ADHD - The Natural Way by Charlotte Wilkinson

Shelly-Ann McMorris

(I want to preface this article by saying that I am not against traditional medication if that is the right thing for you or your child with ADHD, but for my son, it so far has not been the right thing. This is an article about our experience using natural methods to support my son's ADHD brain).

My son has ADHD. He also has SPD. He is hyper and impulsive. His brain and his body are constantly moving. Emotionally, he is about 2 years behind his peers. When he was first diagnosed in early 2020, he was just over 6 years old, and even our pediatrician hesitated with the diagnosis. Our school had requested that we bring someone along to that pediatrician appointment, and I knew it would mean a discussion of medicating him. I had no doubt that that was what the school wanted. Sure enough, once the diagnosis came, the first thing asked by many was "what medication are you going to put him on?" The thought hadn't even crossed my mind. He was only 6, and I dare say most 6-year-old are impulsive and can't sit still at times. He needed adults who understood his brain difference and could teach him in an out-of-the-box way, not to be on some medication that could possibly worsen his difficulties with sleeping and other ADHD challenges. He tends to get 'hangry' if he hasn't eaten enough and I did not want to imagine what that might look like if he was taking a medication that could result in loss of appetite as a side effect. He also gets grumpy and has a harder time when he hasn't gotten enough sleep. I know my kiddo best, and I didn't want to feel forced to put him on traditional medications when I knew he just needed time. Time to grow into his ADHD, time to learn about how his brain works, to learn coping and calming strategies.  Lack of focus wasn't the issue. Neither was intelligence. It was his hyper activeness and impulsivity that was because it meant he wasn't able to sit in a chair at a desk all day. When he wasn't asked to sit all day and was allowed to have movement breaks, he was fine.

When his official diagnosis came, he had already been doing Occupational Therapy (OT) for 6 months. Originally referred to OT for help with written output, the OT soon saw that the reason for the struggles with written output came from a weak core. During their weekly sessions, they worked hard on sensory circuits, core strengthening activities, and writing with larger writing items on big surfaces (like using a whiteboard pen on a whiteboard or writing on a chalkboard at OT. At home he uses bingo dabber). He was calmer at the end of his sessions and was able to sit for 10 minutes and do table work with the OT, so I knew we must be on to something. OT was working and he was loving it, but his hyperactivity and impulsiveness were still high, and so on the advice of a friend of my mom's, I decided to give a Naturopath a call. I thought I would exhaust all my other options before going down the traditional medications route. We got started on a gluten-free diet, probiotics, multivitamins, and omega 3's. By the time we started on the gluten-free diet, it was about a week or so before lockdown, so it was hard to tell at that point if it was helping or not. I stayed the course though, and by the time school resumed for the month of June, I had seen an improvement in his gut health and his behaviour. Sleep remained our #1 issue. Both the quality of it and the quantity. The sleep issues affected the behaviour and stamina in a huge way, and I knew that eventually, we would need to look deeper into it and figure out a solution.

We went through the summer and early fall on the same regime as the spring and didn't add any other supplements until October. On the advice of the naturopath, we decided to add a daily zinc tablet to his regime, as well as vitamin d. The zinc was meant to help with the impulsivity and hyperactivity, and after having him take it for several months, I could tell the days he didn't take it, like weekends. He was way more impulsive. I was a little reluctant to give him melatonin, or any kind of thing to help him sleep, but he was really struggling to get good quality sleep, he was having really big emotions and meltdowns at bedtime, and it was affecting how he was in the day times also. We finally did add two sleep aides, and they have helped him to get both good quality and a good quantity of sleep. I plan to keep my son on this course of treatment for as long as possible. I read that impulsivity in his type of ADHD usually peaks by age 8 and he is already 7 1/2, so I am hopeful that things will continue to improve. Combined with a predictable and consistent schedule & routine, accommodations at school and home to allow his brain to not be on overload, and enough sensory and heavy work activities throughout the day, my son is doing just fine. He completes his work quickly and efficiently; both the work he does at school and the work he is given by his teacher to do at home -- and he can multitask while doing so -- he understands the material and enjoys doing it. I know that we may not be able to stay on this course forever. He is only 7 1/2, so the work isn't super complicated or hard yet. Although he is already better at math than I am! Right now, he is thriving on our current treatment plan, but there may come a day when he wants to give traditional medications a try. I want him to be old enough to understand all that that entails and to be able to make an informed decision for himself before making that decision, but if it's something he wants to do, we can certainly look into it.

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