To tell or not to tell?
When my son was first diagnosed with ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,’ I often wondered if I should just be honest with him about his neurological condition. I racked my brains daily for an answer to this question, and asked myself often:
‘what is it exactly that I am hoping to achieve by telling my son the truth?’
The answer to this question was always the same. In the very early days I believed that by being honest with my son, it would give him the answers that he was already looking for subconsciously. Deep down, my son knew that there was something wrong.
Children are not silly. They know when something is up. If I have the information which can clarify for my son why he does what he does, than why wouldn’t I tell them?
My son was genuinely relieved to know why he can’t sit still, why he is overly reactive, why he is impulsive, and why he is unable to control his hyperactivity. For him, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
The reason why I told my son about his ADHD
Before I told my son that he had ADHD, he had already been experiencing feelings of inadequacy and low-self esteem for two years or more. He was angry at himself for behaving the way he did, for not being able to manage his own behaviour, and he often described himself as a bad person. For a mother, this was absolutely alarming to hear him say these things about himself.
My son was very articulate in the way he was able to describe how terribly inadequate he honestly felt; especially when he observed the behavioural control that his siblings, and peers were able to exhibit, without needing to go to lot of effort. This internal dislike of himself was affecting his confidence, his self esteem – and it was taking away from his happiness.
I wasn’t prepared to sit back and watch my son sit in these feelings daily, when I knew that I could sit down and explain in child – like terminology exactly what was going on for him in regard to his self-esteem, hyperactivity, and impulse control.
The big turn around:
Things to consider before telling your child they have ADHD?
Pros to telling your child about their ADHD diagnosis
Cons to telling your child about their ADHD diagnosis
Your child may:
How did I tell my child he has ADHD
Children with ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ find it particularly difficult to contain their own behaviour, forget to behave, forget that there will be consequences involved if they don’t behave, and lack impulse control. These children struggle daily to remember the boundaries, adhere to the boundaries, and to keep their impulse control in check. For the ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disordered child’, there is simply way too much going on in their brain.
Imagine not having the ability to think before you act, not having the capacity to concentrate, and being so impulsive that you forget you are not to hit other children. This is the life of an ADHD child. Unfortunately, these children are more likely to get twice as much trouble as their siblings or peers.
Children with ADHD need extremely understanding parents, or otherwise, they run the risk of being disciplined too much.
The ADHD child’s vulnerability
The ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disordered’ child has a major vulnerability. Having ADHD is like standing in amongst a crowded room in a fleuro suit. These children are so impulsive, hyperactive, and defiant, that they are at risk of being over – disciplined by their parents, teachers, and other adults in positions of authority.
Therefore, they are also vulnerable to harsh discipline techniques, more discipline than other children, and shameful thoughts about self, because they are in trouble often.
The problem with ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,’ as a neurological condition, is that the condition itself tests the patience of the child’s caregivers, and teachers. ADHD takes its toll on the child’s parents, because this condition is unrelenting – and is described by paediatrician’s as having an immature brain. This is a child who requires the utmost patience from their parents, teachers, other children and siblings.
Therefore, these children are vulnerable to harsh discipline techniques, more discipline than other children, and deep – seated inner shame, and turmoil.
The importance of not over-disciplining the ADHD child
I am very careful not to over discipline my son – because in time, with treatment, his brain will mature.
The last thing a parent with an ADHD child wants is to do, is to make the situation worse, which is easily done if the ADHD child is over – disciplined.
Corporal punishment is not going to stop this child from acting out. If this is the method of punishment being used to tame the ADHD child, than the child will most likely become angry, resent the parents’ and rebel instead. Rebelling with a serious neurological condition such as ADHD could have a very negative impact on the child and their family.
Too much discipline can also create a sense of mistrust from the child towards their parent, if the child senses early on that their parent cannot tolerate them. If a child feels as though their parents are committed to understanding them, and supporting them with their condition, they will want to please their caregiver, and will continue to work on their ADHD symptoms.
Children with ADHD need the utmost understanding
ADHD children need to know that their parents’ understand the nature of their neurological condition, and can be trusted to work with them in over – coming the issues associated with the condition, instead of exacerbating the problem.
To hit an ADHD child for out of control impulsive behaviour is saying to the child ‘I do not have the patience for your inability.’
The ADHD child’s intention is not to be naughty or difficult. Most children want to please. Just like these children, ADHD children try very hard to control their own brain.
Punitive style discipline
Parents who use corporal punishment or punitive style discipline techniques in the hope of a quick fix, run the risk of igniting their child’s sense of shame, or accidentally perpetuating their child’s poor impulse control, by unknowingly encouraging them to act out on their poor behaviours. Children with ADHD find it very difficult not to be reactive.
