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Does My Child Have ADHD?

Worried parents see their child behaving in ways that are disturbing:

It’s clear that he’s smart, so why does it take him 30 minutes to complete a simple math problem?

Why is she lost in her own thoughts so much of the time and doesn’t hear anything you say?

He talks too loudly, complains too vigorously and is always touching everything.

She takes over an hour to settle down at bedtime and seems to need less sleep than you do!

He doesn’t play with his toys, but prefers to line them up in a neat row.

She can be fine one day and out of control the next. He has developed a tic and constantly chews on his clothes.

Does My Child Have ADHD?

You might have a child who has trouble focusing or paying attention or controlling his impulses or getting to sleep. But that doesn’t mean your child “has” ADHD or any of the many names that have been created to describe the learning and behavior issues that are becoming increasingly common.

Just as “colic” is not a disease, but a description of a very uncomfortable infant, ADHD is not a disorder, but a label given to a cluster of symptoms.

Labels serve a useful purpose, but too often they are a substitute for what is really needed – a way to find out why the child is having these problems and some practical advice on how to diminish or reverse them. Parents seek out professionals who can offer solutions, but in so many cases, all they receive are lists of symptoms (as though the parents didn’t already know how their child is behaving), a label, and a prescription or two.

Medicines can save lives, but they can also obscure symptoms, making it harder to identify the actual causes. What can cause a youngster to behave in these ways? There are many potential culprits including: celiac disease, heavy metal exposure, lack of various nutrients (omega­3 essential fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D3, iodine, to name a few), sensory processing deficits, “convergence insufficiency” (the ability of both eyes to work together), exposure to synthetic fragrances, or a diet that includes petroleum­ based food additives like dyes. Researchers have even found that a high risk factor for a child being diagnosed with ADHD is being one of the youngest in the classroom!

We were looking for help, but instead what we got were descriptions and prescriptions!

Can foods affect my child's behavior?

Every one of the above potential causes offers a logical course of action. For the child with celiac disease, the removal of gluten can enable him to feel good and to be able to focus without being in a fog. An occupational therapist can help a child with sensory deficits, and a developmental optometrist will know how to deal with vision problem.

Adderall is unlikely to help a child’s vision and Ritalin won’t enable him to tolerate gluten. Where is the logic in using a one­-size-­fits-­all treatment when there are so many different causes?

Drugs are not the only things recommended for children with “ADHD.” Often, behavior modification is also suggested, even though it has a poor record of success in these cases. It’s unlikely that gold stars will do much for the child who has been exposed to lead, and time­ out won’t help one who is too young to handle the requirements of his grade in school.

But while mom searches for the right doctor, teacher or school, she might be overlooking the real expert – herself! Nobody knows a child as well as a caring parent. By carefully observing your child and his surroundings, you might be able to identify the some likely culprits.

Many things can cause havoc for a sensitive child, but petrochemicals are one of the easiest to identify.

Does she act silly every time your great-aunt Dolly comes to visit – surrounded by a cloud of perfume? Almost all fragrances today are made from petrochemicals because they’re much cheaper than rose petals. Breathing in petroleum fumes directly affects the brain, but not in a good way!

Where is the logic in using a one­-size-­fits-­all treatment when there are so many different… Click To Tweet

Do you notice your child’s behavior changes after you’ve eaten out? Or did she act badly after she had that lollipop from the bank? Did his behavior start off well and then go downhill after snacking on Chips Ahoy and Kool­ Aid at Vacation Bible School? Food dyes, artificial flavorings and some preservatives are also petrochemicals, and it doesn’t take much to affect a sensitive child. Happily, there are better alternatives for all of these unwanted chemicals; visit Feingold.org for more information.

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Jane Hersey

Jane Hersey

Jane Hersey is the National Director of the Feingold Association of the United States and the author of Why Can’t My Child Behave? A former teacher and Head Start consultant, she has testified before the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Congress about diet and behavior. She frequently lectures at education associations, hospitals, medical groups, universities, and schools.
Jane Hersey

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9 Responses to Does My Child Have ADHD?

