Cutting Through the Noise of ADHD Advice
ADHD is a sensitive topic for many parents, physicians, and therapists worldwide. There are studies, mommy blogs, and podcasts available to support just about everything related to it and it’s nearly impossible to cut through the noise.
For a long time, some camps speculated that ADHD was not real at all. Fortunately, scientists have debunked that theory by proving that the ADHD brain looks quite different, therefore lending real credibility to the science behind treating the disorder.
The controversy over ADHD treatment continues to swirl, leaving parents confused and unsure of what they should think. Everyone has a different perspective, ranging from parents concerned about over-diagnosis, parents in denial, physicians and therapists over- or under-prescribing, and the big argument over environment vs. genetic factors vs. diet.
Parents often turn to the internet to research options but a Google search for, “should I medicate my child with ADHD” provides more confusion than clarity. Results on page 1 turn up an inconclusive list of experiential and speculative articles, including:
Ultimately, whether or not to medicate a child with ADHD should be decided by the family and physician based on what’s best for the individual.
Neuroplasticity + Alternative Treatments
There is one common theme across the chaos of information out there - the necessity of non-medication therapy. Medication alone is not a viable long-term strategy. Learning coping mechanisms and techniques to calm the mind and refocus is crucial to long term success.
Neuroplasticity is a hot topic these days. The brain can reorganize itself by forming new pathways and connections throughout one’s life. While the brain is capable of doing this on its own, there are ways to train it for specific functions, including those related to ADHD.
Meditation is now known to be an important brain-changer. An 8 week mindfulness study of people who had never previously meditated showed changes in the posterior cingulate - a part of the brain involved in mind wandering and self-awareness. It also produced positive results in the left hippocampus, which helps in learning, cognition, memory, and emotional regulation. This is evidence of the neuroplasticity mentioned earlier.
Getting a child with ADHD to meditate may seem difficult given the nature of the disorder, but there are techniques to help. According to The Chopra Center, children diagnosed with ADHD who participated in an Australian study showed “significant improvements” in hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention. Additional side effects included improved relationships with their parents, better self-esteem, and over 50% either reduced or discontinued using medication.
The results of a 2016 study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission show that physical exercise, specifically cardio, showed that:
“Cardio exercise seems acutely beneficial regarding various executive functions (e.g., impulsivity), response time and several physical measures. Beneficial chronic effects of cardio exercise were found on various functions as well, including executive functions, attention and behavior....Research provides evidence that physical exercise represents a promising alternative or additional treatment option for patients with ADHD. Acute and chronic beneficial effects of especially cardio exercise were reported with regard to several cognitive, behavioral, and socio-emotional functions.”
More controlled studies are needed to explore the depths of the effects, but the results seem to show that letting kids be kids, running around, playing sports and enjoying outdoor activities has an array of positive effects on the functions of the brain associated with ADHD.
Biofeedback + Gaming
Biofeedback games are seeing a rise in popularity as a method of manipulating the ADHD brain into processing information in new ways. There are varying levels of biofeedback applications available, some of which are very expensive and must be performed by a licensed practitioner. In these clinical applications, the patient is hooked up to an EEG machine that measures brain waves. The games adjust based on the brain wave reactions or non-reactions to the stimuli.
Fortunately, there are less expensive and less invasive options on the market and undergoing clinical trials to ensure efficacy. It’s not entirely necessary to measure brain waves directly, as physical biofeedback markers can also indicate progress in “brain training”.
Ashana Health’s own DynaWheel, Jr. is an affordable, portable device developed specifically to help develop new neural pathways through games that provide biofeedback for children with cognitive disorders. The device can be used in clinical settings with a physician, psychotherapist, or occupational therapist but was also designed to be used at home with a portal for providers to monitor progress. DynaWheel, Jr. will be commercially available in Fall 2019.
Considering all of the noise out there around ADHD, the best advice is to do what is best for the child. Whether or not you are considering medication, most children will benefit significantly from a combination of the non-medication treatments listed above, and many of them are easy because they’re free! The ongoing research in neuroplasticity and biofeedback will continue to produce new and effective methods of managing ADHD and have the potential to produce exceptional results in the future.