“Yes, its ADHD. How do you feel about medication?” My husband and I did not want to medicate our son. At least not without trying something else first. We wanted to try dietary changes, but the Pediatrician said “there’s no science in it”. We knew that there was nothing more that the system could do for us. “If all else fails, we can always come back to the doctor; but what if it works?” I asked my husband. And it did. Check out these 10 things that you can try before medication.
1. Vision Testing
In some children, Convergence Insufficiency has been misdiagnosed as ADHD. This can occur because some of the symptoms overlap.
Convergence insufficiency is a vision problem that may go undetected in standard vision tests. So, if your child did not receive a thorough vision exam during the diagnostic process, this is a great place to start.
Check out this quick video which explains what happens when a child with Convergence Insufficiency reads.
- What is Convergence Insufficiency?
- Symptoms of Convergence Insufficiency.
- Exercises to help with Convergence Insufficiency.
We had Lachlan’s eyes tested and his optometrist identified an issue with accommodation (focus). I was told that due to his age (6 1/2 years at the time) it was not a great concern as this fine motor skill is typically mastered by the age of 7.
2. Hearing Test
Auditory Processing Disorder is a condition that makes it challenging for children to interpret what they hear. Hearing tests will come back normal because the child can hear just fine. The problem arises when the brain starts to interpret those sounds into something meaningful that they can understand.
Auditory Processing Disorder often affects children when they are in an environment with a lot of background noises (making it more difficult to distinguish between sounds and interpret them). Children with Auditory Processing Disorder often have difficulty with memory, concentration, reading, writing and spelling.
- Check out this website for some fantastic information and resources on Auditory Processing Disorder.
- Auditory Processing Disorder symptoms can differ depending on your child’s age.
- Treatment options for Auditory Processing Disorder.
I was fortunate enough that Lachlan’s teacher recommended testing for APD and he was tested at school with no charge to us. Shortly after, we were sent the test results and received a phone call to say that Lachlan did not have any auditory processing challenges.
3. Parenting Strategies
Despite what the critics say, ADHD is not a result of ‘bad parenting’! That being said, there are a few strategies that you can implement to make life a little easier.
- Clear instructions. Make sure that you have your child’s undivided attention before giving the instruction. Be clear and precise so that your child knows exactly what is expected of them. For example, “Please tie the top of the rubbish bag, take it outside, and put it in the bin.” is easier to follow than “take the rubbish out”. Your child will know exactly what you expect of them. Also, ask your child to repeat the instruction. It will help to reinforce the message and they will be more likely to remember all of the steps and follow through.
- Routines. The school environment is quite structured and many ADHD children benefit from having a set routine for home, before and after school. There are a lot of great ideas for setting routines in this article.
- Praising good behaviour. ADHD children often respond better to positive reinforcement than to punishments for bad behaviour. You may like to browse the Positive Parenting Solutions website for more information on how to implement this strategy.
- Uniformity. It is important to make sure that both parents are on board with the parenting strategies being implemented. It will be confusing for your child if one parent has different expectations than the other.
You may also like to share these strategies with your child’s teacher, sporting coach, or other adults who care for your child.
Triple P – Positive Parenting Program can empower parents in their efforts to raise happy, confident, well-behaved children. Learn more about the program here.
A 2014 study found that the Triple P was effective at reducing misbehaviour in ADHD children, creating a better relationship between parents and children, and reducing stress and anxiety of the parents.
If you are interested in Triple-P, you can select the program that is right for your family here.
4. Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the essential nutrients. This means that we must obtain them from our diet, our bodies cannot make them for us. You can read more about the importance of omega 3 here.
Omega 3 is especially important for brain health and performance. A deficiency in omega 3 may cause the following symptoms:
- poor memory
- dry skin
- heart problems
- mood swings or depression
- poor circulation
It comes as no surprise then, that omega 3 supplements are often recommended for children with ADHD.
The best way to get enough omega 3 is to include oily fish in your diet. Current recommendations are to consume fish twice per week.
Salmon and sardines are examples of fish with high omega 3 content. Check out The Australian Heart Foundation’s sources of omega 3 list for more examples of omega 3 rich foods.