Punitive style discipline doesn’t work with any child. However, because a child with ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ is often given double the discipline compared to other children, they may just give up, and start to believe that they are unworthy, and no good. This is when the child may stop trying. If this happens, their behaviour may become out of control.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy for ADHD children can improve behavioural problems. In a therapeutic setting, the parent and child work together to learn how to interact with one another differently in order to resolve the child’s behaviour.
The two programmes, (PCIT) Parent child interactive therapy, and the (PPP) Positive parenting programme encourages parents to praise their child, to use positive reinforcement frequently, and to put in place consistent consequences. Life is much easier for both the child and the parent, if the child is completely aware of the boundaries.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is designed to break the continuous cycle of emotion – thought – than a behaviour. This is the ADHD child’s continuous cycle, and becomes embedded in the child’s psyche. If this cycle isn’t dealt with in childhood, this same cycle could become problematic in teenage years, and young adult – hood.
How does cognitive behavioural therapy work?
Discipline techniques for ADHD children
Time out for children with ADHD can help them to calm down, and to restore themselves.
Pick your battles:
Try not to discipline too much; otherwise your child will begin to feel as though they can not do anything right, which is when they may just give up.
Don’t change the rules:
Children with ADHD need to have consistent rules. They need to know exactly how they are, and how they are not allowed to behave. Inconsistent rules and boundaries will result in the child becoming defiant and difficult.
Discuss the behaviour with your child:
Sometimes ADHD children need some advice from their parents on how best to work on their behaviour. Short discussions, as well as consequences can be very effective with these children.
It is now three years on since my son was diagnosed with ADHD; and I have spent these last three years building my son’s confidence. Parents of ADHD children know all too well that their child’s confidence will most definitely take a beating, as a primary consequence of their child’s self defeating, uncontrollable behaviour.
Question: How is a child who is almost always in trouble, cannot concentrate, and has an inability to control their impulses, supposed to maintain their confidence?
The answer is: It is most unlikely that they will be able to, without constant support.
ADHD children are kind of smacked down before they even get a chance to stand up, because of the way their brain functions. This is a brain that they are unable to contain; unless of course they are medicated, or placed on a stringent, un-fun diet.
I have had to medicate my son, change the way I parent my son, make sure my son is supported by his teacher’s at his school, and case – managed, in order to save my son’s confidence.
He simply is not like my other children. Through no fault of his own, he cannot behave, or process information in the same way that his siblings can.
When my kids do something wrong, or inappropriate, they get a consequence. After being in trouble up to three times over the same issue, they eventually stop.
This is not how it goes for my son. He could be in trouble for the exact same reason as his siblings, twenty times over, instead of their three times; which is seventeen times more than his siblings. Same consequences for the same issue – different person.
Of course he is going to feel silly, dumb, defective and disordered.
ADHD children in the classroom
ADHD children are monitored and reprimanded more than the children around them. They are continually asked not to call out, to stop moving, to put their hand up to speak, not to leave the classroom without asking, not to stand up in the middle of a task, and not to be silly when doing class work. You name it, the ADHD child will be asked not to do it; and not just once, but hundreds of times. ADHD children attract a lot of attention from adults and their peers, all for the wrong reasons.
Children with ADHD need praise more than the non ADHD child. They need to be built up, driven towards their goals, and told that they can achieve, just like everyone else.
Building my ADHD child’s confidence
My son had a terrible first year at school. He said he felt ‘like a bad boy,’ all the time. This went on daily, right up until the end of kindergarten, when he was finally diagnosed with ADHD. It was at this moment that I knew I would have to work daily on my son’s confidence, before it was pulled right out from underneath him.
What did I do?
I have been open and transparent with my son about ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.’ I have explained to him what it is, what this diagnosis means for him, and how exactly his brain functions. He knows he has difficulty concentrating, with impulse control, and his behaviour.
I believe that ADHD children need to know that they have ADHD at a fairly young age, so as they are aware that they have a neurological condition; instead of a defective personality, which makes them bad.
”Knowledge is power”
My son and I talk about his symptoms together. I have normalised them, and described these symptoms as small details that we need to work on. He sees ADHD as something he needs to keep tabs on; nothing more. My son now know’s why he does what he does, what we need to do to improve the symptoms, and how we go about it. He no longer feels shameful about his behaviour, because he now knows that this is a fairly common disorder, lots of people have it, and he is not alone.
