Editor’s note: 11% of children (20% of all boys) are diagnosed with ADHD. Most are medicated because parents are told it is chronic and lifelong and drugs are the “best chance” to get kids on track. Did you know that side effects include psychosis and death?
This is Part 1 in a two part series that explores pragmatic steps for parents saying no to ADHD meds as a first-line response (read Part 2 here).
by Jennifer Giustra-Kozek, LPC
When a child receives a diagnosis of ADHD, it’s hard for parents to deal with the emotional repercussions, let alone sort out the mass of information. There is one message, however, that will be coming through loud and clear from almost everyone parents are likely to consult — doctors, teachers, psychiatrists, and practitioners — and that’s:
To medicate or not medicate is the big question
An ADHD diagnosis is particularly prone to this knee-jerk response from professionals who are so convinced these children have a genetic disorder that they have called off the search for a better understanding of the underlying conditions. Our society has become conditioned to trust the physicians and jump to a pill for the ‘quick fix.’
Of course, conventional medicine is a powerful tool, and certainly the best place to start if you have a broken leg or a heart attack. But it falls short against a more nuanced disorder like ADHD. Parents will be told that ADHD is complex in nature, possibly a result of genetic, psychological, and other unknown factors. In general, however, allopathic doctors do not address the wide range of physical symptoms often shared by kids with this disorder, such as:
- allergies and asthma
- chronic illness
- gastrointestinal distress
- food sensitivities
- yeast overgrowth
- leaky gut syndrome
- malnutrition and obesity
- adrenal fatigue
- hormone imbalances
- sleep disturbances
- skin conditions, including eczema.
As a psychotherapist who has worked for over a decade in mainstream medicine, I empathize with parents seeking a quick fix. However, I feel it is important for parents to look not only at evidence-based treatments, but also to consider the results that parents are seeing with holistic approaches and dietary changes.
What you won’t hear from a conventional doctor
For every medication, there is a natural plant or remedy that can achieve the same result without side effects.
Our emotions are largely governed by our intestinal system. There is more serotonin in our bowels than in our brains.
Bear in mind
Every child is unique. A well thought out integrative treatment plan needs to be tailored to each child’s specific immunologic, digestive, and metabolic conditions. Find physicians and practitioners who will listen to you and conduct a thorough investigation. You will most likely need a team or different practitioners.
Changes can take time. Move slowly but steadily with dietary changes and protocols.
Treatment can be expensive. You are not letting your child down if you can’t afford the most expensive therapies. Check with special needs associations about the Department of Education services, government subsidies, financial aid, and therapists who provide sliding scales. You may also have to make lifestyle changes.
Focus on love, patience, and hard work. Know that the most important therapy takes place at home.
Trust your gut! You know your child best. Your intuition is the best guide.
Important first steps
Look for a qualified naturopath or integrative MD in your area who specializes in ADHD and related disorders. Google Naturopathic (ND), Defeat Autism Now (DAN), Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS) physician, Functional Medicine, or Integrative Medical Doctor (MD) practitioners in your area.
Do your research. Have a list of questions for your selected doctor. Ask for a complete metabolic workup including blood, urine and fecal testing. Also request a food sensitivity test (IgG) or ALCAT, Organic Acids Test to determine nutritional deficiencies.
Continue with mainstream therapies like OT and PT, behavioral plans, and psychotherapy. Also investigate other modalities such as acupuncture, craniosacral, brain balance therapies, and so on. Biomedical treatment enhances the effects of other therapies.
Join parent support groups, which can be a great source of information and inspiration. If there isn’t one in your area, explore the many online forums and blogs.
Our children deserve a healing-oriented approach that considers the whole person — body, mind, and spirit. The best results come from tailor-made therapies, both conventional and alternative. Good medicine should be based on good science, be inquiry-driven, and be open to new paradigms. I urge parents to consider natural, effective interventions whenever possible. We need a system that promotes prevention of illness as well as a healthier treatment of disease.
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Jennifer Giustra-Kozek, LPC, HpN is an author and licensed psychotherapist with 15 years of clinical experience treating clients with Asperger’s, depression, anxiety, OCD, and ADHD. Jennifer has seen this epidemic unfold in her own private practice and has watched the harmful impact of medication on many young clients. The ADHD epidemic turned personal when Jennifer’s young son was diagnosed. She plunged into the world of safe and natural healing modalities outside of the pharmaceutical model. Jennifer wrote about her son’s recovery from ADHD and apraxia in her new book Healing Without Hurting. She consults and blogs with thousands of moms through social media to teach them about alternative and natural solutions.