  1. Terri Presser February 20, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    This is a great post and I appreciate you linking up with Good Morning Mondays. I believe also we don’t need to unnecessarily tag our children just because they can’t concentrate or have behavioural issues. Let’s look at the cause and take it from there. Blessings

  2. Adrian October 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    Thanks for sharing with us at the Teach Me Tuesday Linky Party!

  3. Amy October 3, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    Great stuff! I have ADHD, but it took me until I was 29 to get diagnosed because I was able to deal with my attention issues without medication because I had parents who didn’t just write off my behavior or habits as a pathology to be medicated, but helped me find ways to be successful. I even earned a masters degree without ever medicating my ADHD. I ended up seeking a diagnosis and medication out as an adult because I felt medication and an official diagnosis might help me to close the gaps on certain areas where my issues with executive function were a continual problem – things like boring tasks at work, impulsivity and loudness in social situations (not the gentle and quiet spirit I long to exhibit), food cravings and even food addictions, and paying bills on time. Even with my coping skills (like keeping a thorough calendar, checklists, allowing extra time for tasks, etc.) these areas were still struggles.

    Even though I chose to add medication – and it has helped, esp. with fidgeting and food cravings – I’m glad I didn’t get medicated straight out of the gate – because I was able to tackle my issues holistically and learn good habits for time management and organization first. And, now that I’m on medication and food cravings aren’t as much of an issue, I am adding a real food mostly paleo diet to my holistic treatment plan.

    I think true ADD/ADHD is a real issue involving dopamine and norepinephrine signalling, but there are many other potential causes for the same symptoms. One needs to explore those other issues – like the ones you mentioned – first. If you medicate a child (or an adult) with stimulant medication that doesn’t have a genuine underlying issue with neurotransmitters they are more likely to have negative side effects, rather than positive improvements.

    All that to say, thanks for sharing this great information!

    (http://www.modernishlife.com/2014/08/wellness-wednesday-could-you-have.html) <– This is my blog post about the symptoms that led me to seek out my own diagnosis.

  4. JES October 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    I love what you have shared here! I see a lot is also just pent up energy of children who are sitting in front of a screen for so long (it can actually make them angry!)! Let them run outside and use that abundance of energy. I also noticed when I added more magnesium into our diet, our daughter was able to concentrate better in our homeschooling. This article was excellent and I am glad you shared at the Art of Home-Making Monday this week!

  5. Helene September 29, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    As the mom of a very active 6 year old who needs lots of air and sunshine and lots less sugar than most, I appreciate this article very very much!

    • Mhunter October 24, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

      Great article! One correction; the eye’s inability to turn inward is a “convergence insufficiency”, not a “cognitive insufficiency”. And yes, it’s symptoms can definitely look like ADD/ADHD. Thank you for your insights!

      • Jane Hersey March 19, 2016 at 9:02 am #

        Thank you so much, Mhunter, for pointing out my mistake. Yes, I did mean to say “convergence insufficiency” not “cognitive insufficiency!” The only problem with being on the Feingold Diet and not eating Skittles is that I can’t blame mistakes on them!

  6. Mrs. Abella September 29, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    We are blended family, and all 3 of the children have adhd. The oldest is the most severe, and also has Asperger’s Syndrome. Without meds he cannot focus on his name, dress himself, and some days has a hard time finding the floor in getting out of bed (not a joke, he one day cried because he couldn’t find his way out of the bed that is against the wall at the head and side). We use the least amount of medication that he can get by with in order to help him be able to work with the behavior modification we are also teaching him. Since we also deal with the ASD, it gets complicated, and has left us with broken doors and even a broken toilet tank due to his aggression (he was 12). We see the frustration, lack of impulse control, and overall lack of concentration that happens as meds wear off or are waiting to start.

    Middle child has autism and MR and mild adhd. He can get wild too, but has much better concentration. The smallest dose of medication available seems to be just the right amount, and he has had behavior training which is working effectively thus far. Again, we are dealing with a dual diagnosis situation, so it’s not all ADHD, nor all autism or mr.

    Youngest has asperger’s and ADD. She isn’t hyper. Quite the opposite. But she is highly distractable. Not good when you need her to concentrate. Again, small amount of med works.

    There’s no need to medicate to zombie status. Sometimes a small amount is what is needed to help them gain control in order to be able to work with teachings in behavior and activities that benefit them.

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