My strategies for helping my ADHD child maintain his confidence
My son’s tool box
Unfortunately, ADHD can be a very debilitating disorder for little children. ADHD can invoke shame, guilt, and lots of sadness, because the ADHD child does not know how to control their own brain.
It has taken me three years to build my son’s self-esteem back up to where it was before he entered school. It has taken a lot of work, an amazing amount of effort, research and time. However, a lot of what I have talked about has helped my son. He no longer feels dumb, silly, or bad; which is how he always felt before I formulated a plan to support him.
He’s doing pretty well. As far as I can see, he is very confident. He isn’t worried about wearing his pink gumboots up the street, and still practices his ninja turtle squat moves while jumping off walls when out and about. So, I’m pleased with the outcome for my quirky ADHD boy.
A parent whose child has ADHD knows in no uncertain terms that their child has ADHD. How can they not know? Poor concentration, extreme hyperactivity, and impulsivity says it all. Normal parenting techniques do not work with this child.
The nature of this neurological disorder can leave the ADHD child misunderstood as the naughty, defiant difficult child who deliberately behaves inappropriately. To the contrary, this is a child with a serious neurological condition. However, no matter how much you try to explain the condition to some people – they are instead, committed to misunderstanding ADHD, and opinions different from their own.
Stereotypes associated with the disorder still exist. From my understanding – it is always the people who have never experienced ADHD at its worst, who will most likely question the ADHD diagnosis.
Misconception number 1#
Before a diagnosis of ADHD is made, numerous reports are collated by the child’s class teachers, parent/ or parent’s. A Reports is developed over a period of six months. This report discusses the child’s hyperactivity, impulsivity and ability to concentrate.
Misconception number 2#
ADHD is a neurological disorder characterised by the extremity of the behaviour. Silly behaviour exacerbated by sugar will ware off – returning the child without ADHD, to a normal state of mind. However, a child with a severe case of ADHD will be ridiculously hyperactive, too silly, too loud, too distracted, and completely inattentive all throughout the day, with or without sugar.
Misconception number 3#
Parents with ADHD will tell you that their child is the most disciplined child in the room. Disciplining an ADHD child too much will have the opposite effect, and will cause more trouble than it is worth.
Misconception number 4#
There is absolutely no correlation between boundaries and concentration. The brain of an ADHD child is wired differently to that of a non- ADHD child.
ADHD children have lower levels of dopamine, which means they find mundane tasks boring. These children cannot get dressed, cannot tie up their shoe laces – and simply cannot finish a task without medication. Its too hard. Their brains need highly stimulating activities to function.
A Spoilt child may be a difficult child. However, regardless of being spoilt, their brain is designed for concentration and consistency. A spoilt child can make choices around their own behaviour. They can think before they act; which means fewer incidents of impulsivity. Entitlement is a personality trait, and has little do with the way a brain functions.
Misconception number 5#
If a child is not medicated in childhood, consequences can be dire. The result of not medicating your child may include drug addiction and time spent in gaol. Mental health disorders including conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or oppositional defiance disorder may result.
Medicated children are not just given medication to stop ADHD symptoms. They are also encouraged to commit to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program, which will show the child, while on medication, how to behave.
Misconception number 6#
ADHD is hereditary. However, there are many dysfunctional adults with fully functional children. There are also many ADHD adults who do have ADHD children. However, this does not mean that these adults are completely dysfunctional. Dysfunctional behaviour is often largely dependant on upbringing, values handed down, and support. Dysfunctional behaviour also depends on the severity of the ADHD, which can broken down into three types of ADHD.
Three types of ADHD:
Inattentive: An inability to concentrate
Hyperactive/ Impulsive: An extreme amount of energy, and an eagerness to act without thought.
Combined: All three of the above elements.
Misconception number 7#
There is no evidence that food elimination diets actually work. However, evidence exists that medication improves focus and concentration.
Misconception number 8#
Numerous studies have been carried out on the ADHD brain. Significant studies suggest that the ADHD brain is smaller in size, has more grey matter around the cerebal cortex, and has smaller frontal lobes than a non- ADHD brain. Other studies show that the ADHD brain has lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
Some organisations, doctors, and neuroscientists still argue that ADHD doesn’t exist. To these people, I guess it is a debatable issue. However, for a parent with a child with a serious strain of ADHD, there is no debate about it.
Brain size and structure in ADHD
The cortex (otherwise known as the outer layer of the brain) is referred to as grey matter. It consists of mainly neurone cell bodies and synapses. The white matter in the brain is right underneath the grey matter. The grey matter consists of long neuronal axons covered by a fatty sheath named myelin which insulates these axons, and aids in the conduction of electrical impulses.
