ADHD has been diagnosed in approximately 8 million children in the United States. As a result, there is a whole generation of children growing up on stimulants and other medication. How will all of this affect their adult life is a question that has no answer at this time. In order to clarify this condition for parents, in my next four blog posts, I’m going to cover, what ADHD is, what occurs in the brain to cause it, it’s diagnosis, and treatment options.
True ADHD is characterized by behavioral problems in reacting to an average, every-day situation. The diagnosis is based on the history of displaying three types of behavior:
- An inability to perform everyday tasks, or distractibility
- An impairment in the ability to control impulses, or impulsivity
- Restlessness, or hyperactivity
In reality, everyone displays those behaviors at times, so to classify for ADHD, those behaviors have to be excessive, occur before the age of seven, last for at least six months, and cause a problem in a social environment, such as at school or home, at work or in a marriage. If the school is the only place where the child is acting up, the parents should see if there are problems with the school before pursuing a medical diagnosis.
Every person with ADHD will display a combination of the three behavioral aspects. ADHD is broken into subtypes—with predominant or non-dominant aspects depending on the individual – such as predominant inattention or predominant hyperactivity. The range of symptoms will vary from one patient to another and may include inability to concentrate and irritability, as well as confrontational, defiant, and oppositional behaviors.
Non-verbal communication and interaction with people is a major problem for people with ADHD. They don’t pick up body messages and don’t understand personal space. It’s hard for them to get jokes and the context of speech. They understand what you say, but not how you say it. As a result, they often have difficulty making friends and being in social situations, which leads to aggression and frustration.
The reason ADHD cannot be considered just a psychological problem is its functional presentations. There are motor signs—tics, tremors, and balance or postural problems. Soft neurological signs, such as sensory integration deficits—unusual sensitivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds—are also present in ADHD children.
But how is the inability to focus and sit still connected with postural problems and sensory integration? Research shows that the link is in the brain. ADHD is caused by a problem with the reticular activating system—the attention center of the brain. Its other functions include vision, hearing, and preservation of older genetic traits. By using a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, researchers can observe the metabolic areas of the brain and compare the brain structures in non-ADHD and ADHD individuals. In patients with ADHD, certain areas of the brain, such as the cerebellum, the frontal lobes, or the right or left hemisphere, are under-functioning. Under-functioning may be caused by two factors: the level of stimulation of the brain or the biochemical substrates to the brain. More
Ear problems can be incredibly painful for children. With 10 million new cases every year, ear infections (clinically called otitis media) are the most common illness affecting babies and young children and accounting for more than 35 percent of all visits to the pediatrician. Ear infections can be either bacterial or viral in origin, and frequently results from another illness such as a cold. For many children, it can become a chronic problem, requiring treatment year after year, and putting the child at risk of permanent hearing damage and associated speech and developmental problems.
Medical treatment for most cases of otitis media is with antibiotics, which can be effective if the culprit is bacterial (antibiotics, of course, do nothing to fight off viruses). But, according to many research studies, antibiotics are often not much more effective than the body’s own immune system. And repeated doses of antibiotics can lead to drug-resistant bacteria.
Frequent ear infections are also the second most common reason for surgery in children under 2 (with circumcision being the first). In severe cases, when fluids from an ear infection haven’t cleared from the ear after several months, and hearing is affected—specialists sometimes prescribe myringotomy and tympanostomy, more commonly known as “ear tubes.” During the surgical procedure, a small opening is made in the eardrum to place a tube inside. The tube relieves pressure in the ear and prevents repeated fluid buildup. In most cases, the membrane pushes the tube out after a couple of months and the hole in the eardrum closes. Although the treatment is effective, it has to be repeated in some 20 to 30 percent of cases. And this kind of surgery requires general anesthesia, never a minor thing in a small child. If the infection persists even after tube placement and removal, children sometimes undergo adenoidectomy (surgical removal of the adenoids)—an option that is effective mostly through the first year after surgery.
Rather than putting their child through the trauma of surgery and the side effects of medications, more and more parents are beginning to look to chiropractors to complement their children’s health care. Chiropractic care involves diagnosing spinal misalignments and correcting them by gently adjusting the spine. Chiropractors attempt to get to the root cause of a health problem rather than just treat the symptoms. Misalignments of the spine (also called subluxations) can occur during childbirth, from tumbles or falls, or from any normal childhood activity. Misalignments left untreated can irritate the nerves and eventually disrupt the body’s ability to function properly. The purpose of a chiropractic adjustment is to help to restore the normal functioning of the nervous system so the body can heal itself without the use of drugs or surgery.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics indicates that there is a strong correlation between chiropractic adjustments and the resolution of ear infections. 332 children with chronic ear infections participated in the study. Each child, ranging in age from 27 days to 5 years, was given a series of chiropractic adjustments. The results show that close to 80% of the children did not experience another ear infection within the six-month period following their initial visits. The six-month period included maintenance treatments every four to six weeks. Joan M. Fallon, D.C., the author of the study and the chiropractor who treated the children in the study, states that this pilot study can serve as a starting point from which the chiropractic profession can begin to examine its role in the treatment of children with chronic ear infections. According to Dr. Fallon, “Chiropractic mobilizes drainage of the ear in children, and if they can continue to drain without a buildup of fluid and subsequent infection, they build up their own antibodies and recover more quickly.” More
In the United States, asthma cases have increased by more than 60 percent since the early 1980s, and asthma-related deaths have doubled to 5,000 a year. I remember when I was in elementary school, it was unusual to have someone in your class with asthma. Now, it would be unusual NOT to have someone in your class with asthma.
So far, researchers have hypothesized that it’s a combination of genetics and an increased exposure to potential allergens that’s causing the alarming increase of incidences of asthma. Air quality in the homes is getting worse with more and more cleaning solutions being used, and people are breathing the formaldahyde that’s in our carpeting on a daily basis. Decreased air quality is coupled with the allergy-friendly modern house design, says Dr. William E. Walsh, MD, FACC, an allergist practicing in Minnesota: “Fifty years ago we lived in old, drafty houses, and the breeze dried and freshened the air, and cleared out mold and other allergens. Nowadays, our super-insulated houses don’t breathe adequately. Making basements into a living space increases mold exposure because mold grows in any basement.” Food has become another source of exposure to allergens, with more preservatives being put in the foods. Researchers hypothesize that an increase in vaccinations, cesarean births, and antibiotic intake may be playing a role as well.
One of my patients came into the office a month or so ago excited at how well her child with ADHD has been doing under chiropractic care. She thanked me for talking to her about this months earlier because a new study was recently released by The American Journal of Psychiatry that supports the claims that stimulant drugs usually prescribed for ADHD could increase the risk of sudden unexplained death in children. This particular patient saw this while watching the CBS Early Show that particular morning, and the M.D. on the show recommended Chiropractic care and nutritional counseling instead of the medications. More
Doctors of chiropractic offer a non-drug and non-invasive treatment alternative for ADHD patients that targets the underlying problems,
not just symptoms. “Motor activity—especially development of the postural muscles—is the baseline function of brain activity. Anything affecting postural muscles will influence brain development. Musculoskeletal imbalance will create imbalance of brain activity, and one part of the brain will develop faster than the other, and that’s what’s happening in ADHD patients,” says Dr. Melillo of the American Chiropractic Association. So if you have a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, there are safer alternatives to taking Ritalin and some of the other medications.