Omega 3 supplements are not all created equal. Here are a few things to consider when purchasing an omega 3 supplement for your ADHD child:
- Gummies (or chews) tend to have too low a dose of omega 3 and often contain sugar and additives. Liquids or capsules are usually more effective for children with ADHD.
- Professionals recommend choosing a product that contains 2-3 times as much EPA to DHA.
- I recommend consulting your medical practitioner to discuss a safe dosage for your child.
5. Dietary Changes
A healthy, wholefoods diet can minimise the symptoms that your ADHD child experiences.
What to include more of
- Fruits and vegetables. Your child should eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Choosing some from each colour of the rainbow will deliver vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients required for optimal health and performance.
- Protein. Children need adequate protein to grow and repair. Also, neurotransmitters are made from amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that allow our brain to do its thing! So, it’s important that your child is eating plenty of protein.
- Omega 3. See above.
What to limit or avoid
- Processed foods. Packaged foods often have high amounts of sugar and salt. They may also contain food additives, some of which can cause ADHD symptoms and other health problems.
- Sugar. Sugar is found in almost all processed foods. Alarmingly, even foods marketed as ‘healthy’ options (like yoghurt and muesli bars) contain high amounts of sugar. What’s worse is that it is often hidden, disguised in the ingredients list with an estimated 61 different names. The sugar and ADHD link is hotly debated. There are studies that have disproved the sugar theory but critics say we haven’t done the right studies. Check out this interesting article and see what you think. No matter how you look at it, too much sugar is bad for your health, so it stands to reason that your child will benefit if you limit their sugar intake. If you notice an improvement in ADHD symptoms, like I did with Lachlan, then all the better for your efforts.
- Refined carbohydrates. Read as ‘sugar’; carbohydrates are broken down and used by the body in the same way that sugar is. So, reduce intake of refined carbohydrates such as white potatoes, white bread, cakes and biscuits. Complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains and their products, vegetables, and lentils) take longer to break down and are often high in fibre. This means that you won’t the experience the extreme blood sugar fluctuations that you do when eating refined carbohydrates.
How to get them to eat healthy
It is almost impossible to get the kids to eat healthy at the best of times, but when you are dealing with the extra challenge of ADHD… you feel like giving up.
Don’t give up! Check out my Ultimate guide to helping children make healthy food choices to see how I got my 6 year old to swap the contents of his lunchbox for healthy, wholefoods options instead.
6. Food Intolerance Testing
If you have tried the wholefoods approach and you still haven’t seen any improvement in your child’s symptoms, it may not necessarily mean that diet will not help.
You may find that your child is sensitive to some of the foods that they are eating. For example, dairy and gluten intolerances are quite common among ADHD children.
There are a few different ways that you could find out if your child has a food intolerance.
You can trial an elimination diet. Remove foods that you suspect may be contributing to your childs symptoms and monitor their behaviour for any changes. Read about some of the possible culprits, learn how to do an elimination diet, and hear some success stories here.
The Food Intolerance Institute of Australia recommends the Journal Method (keeping a written journal of the foods you eat, as well as the symptoms you experience, each day).
Food Intolerance Testing
Check out the ADHD Natural Mamma’s recount on how IgG testing helped her identify the food sensitivities that were causing her son’s ADHD symptoms.
We tried the Failsafe Elimination diet for Lachlan and found it did not make any difference to his behaviour. However, when we saw a Naturopath (who practices iridology – diagnosis by looking at the eyes) and restricted particular foods as suggested, we saw a dramatic improvement.
Interestingly, the Australiasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Alergy (ASCIA) does not recommend IgG testing or iridology for identifying Food intolerances. I’ll leave that choice up to you.
7. Physical Activity
Not only does physical activity allow your child to burn off extra energy (where does it all come from?!), but it is also a great tool for brain function too.
Studies have shown that “… kids with ADHD who exercised performed better on tests of attention, and had less impulsivity, even if they weren’t taking stimulant medicines.”
