ADHD: Treating Your Child Without Medication

by Dr. Angela Ali

ADHD is a neurobehavioral development disorder that affects both children and adults. In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 13 million people who suffer from what we commonly call ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is also prevalent among African-Americans and can have devastating effects long-term. For various reasons, we are often reluctant to accept certain mental health conditions as being a part of our community, and we may naturally reject any form of treatment available, especially medication.

Sure, there have been cases of misdiagnoses within our school systems, especially. However, if your child is experiencing symptoms related to ADHD, it is critical to seek out a licensed healthcare provider that can test for a potential diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

Contrary to what many people think, children with ADHD are often gifted. However, if gone untreated, the symptoms of ADHD can lead to a lifetime of underachievement in the most intelligent child.

Consistent forgetfulness, a lack of organization and attention, and problems with relationships can be devastating and get worse over time. Children and adults with ADHD will very often suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of consistent criticism and underperformance in school or work.

Therefore, getting treated should not be optional as these symptoms have the potential to make individuals feel alone, ashamed, and doomed for failure throughout their lives.

To further complicate things, the untreated effects of these emotional symptoms, along with the ADHD symptoms, can often lead to additional mental disorders and even criminal behaviors.

Alternative ADHD treatments

ADHD treatment is usually divided into two categories – medication and non-medication. There are several options for treating ADHD without medication, however, these are rarely considered as options.

These treatment options do indeed require planning and consistency, so both the parent and child, as well as adults with ADHD, will have to wrap their minds around the level of commitment required for successful results.

Here are some alternative, non- medication option:

  • Physical exercise (such as running) has a calming effect for several hours afterward as it increases the number of neurotransmitters in the brain. Done regularly, exercise can improve attention and lower hyperactivity and impulsivity. For instance, teachers report that children are much calmer after periods of recess. Similarly, activities that include complex movements such as martial arts, skateboarding and tennis actually challenge and train the brain to increase its ability to focus.
  • Mental exercise, like physical exercise, can target mental activities and challenge the attention span to become longer. These exercises are usually used in clinical and education settings by trained professionals to promote learning, attention and emotional health. Many teachers and parents have reported great success with these interventions. Additionally, there are some less intense mental exercise mobile apps that can be downloaded and used on demand to help improve focus as well.
  • Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback) is a behavioral treatment that attaches sensors to the brain area and monitors a person’s brainwaves as they focus on a particular task. Ultimately, this process can help the child or adult to control their level of focus more effectively by determining which methods help their brain the most. Over time, individuals report having fewer ADHD symptoms and less need for medication.
  • Mindfulness can include practices such as meditation and yoga for increasing concentration as well as the ability to self-regulate. Teachers and clinicians have been utilizing this practice and it has yielded good results. Mindfulness practices start with the goal of ‘attention’. This focus on attention actually can help increase an individual’s awareness, behaviors and emotions. Ultimately, mindfulness can help a person with ADHD be more aware of their patterns and abilities to choose their actions rather than be controlled by them.
  • Behavioral therapy is a method of treatment that first assesses the non-productive habits of an individual with ADHD, and teaches an individual new skills to modify such behaviors. This treatment is conducted by a licensed therapist who actually specializes in ADHD. This therapy can take place in either an individual or group setting. It also targets the behavior of parents and teachers to identify how they may be inappropriately handling children and adolescents with ADHD, and teaches them alternative ways of supporting them.
  • Coaching is a non-clinical method of treatment for children and adults with ADHD. However, they help individuals identify and achieve goals over a specified period of time. In doing so, the client has a support system outside of their family to help them function better in terms of planning, organization, and time management. Although some are, coaches are usually not therapists or psychologists. Therefore, it is important to understand their limitations regarding the emotional issues one may be experiencing with their ADHD.
  • Diet, nutrition, and sleep are all things that can affect the intensity of an individual’s ADHD symptoms. In fact, there are certain foods that can either improve or worsen symptoms. There is plenty of information on this topic, but doing your research and experimenting with how eliminating certain foods from the diet affect certain symptoms can go a long way. Getting enough sleep is very important for those with ADHD as they already struggle to maintain focus. ADHD coaches can help in this area or refer you to a dietician that understands which foods are the biggest culprits for increasing ADHD symptoms.

In order to manage the symptoms of ADHD, you will likely have to choose more than one treatment intervention, so be sure to assess which options may be necessary to get better results overall. Effective ADHD treatment is highly individualized, and the right solutions differ from person to person. The key is to do something!