Diffuser Tensor imaging was used in a recent study to look at the fibre pathways in the brains of ADHD children. It was confirmed that abnormal features were found in the fibre pathways of the frontal cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem and cerebellum. These areas are involved in attention, impulsivity, inhibition and motor activity.
The study concluded that brain circuits connecting each area of the brain could be altered in a child with ADHD. This is a possible reason children with ADHD have problems with attention, behaviour and learning.
An introduction to the brain
The three major parts of the brain are the cerebellum, cerebrum, and the brainstem.
The areas of the brain which are specific to ADHD, and to learning, concentration, behaviour and attention regulation, include the brainstem, cerebellum, frontal lobe, parietal lobe, and the temporal lobe.
The cerebrum is located in the upper skull, and is the biggest part of the brain. The cerebrum uses the information distributed to it from our five senses. Through this distribution we are able to make sense of what is exactly going on in our surroundings. The cerebrum than relays back to the person’s body how exactly they should respond.
The cerebrum is in control of our emotions, our ability to speak, have thoughts, read language and to learn. It is made up of grey matter, and is named the cerebral cortex.
The Cerebal cortex is divided into two left and right hemispheres. These hemispheres are connected by a thick band of nerve fibres named the corpus callosum, which allows the two hemispheres to communicate and to share information.
The two left and right hemispheres have been divided into lobes: frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes.
Frontal lobes are large complex structures, and include the motor cortex which controls movement. These lobes are required for speech, making plans, solving a problem, and for helping people to decide how to behave socially and emotionally. They also give us self – awareness and self- control.
The temporal lobes are the main areas responsible for remembering a fact or event. Together, with the support of the limbic system, they help us express, and understand emotions.
The temporal lobes effect a person’s overall personality. They are needed to hear, have an understanding of language, and to distinguish sounds made by musical instruments. The cerebellum of someone without ADHD will have more grey matter then someone with ADHD, which is why ADHD children have major problems with emotional regulation, and the processing of language.
ADHD children often have difficulty following through with instructions. Often, they are so hyperactive that they simply cannot process the language being spoken to them. It can’t be processed or understood in that moment of out of control hyperactivity.
Even if the language is processed, (which is unlikely) they will have great difficulty stopping what they doing, to put the given instructions into action. If they do put into place a plan to fulfil the task, the behaviour while doing the task will include hyperactivity, poor concentration, vocalisations and other disruptive behaviour. Anything can happen while they are trying to complete the task.
There is a lack of connection between what you are asking a child with ADHD to do, how they process what you are asking them to do, and fulfilling the task.
The parietal lobes make interpretations about sensations and messages from different parts of the brain. They make connections between the information from different senses, and store memories. These lobes interpret touch, temperature, pain, sounds, and visual information about objects and the environment. They help us understand shape, size, texture, and direction.
The occipital lobes contain the primary vision centres, as well as areas that help us visually understand, recognise objects, and help us understand what written words mean.
Underneath the surface of the cerebrum is the ‘white matter’ and deeper structures: the basal ganglia, and the limbic system, which are closely connected.
The basal ganglia are a group of structures around the thalamus, which include the putamun, globes pallibus, and caudate nucleus. The basal ganglia are important for voluntary movement, and contribute to learning skills. They control our response to reinforcement or rewards.
The limbic system is a complex network of brain areas that includes the amygdala, and the hippocampus, as well as the temporal, frontal and parietal lobes. The limbic system is the ”primitive” or ”animal” part of our brain. It controls our immediate, automatic responses to stimuli-our ”gut reactions’.
The location of the cerebellum is right at the back of the brain. It keeps a person’s balance and physical, more complex movements coordinated. An action such as running or playing a violin are coordinated by the cerebellum. The cerebellum contributes to the control of speech, and participates in many of the functions controlled by the cerebrum in ways that are not fully understood.
The brain and the spinal cord are connected by the brainstem. The brainstem will pass a message back and forth between parts of a person’s body and the brain. The brainstem is in control of functions like breathing, blood pressure, body temperature, heart rhythms, hunger and thirst, and sleep patterns.
What does the ADHD brain want?
ADHD brains to do not adapt to environments easily. They run on lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine than the non-ADHD brain, which means it is challenging to keep up stimulation offered by less inspiring, or everyday tasks.
The ADHD brain is motivated by activities which enable high-stimulation, and allow for optimal arousal. This can mean elevating the existing stimulation, by wanting things louder, to go faster, to be bigger, funnier, or riskier. The more intensity, the more aroused the brain will feel.