Dr John Ratey tells ADDitude magazine that even walking for just 30 minutes per day, 4 days per week can make a difference. But, of course, getting your child involved in a sport will also benefit them. Check out the 10 Best Sports for ADHD kids.
Although Lachlan is not the sporty type, we make sure that he gets plenty of outside play to burn off energy. We also find that brain breaks during homework are highly effective. Vestibular activities such as jumping and swinging are particularly beneficial for this.
- Better Health Channel: Physical Activity – it’s important.
- Centres for disease control and prevention: How much physical activity do children need?
- Sensory Break ideas.
8. Occupational Therapy
An Occupational Therapist can help your child with self-regulation (developing strategies for controlling their behaviours and emotions) and executive functioning (such as problem solving and organisation skills). You can read more about that here.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
According to the STAR Institute, “Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organized into appropriate responses”
Occupational Therapy is the preferred treatment for SPD.
- Check out this parent’s recount of how an Occupational Therapist helped their ADHD child.
- Learn about sensory diets.
- Sensory Processing Disorder or ADHD – How to Tell the Difference.
Lachlan saw an Occupational Therapist regularly for approximately 15 months. His sessions were effective at improving motor control issues, planning, concentration and addressing minor sensory issues.
NeuroFeedback involves monitoring brain activity and ‘reprogramming’ it where necessary to reduce ADHD symptoms.
10. Essential Oils
Essential oils are naturally occurring oils which are extracted from plants. They are extremely potent and a little goes a LONG way.
Essential oils can improve concentration/focus, memory and overall health.
- I use DoTerra oils – why DoTerra?
- How to use essential oils safely.
- Safety with essential oils and children.
- Risks and considerations for using essential oils.
- Oils that are particularly beneficial for managing ADHD: InTune, Vetiver, Lavender and Frankinsence. (My apologies, the prices on these links appear to be US prices. If you are interesting in these products, please contact me for more information).
Purchasing Essential oils
I am a DoTerra Wellness Advocate, and if you would like to purchase DoTerra oils, you can do so from my online store here. If you would like further information about DoTerra oils, using essential oils or which oils to purchase, please feel free to contact me first.
3 things to consider before you get started
It is important that you make choices that suit your personal circumstances. Please do not do anything that you feel uncomfortable with and seek guidance from a medical professional where necessary.
I believe that when making choices like this we need to find a balance between these 3 factors:
- What you know. You can only make choices with the information that you have. Seek to learn as much as you can about the choices that are available to you so that you can make the best decision for you and your child. You may like to borrow some books from your local library, ask for other people’s experiences on forums and support groups online, or do some further research of your own. Just be sure to keep an open mind, read as much as you can and come to your own conclusions.
- What you have time for. If any of these strategies just won’t work for you because you do not have the time to implement them, don’t do it. We live such busy lives already, adding more to the schedule is sometimes just too stressful. Only you know your schedule and how flexible it is.
- What you can afford. Find a way to work within your budget. For example, Occupation Therapy sessions are expensive, but we were able to get Lachlan on a care plan which meant that some sessions were funded by Medicare. Consequently, we could afford to send him more frequently than if we were out of pocket for every session.
Eating a wholefoods diet and avoiding the foods that have been recognised by our Naturopath as triggers for Lachlan’s ADHD is very expensive. Especially while Justin and I are both studying. However, because we KNOW that this works, we MAKE the time and FIND the money each week to continue. There is no way I could go back now, knowing what I do. Find the balance that’s right for you.
You’ve got this!
Unfortunately, alternative therapies often take longer to work. This will most likely be a period of trial and error to find what works for your child. It will likely take a combination of some of the things listed above (or other things, this is not an exhaustive list) before you notice a positive difference in your child.
Trust in your gut feeling to find the approach that allows your child to shine through. You’ve got this!
I wanted to give up many times because it felt like I was getting nowhere. It took approximately 3 years before I found the right approach for Lachlan. So, I have compiled this list of things that you can try for your child, to help you manage without meds sooner!
Have you found success with any of these alternatives? Or maybe you have another suggestion? Let me know in the comments below.