My partners are really smart people with a lot of experience under their collective belts. I pay a lot of attention when they speak, because I always learn from their wise insights. Such was the case the other day in the lunchroom, when the subject of practical ADD management tips came up. One of our doctors has a child with ADD, so she is speaking from more than doctoring experience, which gave the conversation a whole new perspective. Here are the highlights:
Things are not always what they appear: Dr. Kimberly Riley recalled stories of children whose main problem was not attention span but learning disabilities. She has noticed that after their learning problem had been identified and helped, the impulsiveness and inattention faded away. They didn’t have ADD, simply a learning disability that had not been recognized. Dr. Riley also pointed out that if a child has severe learning difficulties, genetic testing may aid in looking for recognized genetic problems that impair learning. Conversely, Dr. Downing has noticed that in her experience, many of the children that present mood problems like anxiety, depression, or oppositional behavior really have ADD as a core feature dominating these children’s personality. Both the mood problem and the ADD issue need to be addressed for the child to get maximum benefit.
Sleep problems usually seem to accompany the ADD personality: all of the doctors agreed that many children who are diagnosed with ADD have innate sleep difficulties. Certainly, the medications that are used to treat ADD can cause sleep problems on their own, but this is not the root cause. Dr. Plonk has noticed that initiation of sleep can be very difficult for these children, going all the way back to infancy. He believes that this problem has a neurological basis. Drs. Plonk, Riley, Moorman, and Downing all recommend 1-3 mgs. of Melatonin about 30 minutes before bedtime to help children get to sleep; they feel that this OTC hormone is both safe and effective. They also have found that a homeopathic product called Calms Forte can be effective in children with ADD. Both of these products have unfortunately not been tested by the FDA for safety or effectiveness since they are non prescription products. Keep in mind, however, that both parents and doctors are fans of melatonin so I think you can be confident giving it a try.
Beware of the easy fixes: My colleagues believe that ADD is a neurologically based “chronic” disorder. Chronic means just that, chronic. They have noticed that as children mature, they almost always improve in their ability to concentrate and to avoid distractions but often don’t catch up with their age-matched peers until adolescence or beyond. For those who need help, the combination of behavioral therapy, attention to learning problems and associated mood problems, and possibly medication seems to get the best results. The doctors were pretty unanimous declaring that dietary supplements (except fish oil), strict dietary restriction of sugar, gluten and preservatives along with other assorted therapies seem to have limited effectiveness. As you will hear in the Pedcast featuring Dr. Kilbane, other physicians strongly disagree with that contention.
Let’s not forget there is a kid with feelings behind that diagnosis of ADD: Drs. Plonk, Riley, Downing, and Moorman became very animated and forceful when the subject of a child’s self image and self esteem came up. They all strongly feel there is a need to speak directly and honestly to children who have this diagnosis, reminding them that they are not “bad kids” and that to a large degree, they can’t help this impulsive behavior and lack of attentiveness. Dr Downing even noted that one of her patients declared to his mother just after this conversation, “You owe me, Mom” (an apology I presume). Understanding that the ADD behavior pattern is not anyone’s fault can be a huge relief to many families. As Dr. Downing points out, guilt is a strong emotion, and doctors can be very useful in mitigating some of this emotional baggage.
Conclusions of the doctors: My partners feel that the best approach to helping a child with an ADD diagnosis includes: having their learning problem and mood difficulties addressed, managing sleep problems if they exist, making sure that the school they attend provides appropriate accommodations to help the child with behavior and learning, initiating good behavioral management strategies at school and home, and most of all treating the child and his/her family with the respect and patience they deserve. That is the Lunchroom Lowdown for this week.
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