Most people with ADHD find it difficult to modulate their own levels of stimulation, and often end up over aroused. Laughter turns to hysteria, the engagement in fun becomes too much fun, stirring somebody up turns into a big argument, and a cuddle becomes a bear hug.
Due to poor modulation, the brain can suddenly become overloaded with stimulation. What was laughter moments ago can suddenly become tears, screaming, or an abrupt departure.
A major factor in ADHD is the brain’s underlying challenge to self-regulate. The ADHD brain’s stimulation requirements always change in relation to internal and external demands.
The brains response to the environment is based on what is motivating the brain in that very moment, and the focus possible, given neurotransmitter levels. Whether an ADHD brain sways towards over-reactivity, or under-reactivity, these brains rarely get the balance right.
Chadian, Peter. MA, MEd &Tannock, Rosemary, PhD. 2009
Dr Ellen Littman, ‘What the ADHD brain wants, and why’
So, your child has ADHD, and it honestly feels like the end of the world. Emotionally, the walls have caved in around you, and you can’t help but wonder, how did this happen? There is a lot to grieve when your child receives an ADHD diagnosis.
I was devastated when I found out my son has ADHD. Especially after I read the statistics. If an ADHD child isn’t treated for the condition, or goes undiagnosed, the outcome is costly.
Statistics show that an adult with ADHD is 4 to 9 times more likely to commit crimes and end up in gaol, compared to someone without ADHD. Fifteen studies from peer – reviewed journals show that 21-45% of prisoners have ADHD.
If ADHD is ignored, or left undiagnosed, the person with the condition is likely to develop other mental health conditions. These can include depression, anxiety, addiction problems, oppositional defiance disorder, conduct disorder, or antisocial personality disorder.
It’s a grim prognosis, and there is a lot of work involved on the part of the parent to make sure the boat doesn’t sink.
I spent a year questioning my parenting. I wondered where my son’s father and I had gone wrong. Had I disciplined him enough? Had our breakup contributed to his condition?
Sadly, I even wondered what other people would think once they realised that our son is out of control.
I knew I had disciplined him enough. I knew that I had loved him enough.
I also knew that I was deeply ashamed of myself for having a role in handing down this horrible, life changing, debilitating condition to my child.
I felt an overwhelming sense of inferiority around the other parents whose children went to school with my son.
This inferiority had absolutely nothing to do with my son. To me, he was beautiful in every way. However, his out of control behaviour was something else – and for a long time I blamed myself for every aspect of his dreadful behaviour.
There were inconsistencies in my own immediate family which screamed dysfunction, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this had something to do with his diagnosis.
For me, the birth of my son had originally meant that I would give him a new history. My original plan was to give him the love and nurture that I had never been given. I wanted him to succeed in his life more than I ever could. To give him the opposite of what I had planned was not my intention.
While other people’s children were getting 100% in their class test, or reading at level fifteen, my son was failing everything, and reading at a level two. He was also ripping up his schoolwork, and throwing it around the library, giving the teacher a kick every now and again, and screaming at his class mates.
I found it embarrassing that he was calling out in class all day everyday. I found it embarrassing that he would hit the other children for laughs, and I was absolutely terrified about how the other parent’s perceived me as a mother.
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, ”he didn’t get this from me,” and point at his father.
I was annoyed that my son couldn’t simply get dressed in the morning without falling to the ground in a ball of tears. I was annoyed that he couldn’t complete a single solitary task without either losing concentration, needing help, or leaving his work unfinished.
I was also very angry that I would need to give my son a pill every morning up until the age of sixteen. A pill to have friendships, to concentrate, to behave, and to stop the constant out of control impulsive, overly hyperactive behaviour.
What has the world come to if we have to give our children a pill everyday?
ADHD is a misunderstood condition. There are still people in this world who have no understanding about ADHD, and who would even go as far as to say that the condition doesn’t exist.
I did question my parenting. I was worried about what others may think if they found out my son is so out of control he needs medication. I was very hard on myself. Especially when I had a really good look at the family tree, and realised that hyperactivity and inattention runs rampant in my family.
”What is wrong with us?” I continued to wonder.
After a couple of years playing the blame game, I finally decided that enough was enough. I needed to come back down to earth and accept the reality that ADHD is an hereditary, neurological condition. A brain malfunction! Plain and simple.
I know what I know, and I know the behaviour can’t be helped. I’ve seen it first hand. Other people haven’t. To hell with the people who want to judge.
I was told my son has an immature brain, and that was devastating to hear. ADHD will most likely impact his adult relationships, his impulse control once he is weened off medication, and his ability to concentrate for the rest of his life.
