The number of children who get diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) continues to rise every year. It is reasonable to wonder how this came about since the condition wasn’t even heard of thirty years ago. It is also worth considering how past generations of children and young people survived without having this diagnosis attached to them.
ADHD was voted into existence as a mental disorder in the late 1980s by a group of American psychiatrists. It has become a label that is quickly given to children and young people who display challenging and wayward behaviour. Some parents and grandparents may be surprised to discover that ADHD is a psychiatric label rather than a proper medical/scientific diagnosis.
Children and young people are diagnosed by subjective assessments (interviews, observations and evaluations) – rather than by sound, proven medical testing and expertise. Unlike other medical conditions, such as diabetes, a doctor cannot confirm that a young person has ADHD simply through laboratory tests. Indeed, there is no specific medical test for diagnosing ADHD. There are no brain scans, blood tests, chemical imbalance checks or any other type of medical assessments.
There is no denying some children and young people are boisterous, argumentative or disruptive. Some are constantly on the go and others fidget and talk excessively. Others often display a wide range of behaviours – including a short attention span or they may be impulsive and devoid of consequences and responsibility. Some children and young people find it difficult to remain still for long periods and become bored, moody and restless. They can also operate on little sleep – so great are their energy levels.
Poor diet and lack of exercise together with inadequate parental control, problems at school, negative peer influences, or substance misuse (in older adolescents), play a major part in the labelling of children and young people with ADHD. These behaviours could also be symptoms of other underlying and undiagnosed physical medical problems, for example – allergies, parasites, toxins, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, or even poor eyesight. Musculoskeletal imbalances may also cause unexpressed pain that can impact on behaviour.
The psychiatric medications prescribed for ADHD are amphetamine-based (stimulants) and are highly addictive. They also slow children and young people down into a nullifying state of being, due to the overwhelming effects they have on the development of vital organs, including the central nervous system. The side-effects of these psychiatric medications are wide-ranging. Doctors have a moral obligation to inform patients of all possible side-effects. Serious side-effects include: aggression and hostility, tiredness and insomnia, loss of appetite and weight loss, liver problems, restlessness, stunted growth, heart problems, depression and suicidal ideation. In addition to being highly addictive, these medications can often lead on to illicit drug and alcohol misuse in adulthood.
Parents need to be fully aware of the vital importance of a good diet in child development. Eating fast food, frozen meals, crisps and drinking copious amounts of Coca-Cola does not constitute ideal nutrition. A diet of this kind will ensure they are deprived of nourishment and could likely be experiencing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Ensuring they eat fewer fatty foods such as chips, burgers and fried food and more meat, fruit and vegetables will be extremely beneficial. Eating regularly, especially breakfast, is important. Cutting down on sweets, cakes and biscuits should also be considered.
For children and young people to develop healthy bodies and minds, parents need to be aware of the importance of vitamins and how these are acquired in fruit, vegetables and other non-junk food. Vitamin deficiencies and food intolerances can cause a host of problems, including poor concentration and irritability. Anything with too much sugar – which includes some cereals and smoothies – can produce abnormal levels of energy and create ‘symptoms’ erroneously assigned to ADHD. The amount of fizzy drinks children and young people have should be limited to curtail increased hyperactive behaviour. Orange juice should also be avoided as it has a similar effect.
Problems are sometimes most visible at school. It is here that misbehaviour can often be seen in full flow. As parents, don’t be misled into automatically believing, at the first sign of trouble, that your child has ADHD. It is worth making the time to investigate and if needed, seeking a second opinion. Difficulties with speech and language, learning and literacy problems should also be investigated. Perhaps the child is being overstretched or under-stretched by the curriculum. These factors can lead to boredom and disobedient behaviour.
Many children and young people are kinaesthetic learners (like to learn by doing, by moving around and through hands-on learning). They need to be given opportunities to participate in practical subjects because often it is here that they excel. This also allows for opportunities to develop greater self-confidence and to take personal responsibility in real-life situations. Those who are extra exuberant should be encouraged to play sport. Imagine the adrenaline that is achieved by playing football and rugby or other physically enduring sports.
Parents/carers must not be hurried into anything, especially accepting that the only help available is medication. The easiest solution is not always the best one. We live in the digital age. People need to do their own research into ADHD, rather than rely on the opinion of a psychiatrist or other adult involved in the child or young person’s life. They need to ask for second or third opinions if they are dissatisfied with the information given to them.
Beware that a diagnosis of an unscientific unproven disorder, coupled with medication, may worsen a child’s behaviour and could stigmatise him/her for life, denying them certain advantages in later years (like joining the armed forces or An Garda Síochána). Make sure you are satisfied that you have all the information before you to make an informed choice. The future of your child lies is in your hands so making the correct decision is of paramount importance.
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