ADHD Treatment: Although ADHD can’t be “cured”, it can be successfully managed. In most cases, it is best treated with a combination of medicine and behavior therapy, but there are useful alternatives to the regular prescriptions drugs.
You and your doctor will develop a long-term, individualized plan, which will include close monitoring and follow-up and ensure that the symptoms become less severe as the person grows older. The goal here is to help your child control or manage his or her own behavior and impulsive reactions, as well as eliminate any potential triggers or enhancers of the unwanted symptoms.
Your child’s doctor may recommend a long-acting medication regimen as treatment, which will help alleviate the symptoms. However, immediate relief from some of the symptoms is not enough as a stand-alone treatment for ADHD patients.
Your little one will still have to learn skills and apply coping mechanisms in order to manage the disorder, especially as he gets older. In terms of prescription drugs, stimulants are the most commonly used, best-known treatments for ADHD – these include amphetamine (Adderall or Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Metadate CD, Concerta).
Requiring several doses per day and lasting between 4 and 12 hours, stimulants will help your child focus, learn and stay calm.
Another option, which is usually used in conjunction with the first alternative, are non-stimulants. This type of medication lasts up to 24 hours and has less prominent side-effects. The most widely-used brands include Strattera (atomoxetine) and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate). Antidepressants which target the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are also used as a treatment option.
However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning in 2004 that these drugs may lead to an increased risk of suicide in adolescents and children. In the case of the latter, make sure to extensively discuss the pros and cons of this treatment alternative with your doctor. The most efficient are still the stimulants, which are most beneficial in curbing impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Whether you opt for giving your child medication or not, therapy has proven to be remarkably effective in managing ADHD symptoms. Behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy which attempts to change or rewire persistent behavior patterns by reorganizing the child’s school and home environment and by creating a consistent, well-organized system of rewards for positive behaviors and negative consequences for inappropriate ones.
To further understand this process, here are a few examples of the strategies used in psychotherapy to help ADHD patients – avoiding distractions (turning off the computer, TV, cell phone while doing homework), organizing (establishing a place for school supplies, clothing and toys in order to avoid losing them), limiting choices (only offering two items to choose from so that your child is not overstimulated or overwhelmed), using rewards and goals (making a chart to set realistic goals and track positive behaviors), creating a routine (making a schedule and posting it on the wall or a visible place so that your child can see what activities he has to do throughout the day).
Parents, other family members and teachers can all give positive or negative feedback for certain behaviors in order to promote healthy, appropriate behavior and minimize inadequate ones.
Your child’s therapist can also teach him or her social skills, as well as ways in which to interact and respond appropriately to others. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also encourage lifestyle changes and teach alternative techniques involving mindfulness in order for your child to improve concentration and become more aware of his or her thoughts.
In most cases, under medical supervision, stimulants and other prescription drugs used to treat ADHD are considered safe. However, there are risks and potentially harmful side-effects, especially when misused or taken in excess. Some of the side-effects of stimulants include sleep problems, decreased appetite, headaches, stomach pain, increased levels of anxiety, irritability, development of tics (impulsive, repetitive sounds or movements) and personality changes.
In the case of antidepressants, patients have reported insomnia, high blood pressure and suicidal thoughts. Although they vary greatly in occurrence and intensity, some of these side-effects can be distressing.
If you want to manage ADHD symptoms without medication use, but still ensure that your child can still live a stable, fulfilling life, then you should consider psychotherapy or look into some alternative treatment options.
Whether your child is on medication and in therapy or not, here are a few alternative treatments that can help manage the symptoms associated with ADHD, including forgetfulness, difficulty paying attention, organizational problems and regular interrupting.
According to the Mayo Clinic, certain preservatives and food colorings can increase hyperactive behavior in children. These include FD&C Red No. 40, tartrazine, D&C Yellow No. 10, FD&C Yellow No 6 and sodium benzoate. Moreover, research shows that restricting possible allergens – dairy and eggs, chemical additives BHT and BHA and chocolate – may help improve behavior in children with ADHD.
Electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback is also a promising treatment option, teaching the child new focusing techniques, as well as ways in which to identify his or her symptoms and correct them over time. Supplementing with magnesium, vitamin B6, zinc and L-carnitine have also been shown to improve ADHD symptoms. However, it is best to consult with your family practitioner before engaging in any of these alternative treatments.
You can aid your little one in creating well-organized routines, reducing unnecessary distractions and breaking tasks into manageable assignments. Health and nutrition are also important, which is why you should make sure that your child has regular sleep patterns. Bedtime and generally going to sleep is especially difficult for children suffering from ADHD.
But since the lack of rest exacerbates hyperactivity and recklessness, you have to find a way around this vicious circle. In order to help your child get better sleep, you can eliminate strong stimulants from their diet like sugar or coffee, establish a calming bedtime ritual and reduce television time.
Another resourceful tool in managing ADHD symptoms is regular exercise, which burns excess energy in a healthy manner. Furthermore, the specific movements that have to be performed help the child focus his or her attention and improve concentration. So make sure that you encourage exercise or plan out fun, vigorous activities with your child. If he or she is also dealing with anxiety issues, mood swings or depression, exercise is proven to help relieve the severity of these problems by releasing endorphins into the body.
Another great resource is to encourage out-loud thinking. Children with ADHD oftentimes lack self-control and speak or act without being aware of their thoughts. It’s essential to understand your kid’s thought process and emotional state in order to curb destructive urges.
So the next time you sense your child is angry and about to do something reckless, ask him to verbalize his thoughts and emotions before the impulse to act arises. Expressing emotions can also lead to a decrease in their intensity, which in turn will minimize the chance that the child will act out on what he is feeling. Education is also a key component in understanding and managing ADHD in children.
You can learn more about how to reward positive behaviors and react calmly in unsettling situations by taking up parenting skills training (behavioral parent management training). You can also learn about new stress management techniques to help diffuse frustration when it arises, as well as provide you with an outlet or a “break space” where you can calm yourself and recharge your batteries.
There are also several support groups available where you can connect with parents and families that face similar issues as you. Discussing concerns and strategies, talking to experts about the most recommended approaches, as well as sharing frustrations and successes can be of great help – not only to you but also for your child.
Having a child with ADHD can be exhausting and frustrating at times, which is why it’s important to remember that the behavior is caused by a disorder – not by defiance, wilful ignorance or anger. As a parent, you have to be willing to compromise when necessary, but remain consistent when it comes to positive and negative feedback.
Don’t sweat the small things, but don’t lose control and allow yourself to be bullied or intimidated by your child. Nurture and patience are essential in dealing with ADHD symptoms, but so are structure and persistence.
While you should avoid lashing out as much as possible, you also need to be ready to sanction destructive or abusive behavior if it occurs. Efficiently managing aggression, while at the same time allowing flexibility is key in helping your child live with this disorder.