Attention Deficit Disorder
Attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) is understood as lack of concentration, age-inappropriate impulsiveness and occasionally excessive physical activity. It has been connected to learning problems and poor social skills. But what is "normal" is unclear so that whether a child truly suffers from ADD or whether she is more rambunctious than other children is not easily determined. There are no objective identifiers. ADD often goes undiagnosed if not identified early on, and even affects many unknowing adults.
Helpful Things to Do
Television The connection between exposure to television at a young age and ADD is clear. Children between 1 and 3 who watch television have a greater risk of deveoping ADD by age 7 - and the more they watch, the greater the risk - from 10% greater risk per extra hour of TV exposure to a high of 28% greater liklihood. 1
Magnesium supplementation may be helpful.
Smoking during pregnancy and other lifestyle habits may increase the risk of your child's developing ADD.
Exposure to heavy, toxic metals is another factor.
Dietary considerations may be helpful. See a detailed discussion of nutrition.
Television, Computers, Handheld Devices Exposure to television between ages 1 and 3, as mentioned in the sidebar, by itself, may not seem like an important cause, but coupled with the other environmental, lifestyle and food influences, such exposure becomes significant. Of course the type and pace of the TV show makes a difference, but it provides a compelling case for limiting TV exposure in the very young.
This increased risk occurs because young children's brains are normally growing and changing very rapidly as they continually explore their world. But sitting in front of the television or computer game, or any video-based entertainment or educational media causes the child to be still and focused rather than actively engaged with her environment. The normal progression of development of neural networks in the brain, which occurs between one and three years old does not take place, and instead, the brain becomes used to rapidly changing stimuli, which, of course, are not part of a child's normal non-TV environment.
Therefore it is wise to not let your very young child spend more than an hour or two daily in front of the TV, computer, or handheld video game.
Magnesium may be helpful (200 mg of magnesium per day for six months). Some children with ADHD have lowered levels of magnesium. In a preliminary controlled trial, 50 ADHD children with low blood levels of magnesium were given 200 mg of magnesium per day for six months. Compared with 25 other magnesium-deficient ADHD children, those given magnesium supplementation had a significant decrease in hyperactive behavior.
- Smoking during pregnancy should be avoided as it may increase the risk of giving birth to a child at risk for ADHD.
- Metal exposure: Lead and other heavy-metal exposures have been linked to ADHD so you can investigate the possibility of heavy-metal exposure.
- The Feingold diet: This diet was developed by Benjamin Feingold, MD, on the theory that salicylates (chemicals similar to aspirin) are an underlying cause of hyperactivity. As many as 10-25% of children may be sensitive to salicylates. The Feingold diet eliminates synthetic additives, dyes, and chemicals, and is a complex diet requiring help from an experienced healthcare professional.
- Hypoallergenic diet: Eliminating allergenic foods and additives from the diet can help children with attention problems.
- Dietary sugar: Some parents believe that sugar may aggravate ADHD. Research gives mixed results.
- Other nutritional options
ADHD is usually identified through a pattern of being easily distracted, inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity that may affect 3 to 5% of school children. Emotional difficulties or learning disabilities are often also seen.
ADD symptoms are caused by a brain neurological dysfunctioning. Researchers via PET scans have determined that the brains of ADD patients and controls feature decided differences in brain functioning. However, the actual physiological mechanism giving rise to ADD is still not thoroughly understood. It may be that brain chemistry is imbalanced so that some neurotransmitters are lacking.
In two studies, when ADD patients were re-scanned after receiving their medication, their brain activity appeared to be similar to that of the control group. Interestingly, the ADD patients show lower than normal activity in the parts of the areas of the brain that are known to be associated with functions like attention, concentration, organization and planning, the same functions that are impaired in ADD patients.
Genetics research has demonstrated that ADD runs in families, but the specific chromosomes have not been fully identified. As with other disorders, a child may be symptomatic but the parents do not display the symptoms, although another relative may display the condition.
ADD Due to Brain Damage
Brain damage may contribute to ADD or increase the risk. Such damage may arise from drugs used during pregnancy or delivery, high blood pressure during pregnancy, exposure to radiation, infectious diseases, premature birth and difficult delivery. After birth conditions such as meningitis, encephalitis, seizures from fever or head injury may contribute to risk as can exposure to lead, chemical, pesticides and environmental pollutants.
Sweets - Partial Myth
Excessive use of sweets does not cause Attention Deficit Disorder though it may make the symptoms worse for some individuals who already have the condition.
Many children with ADD seem to "outgrow" it, and so we can consider ADD also as a developmental disorder. Just as there is a wide range of skills in young children such as when they begin to walk or talk, there is also a wide range in the age at which the ability to pay attention and concentrate develops. Such children have commonly been considered "late bloomers" as they catch up to their peers.
Many adults may realize they had once had a learning disability or experienced ADD as a child. Some people with Attention Deficit Disorder become very successful but others continue to have difficulty as adults. Without help from teachers, parents or professionals, these individuals often have difficulty adapting on their own and experiencing a fulfilling adult life. Some of these adults may socially drop out in varying degrees. Therefore children who exhibit signs of ADD with companion learning disabilities should receive all the help necessary and available to spare them the unhappiness so often a part of their later lives.
Source: childdevelopmentinfo.com, and other ADD sites
The main drug treatment for ADHD, Ritalin (methylphenidate), is similar to amphetamine drugs. Although methylphenidate is a stimulant, it has a paradoxically calming effect in individuals with ADHD.
1. Christakis, D.A. et al, Pediatrics, April, 2004, Children's Hospital, Seattle.