to aid the carriage of B6 to the brain.
The absorbtion of B6 can be stopped by yeast overgrowth in the intestines. There are theories that oral antibiotics given to young children for minor and reoccurring complaints such as ear infections, sore throats and coughs destroy the natural balance in the gut, thus allowing yeast to flourish. One such theory postulates that this is the cause for the rise of ADHD and autism in the last 20 years, as injected antibiotics are rarely given these days compared to the 1950s etc.
Toxins, such as heavy metals in the blood, may also be a contributing factor. Lead, mercury and copper are all harmful in high levels.
The Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine
As an aside, there is some evidence now emerging that children who have problems mentioned above, particularly intestinal problems (leaky gut) are pushed into an autistic condition when given the MMR vaccine. There is not any concrete proof of this but there could be a connection.
So What Now?
The treatments of ADHD have grown to be as diverse as the theories about its occurrence. Possibly the most well known is the use of Ritalin. This medicine is known to work and clinics have reported a success rate of 80 to 95%. The drug is a stimulant that is thought to bring brain activity up to normal levels and therefore improves all of the symptoms. It can lead to a reduction in aggression as well.
The down side is that Ritalin is a class 2 drug, in the same category as amphetamines and methadone. Long term use can lead to psychosis, mania and it is addictive. Children may also become lethargic and depressed. Therefore, in the short term, Ritalin is a useful tool but cannot be seen as a long term solution.
There is a move at this time to holistic treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage and homeopathy. These are all useful weapons in the struggle but the oils and essences used may actually be acting as mineral and vitamin supplements.
The greatest strides in a non-drug orientated approach have been taken in the area of diet.
Diet and ADHD
As already mentioned, the absence of fatty oils and B group vitamins, or the excess of toxins, be they metals or additives, can be combatted with changes in diet. Taking fish oil and vitamin B6 capsules, along with a vitamin C supplement has been shown to have beneficial results.
Some foods can also act as a trigger to start of bouts of hyperactive behaviour. The most common are colourings, flavourings, preservatives, cows' milk, chocolate, cheese, wheat, sugar and oranges. Lesser triggers can include fish, eggs, citrus, bananas and tap water.
One diet that seems to have positive results is the Feingold diet. Dr Feingold (a Californian peadiatrician) has devised a diet to eliminate salicylates, thus stopping the nervous system overreacting to these compounds.
One word of warning, do not put children on a restrictive diet without medical supervision. You may do other harm by omitting crucial elements from their diet. Also, behaviour may worsen with the removal of a trigger food. Hyperactive behaviour is like a drug rush and a sudden removal may cause problems.
One Child's Story
The child concerned was a very bright toddler, but into reception year and then onward it was clear that there was a problem brewing. All of the classic symptoms were on display but the parents did not acknowledge the problem for some time. They were prompted by a friend with an autistic son to consider ADHD. Their GP dismissed this idea, but they decided to check for themselves. Their first step was an organic acid test; this revealed an extremely high level of yeast overgrowth and the associated low B6 level. More tests confirmed this and a regime of supplements was prescribed by the consultant that had been engaged to look at the case.
The child's diet was changed to organic with no colouring or E numbers. In a short time the improvement was quite dramatic and the parents were rightly pleased.
Then the set back came. They suddenly seemed to be going backwards. Several days of testing for food triggers followed and a set of desensitising vaccines were prescribed. Alongside this a rotation diet was introduced. This meant dairy on one day, wheat on another, rice on another on so on, which gave the body time to wash out one type of food before it had to deal with it again. This stopped a build up of triggers.
The child concerned is now seven and is improving every week. Its reading age is up, so is that in written work and so on. Behaviour is greatly improved and the family is looking forward every day. The Education Authority also sent a behavioural specialist to help with low self-esteem; this was another step forward.
Does this Help?
This case shows that there is a way for children to improve and that results will be gained differently with every child.
The important thing is not to give up on bright children whose education may be wasted because of a lack of trying. Many children must have gone through the education system and been labelled as troublesome when there was an easy answer to their troubles.