The Brave New World of ADD Therapies
For several decades ADD has been treated as an incurable medical condition, primarily managed with narcotic-grade drugs. Despite research about the adverse side-effects, according to a Center for Disease Control study in most of the US, >75% of children diagnosed with ADD are taking meds. This use of ADD drugs is continuing despite many new natural ADD remedies becoming available based on advances in neuroscience, nutritional, cognitive and medical research in two categories:
- Managing the symptoms
- Treating the underlying causes of ADD
Natural ADD Remedies That Manage Symptoms
There are several ways to manage the symptoms of ADD including neuro-feedback, nutrition, meditation, and focus exercises. These approaches can help improve focus while they are in use, but once stopped, symptoms of ADD tend to return. In this regard, these therapies are directly comparable to meds.
- Neurofeedback, also called biofeedback, uses real-time displays of brain activity to teach self-regulation of focus. Sensors (or a helmet) are placed on the scalp to measure activity with changes in focus being represented as movement on a screen. This gives the student real-time feedback on changes in concentration, focus and lack of focus. While some providers of neurofeedback claim this is a one and done learned skill, there are no studies to back this up, and most anecdotal evidence suggests that the effect is more akin to exercising for fitness — once you stop exercising, fitness declines.
- Nutrition. There are two strategies related to diet. One is so called elimination diets as recommended by Dr. Eugene Arnold and others, where foods are eliminated from the diet of an ADD child, looking for signs of improvement. Arguably, avoiding sugar, is part of this approach. Second, there are a growing number of dietary additions, omega 2 in fish oil being the most famous, being recommended to help improve focus.
- Meditation and focus exercises. Meditation or “mindful awareness” — as put forward by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and others — improves your ability to control your attention. In other words, it teaches you to pay attention to paying attention. This is a tough skill to teach children but has had some success with adult ADHD.
Managing symptoms to change daily behavior can be successful short term, the remedies, natural or medical, are only helpful while they are in effect. There are not lasting impacts. Also, most of the natural approaches — exercises and meditation — require quite a significant effort from your child that is perhaps not commensurate with the long-term reward because of the temporary nature of the gains.
Natural ADD Treatments That Target The Causes
There are several natural ADD remedies that aim to resolve ADD once and for all. They include a variety of learning software, sensory exercise, and brain training. No doubt, treating the cause of ADD in children is somewhat speculative mainly because pinpointing the exact difficulty is complicated. However, if the ADD remedy is successful, it has a lifetime impact — no more taking drugs or doing exercises –surely worth taking a chance on.
All children with ADD should be tested for nutritional allergies and remedies. Beyond that, your choice of remedies depends mainly on the suspected cause and that is best detected using non ADD related symptoms:
- Sensory integration issues that cause ADD. If your child has hand to eye co-ordination, balance or spatial issues (e.g., gets lost on a sports field), chances are there are sensory integration issues behind the ADD. Your best choices here are Interactive Metronome, occupational therapy (including Brain Gym) or possibly Learning Breakthrough (Balametrics) which uses balance board-based exercises. The challenge with the latter two physical exercise-based natural remedies for ADD is that all take a long time to have any effect, 9 months or more.
Learning delays that cause ADD. If your child has had speech issues, processing delays, difficulty following directions, learning or reading issues, chances are he will not be an engaged learner either in class or when reading or doing homework. This lack of engagement in something that he finds difficult, even tortuous, is often diagnosed as ADD. The remedy for these ADD like symptoms is to tackle the underlying learning difficulty, and in this regard, the best approach are treatments that take advantage of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire. Apart from being effective, these therapies for ADD tend to be fast-acting.
The two leading brain training programs that target learning delays are Learning RX and Fast ForWord software.
Learning RX is a chain of learning centers that uses intense in-center exercises to improve a wide range of learning skills.
Fast ForWord is more narrowly focused, using adaptive exercises that target language based cognitive skills — processing, attention, working memory and sequencing — to improve reading and learning efficiency. Gemm Learning is the leading provider of Fast ForWord as a program for ADD in North America. It uses Fast ForWord to tackle the underlying learning issues as well as train attention skills — improving attention stamina as well as reducing distractibility and impulsiveness and BrainWare Safari, which helps ADD using exercises that build sensory integration.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition: DSM-5. Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
Evidence-Based Information on the Clinical Use of Neurofeedback for ADHD. Tais S. Moriyama, Guilherme Polanczyk, […], and Luis A. Rohde