Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
Treating ADHD in children without using medication
By Jeff Woodburn
Much has changed in the previous two decades regarding the treatment of ADHD with medication.
ADHD medication has become milder and more effective, nearly personalized. Prescription usage has become more standardized, accepted and its use, especially in New Hampshire, has soared.
But alternatives to medication such as psychotherapy, lifestyle changes and different educational environments are also being considered by many parents.
Perhaps just in time as our society and our schools in particular are becoming more stressed and overloaded with external, electronic distractions that disturb the even most basic semblance of peace. Even the name of the diagnosis has evolved to include – “Executive Function Deficit.”
“Names and labels change,” said Bernd Foecking, Headmaster of the Hampshire Country School in Rindge, a small boarding school that specializes in students with ADHD, autism and Asperger’s syndrome, “but students haven’t.”
The crowded, automated public school system doesn’t work for all students because by necessity it “focuses on things that are not working well.”
Foecking says his students are “incredibly sensitive and bright,” but “probably not good mainstream, assembly-line” workers.
The choice is simple, he said, change the child with medication or change the environment, which for the Hampshire Country School means a vast idyllic natural spot, a small student-teacher ratio, no television, loud music and a “not only positive, but predictable” schedule.
But they are not alone; there is also the Hunter School, a Plymouth-based school for children with severe ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. Their methods were somewhat more radical – a strict vegetarian diet, animal assisted therapy, expressive therapies such as art, dance or music, culturally based healing arts such as acupuncture, reiki or yoga, relaxation and stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback, massage therapy or meditation.
Of course, these alternatives aren’t cheap – Hampshire Country School and the Hunter school cost annually for room, board and tuition $45,000 and $8,000 respectively.
There are alternatives to boarding school, and experts say what’s good for all children is particularly good for children with ADHD. Or conversely, as some studies suggest, what’s bad for all children may be the cause in the jump in cases of childhood obesity, sleep-disorders and ADHD. Study after study say children need healthier diets, regular exercise, less television, computer and video games. A healthy, wholesome and stress-free home-life will reduce some of the ADHD symptoms.
There are also various holistic remedies, says Herbal Pharmacist Gregory McCrone, of The Herbal Path, a natural pharmacy in Dover. He cautions parents to stay away from even pursuing a diagnosis for their children. While working at large pharmacy in Concord, he saw what he perceived to be a rampant overdiagnosis of young rambunctious boys.
“It’s crushing the male spirit,” he said.
McCrone recommends several natural herbs that are “the safest stuff,” including Lecithin, a fatty substance derived from soy beans, and Rhodiola rosea, a root known as the arctic rose, which has been used for centuries to reduce stress in cold climates. He also recommends a diet rich in so called “good fats,” Omega 3 fish oil or add supplements.
ADHD coach Karen Duffy of Dover said the ADHD child has “difficulty controlling emotion” and is not motivated by punishment or negative attention.
She offers her students and their parents’ customized strategies that can improve organization, concentration and conflict-resolution. Some are simple, like reading while on a treadmill, doing homework while listening to background music and visualizing homework assignments by photographing it with their cell phone.
Derry therapist Kathryn Powers says where choices are an option the ADHD child will do better in class with a teacher who is "highly animated and able to hold their attention."
Exercise stimulates brain activity, stills impulsivity and has similar effects as pharmaceutical stimulants. Yoga, Powers said, is good not only for its physical rigor, but because it’s great at “managing anxiety and improving focus.”
Understanding how your brain works and how to manage it is key, she said.
Barbara Publicover, a parent of an ADHD child and a co-fascinator of Nashua-Windham Chapter of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder agrees.
“Success is knowing who you are and knowing what you need,” she said, “not what you lack.”
Jeff Woodburn of Dalton is a teacher and writer. He's taught in middle and high school settings. Previously, he owned an award-winning real estate firm and was prominent in state politics. He and his wife and four children live on a small hill farm, where they raise poultry.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Feb 4, 2011.