Attention deficit and medication

Child Life

November 24, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My two sons, who are 7 and 8, are on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I am trying to find alternative remedies. Can you help?

...Cindy

Akron, Ohio

There's no one magic cure for attention problems. The best approach is to combine strategies.

As the use of drugs like Ritalin has exploded in the past few years, many experts have become concerned that drugs are being prescribed too hastily and in doses that are too high.

"Ritalin use is up over 500 percent in the last five years, while the medical establishment is still unclear about what causes ADHD and exactly what it is," says Thomas Armstrong, author of "The Myth of the A.D.D. Child" (Dutton, $23.95).

However, even the most vocal skeptics agree that for many children, drugs will continue to be a significant part of treatment. But parents need to realize that drugs are not "a silver bullet," says Stephen Garber, author of "Beyond Ritalin" (Villard, $23).

"Medication should not be the first thing done, and medication should never be the only thing done," says Garber, a psychologist in Atlanta.

Before allowing children to take medication, parents should be lTC sure to eliminate other possible causes of attention problems. A thorough medical screening could detect anything from vision problems to psychological problems such as depression and learning disabilities.

"Of children with ADHD, two-thirds of them have other learning disabilities," Garber says.

Garber and Armstrong worry that many health-care professionals have begun to use Ritalin improperly as a diagnostic tool, figuring that if the child improves on the drug, he must have ADHD. And if he doesn't, ADHD is not the problem.

"There are some ADHD kids that the drugs just don't work for," Garber says.

In their books, Garber and Armstrong list dozens of strategies to improve focus and attention that can be tried before medication or that can be used along with it. Many of these strategies focus on changing the child's environment to eliminate distractions or improve concentration.

Garber's suggestions include changing where the child sits in the classroom, breaking assignments into smaller parts and, if possible, having the child attend a specialized private school with smaller class sizes.

Armstrong, whose background is in special education, lists 50 strategies in his book including giving a child martial-arts training, identifying the child's best times for alertness, teaching physical relaxation techniques and providing hands-on learning experiences.

"My son has participated in karate and we have found that to be a very effective tool to help him learn to control himself and focus," says Cindy Ames, a reader from Fresno, Calif.

Armstrong also suggests several medically related strategies such as biofeedback training and eliminating allergens from a child's diet. Several parents who called Child Life reported good results with both of these methods.

Other parents suggested natural remedies and products sold only by private distributors, but Armstrong and Garber caution parents about pinning their hopes on such remedies.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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