My son will probably always say silly things without thinking. He will always have learning difficulties, (which often coincide with ADHD) and he will have times where he suffers from self-doubt. It is all a part of the ADHD parcel.
My boy is difficult to parent, difficult to teach, and his energy is non-stop. He picks fights, hits, acts out, does his own thing instead of what he was told to do, and he often can’t get organised.
I am one hundred percent certain that with my non-stop support he will get there. Yes, he will get there later than some of his peers, but he will get there! His journey is his journey. At the end of it he will have lots of amazing funny stories to tell, and a hell of a lot of wisdom.
I love my quirky little boy!
Half way through kindergarten, it became painfully obvious that my son had issues with behaviour, concentration and hyperactivity. After hours upon hours of research, I decided to give the very complex Feingold diet a trial to see if my son’s suspected ADHD would improve.
In the early 1970’s Dr Benjamin Feingold, Chief Emeritus of the ‘Department of Allergies’ at the ‘Kaiser Foundation Hospital,’ speculated that particular foods and additives could trigger ADHD. Feingold made claims that once 30 to 50 percent of patients experiencing symptoms of hyperactivity were placed on an extreme food elimination diet, symptoms of ADHD had rapidly decreased. In his studies, Dr Fein gold had purposefully eliminated preservatives, colours, and salicylate’s from the diet’s of his patients.
The Fein-gold diet is a salicylate free, colour free, preservative free, sweetener free diet. Salicylate’s are natural chemicals found in fruits and vegetables. The list of vegetables and fruits containing salicylate’s that your child will be unable to eat will seem never-ending.
The diet exists in stages, and stage one is known as the elimination process. During this process, you must cut out all salicylate’s, which means meal times will be very bland for at least a week. During stage one, you can introduce salicylate’s one at a time to confirm which salicylate’s your child can or cannot tolerate. However, after watching my son react to particular salicylate’s, I did notice that it can take up to 72 hours for negative reactions to stop.
My son could not eat any red coloured fruits or vegetables. This included, strawberries, cherries, capsicums, red apples, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, or products with red food colouring. I made ice – cream from scratch, and bought an organic brand of yoghurt from Coles. Even still, my son could only eat the natural vanilla flavoured yoghurt from that particular brand. I spent hours in the supermarket reading ingredients, and sifting through the products to determine what he could and could not eat. I had to cut out all soy products, savoury products, cakes, biscuits and lollies. He couldn’t even eat baked goods from the bakery, hot chips from the shops, or packet chips from the supermarket, because of the preservative in the oil on the baking trays.
All food dyes are banned. Sunset yellow, red, pink, green, blue, brown and black. My son had huge reactions to sunset yellow, which is in the majority of savoury foods, sweets and flavourings such as imitation vanilla essence. He had a major reaction to twisties in the early days, which resulted in him smashing his sisters glass tea set. Chocolate is also banned. To be honest, it felt like he couldn’t eat anything.
However, we did have alternative solutions. I bought his lollies from a special company which sold natural lollies. I tried giving my son the lollies from the Natural Confectionary Company. However, he could only have two of the colours. He couldn’t have the cherry, strawberry, blackcurrent or orange lollies. I used beetroot (the alternative to tomatoes) to make lasagne, beetroot sauce for pizza bases, and spaghetti Bolognese. I even made homemade ice-cream as a substitute to real ice-cream. The Feingold information booklet even tells you how to make your own food dyes out of natural alternatives. However, beetroot sauce as the alternative to tomato paste on the pizza base, tomato in the lasagna, and spaghetti Bolognese sauce really didn’t cut it for me or for my son.
I supported my son by placing our entire family on the diet (his two sisters and myself). As a Feingold diet participant, I have to tell you that in all honesty, I found all the Feingold diet alternatives more than boring. I also believe that the diet itself was making my son depressed, and highlighting to him that there was something really wrong with him. He had to say no to the hotdog at school on hotdog day, and he cried at birthday parties because he wasn’t even allowed to have a sausage sandwich. And, sadly, just to add to our situation, some children are more food sensitive than the average Feingold dieter. My son was one of these overly food sensitive children.
However, the pros to the diet were that my son did improve almost one hundred percent, compared to his earlier behaviour. He could finally concentrate, sit still and stand still. He barely called out in class anymore, and he rarely misbehaved.
Two weeks before his birthday, I decided that he most likely wasn’t allergic to soy. For his birthday I made him a lovely chocolate mud cake, which had a large amount of soy in it. It turned out that he was allergic to soy. He had a terrible reaction to the cake, and misbehaved at school for the next five days. Just as I thought I could put him back on the diet, he came down with a cold and developed an ear infection. So, I had to put him on amoxicillin to eliminate the ear infection. During this time he kicked the teacher, couldn’t concentrate, and spent a week in trouble.
After his ear infection went away, I put him back on the diet, only to find that he was most likely allergic to spinach. I made a lovely spinach pasta dish, only to find that he went to school the next day, and ripped his work up in front of the librarian. He also screamed at her, threw himself on the floor, and tried to kick her. I did some more reading, and discovered that I was going to have to eliminate more products, and vegetables from his diet. I was actually beginning to wonder if he was even getting enough nutrients.
It simply became too hard, and I decided that I just couldn’t do the diet anymore. My son has a severe case of ADHD, he was quickly losing his self-esteem, his impulse control was out of control, and I wasn’t going to experiment anymore with diets when medication could set things straight for the moment.
The Feingold Association can be joined for a small fee of 69 US dollars. Membership is for a lifetime, comes with forum support, a complete guide explaining the diet, food list, shopping list, shopping guide and some recipes.
To me, the idea of medicating children for ADHD seems completely unnatural, and wrong.
Two years ago after giving the holistic dietary approach to ADHD a good run, I made the anxiety provoking decision to medicate my little boy.
I was extremely worried about the effects medication could have on my son’s body. I was worried that his brain may become too reliant on the medication. I was concerned about damage to internal organs, and his growth, in terms of his height.
Stunted growth is a side effect of medications used to contain ADHD symptoms (my child is now the second shortest child in his class).
”Morally, I felt the crunch from my conscience.”
No parent should feel that they absolutely have no other choice but to medicate their child in the hope of warding off out of control behaviour, to improve learning capability, and to increase overall productivity.
However, as parents of children with ADHD, we often do feel as though we must medicate our children. Our children’s behaviours are not socially acceptable.
Poor behaviour, and an incapacity to learn can have a devastating affect on a child’s mental health.
I believe there is a holistic approach to ADHD. I just didn’t find it. There are too many holistic approaches to supposedly help contain the symptoms of ADHD. Each child’s body reacts differently to each individual diet.
There is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to eliminating particular foods. And, there isn’t enough time to trial every single ADHD diet.
Children should be able to eat fun foods regardless of what of type of brain they have been designated.
So, on the flip side, my son can now concentrate for the first time in his life. He can actually enjoy learning, eat lollies without becoming out of control, and engage in interpersonal relationships without scaring his friends away.
My child has the upper hand. He is in control of his behaviour, not the other way around.
”My child likes himself.”
ADHD put my son in a position of vulnerability to feelings of intense shame and self-hatred. As a mother, I couldn’t watch my little boy go through that.
Shame is mentally incapacitating. It hinders people from achieving great things, and can lead to drug addiction.
However, with that being said, am I interfering in my son’s journey to learn how to manage his ADHD symptoms?
The pediatrician told me that by medicating my son, his brain will slow down. This will give my son the chance to think his choices through, instead of acting on his impulses.
Holistic approaches to ADHD will not give my son the same opportunities that medication does.
Elimination diets do not guarantee that your child will suddenly become a focused student with an excellent concentration span.
Elimination diets require months of product trials, vitamin trials, and fruit and vegetable trials to get the correct combination of nutrients required to improve behaviours.
You can completely eliminate colours, only to find that the tomato on your child’s sandwich created a major meltdown.
You can eliminate a wide combination of vegetables, food additives and soy products, only to find that your child reacts to something the diet says your child should be able to consume.
It is almost impossible to get the combinations correct. I know this, because I have tried it.
These diets do help a child’s behaviour. I have seen the progress made first hand. However, the progress is inconsistent, and the results are poor in comparison to the benefits of medication.
When you know your child’s self- esteem is in harms way, and you know that it could take at least a year to get your child’s ingredients right, medication is the easiest most fulfilling option.
When making the decision to ‘medicate, or not to medicate’ my son, I thought deeply about our single parent family as an entire unit. I had to do what was best for the four of us.
Having a child with special needs is a high – stress position to be in. This is not good for the family as a system. I cannot give 75% of what I have to give, to my son. It isn’t possible, its not o.k, and it simply isn’t fair to my girls.
Pros to medicating:
Cons to medicating:
Up until the day my son started kindergarten his preschool teachers had always described him as a lovely, kind, empathetic little boy. He wasn’t a biter, he rarely hit other children, and he had friends, lots of them. However, as soon as he entered kindergarten, he all of sudden exhibited behaviours detrimental to himself.
Three weeks into kindergarten, and the tables had turned. I was being told that my beautiful little angel, was apparently exhibiting out of control behaviour.
The teacher was talking about my son…..a child I thought I knew.
My child was refusing to, under any circumstances co-operate with his teacher. The teacher would ask him to do something, and he would just look her in the eye and say, ‘no thanks.’
He couldn’t complete a task, he refused to join in classroom activities, he was hitting other children, and, when pushed to co-operate, he would have an absolute meltdown.
”An extraordinary little monster had taken the place of my son.”
My son was being asked to concentrate, something a child with serious ADHD cannot do. His brain isn’t wired in a way that enables him to concentrate. So, instead, he became a screaming, aggressive mess.
My son cannot sit still to complete tasks. He literally cannot stop moving, or talking throughout the entire process, unless medicated.
My son will stand up straight, lean over the table, begin to write one letter, maybe do a twist, and suddenly begin to ask me a million questions. When I persist, and make him sit down in his chair to continue on with the sentence, he will immediately get back up out of the chair and try to distract me. If I keep pushing, he will cry. It is almost as though his brain is in pain.
School is not a daycare. Unlike daycare, children don’t engage in fun activity after fun activity at school. Instead, a child is required to stick to a routine, and do some very mundane tasks. ADHD children hate mundane tasks.
My child, unless medicated, cannot stop. His brain controls him. He is too loud, too silly, too funny, and is constantly searching for fun, high risk activities.
He (along with the millions of other children who have ADHD) will walk into a room and immediately search for the funniest, most stimulating, high risk activity to do in that room.
For a child with ADHD, the stimulation offered by mundane tasks can’t compete with the stimulation offered by highly stimulating experiences.
All brains must be aroused to function properly. Arousal enables a brain to become alert, and ready to learn. Non- ADHD brains are aroused by the stimulation of daily life. Regardless of the fluctuations in stimulation, these properly developed brains can still get the task done. These brains can remain in a state of alertness while being fuelled with neurotransmitters which will help to get the job done.
When somebody’s brain is functioning well, they are able to work towards goals.
ADHD brains, unlike non-ADHD brains, have lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. This major issue makes it harder for the owner’s of these brains to find, and to maintain necessary stimulation.
A brain lower in dopamine and norepinephrine will find a task like doing up shoe laces, or getting dressed, boring. These tasks do not arouse the ADHD brain, whereas they do arouse the non-ADHD brain, enough at least to get the job done.
ADHD brains are extremely motivated to find a balance of stimulation that will enable optimal arousal. Non- ADHD brains do not need to do this. They already have the right levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
The ADHD brain is not concerned about the time it takes to complete a task, or the consequences of not getting the task completed.
While the owner of this brain is meant to be fulfilling a task, or a request, their brain will instead be looking for optimum arousal. This is the reason why the ADHD brains owner may suddenly pick a fight with their sibling, or run incredibly late for the bus.
This quest for the desired amount of optimum arousal is why the ADHD child suddenly ups the anti in a quiet situation, where moments ago there was no noise.
This continued desire for stimulation is why a lot of these children, including my son, always appear to want things to be faster, louder, bigger, funnier, or riskier. In mundane, low-stimulation environments, ADHD brains will require their owner to increase the intensity of the situation with noise, laughter, and as much chaos as possible.
The consequences of this behaviour is often low self-esteem, a poor social life with few friends, and low grades.
Before I made the difficult decision to place my son on medication, he would often tell me that he just felt like a bad boy. He would tell me frequently how stupid he was, or how he just felt like an idiot.
He was always in trouble, always being told to calm down, to stop the noise, or to just try to stop.
‘I felt sorry for my son. It just didn’t seem fair. How was he supposed to maintain friendships when he had no self control?’
My son wants to be a good person, which is what makes having ADHD so hard for him. He has a serious brain disorder that continually counteracts the good things that he is trying to do. I just don’t think that it is fair.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: What is it?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a recognised medical condition where a child will act or behave on impulse. This behaviour in a child with ADHD is to extremes and has a huge impact on the child’s everyday life. The brain in a child with ADHD will not connect and communicate with the other parts of the brain in a normal way. This will affect the child’s thinking, ability to learn, and ability to control their own behaviour.
Three types of ADHD:
Inattentive: Concentration and attention problems, issues remembering instructions and completing a task.
Hyperactive/impulsive type: Extreme amount of energy, can’t relax, and behaves without thought.
Combined ADHD: Concentration issues, hyperactive, and is impulsive.
Behavioural issues that:
Behavioural problems are only ever linked to ADHD if your child has six signs or symptoms from the following list.