That’s the real question, isn’t it? Your child has trouble focusing, and you want to help. But are drugs really the answer?
There has been an incredible surge in ADHD diagnoses and drug prescriptions in the last decade. In fact, 41% more children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD in the past ten years, and there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention deficit disorder in the past 30 years.
What is even more surprising is that the drugs prescribed for ADHD are not showing positive academic results.
In 2013, the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at nearly 4,000 students over an average of 11 years and found that students who took ADHD drugs actually performed worse than students with similar symptoms who did not take the drugs. In addition, increased drug use was associated with increased unhappiness, worse relationships with parents, increased anxiety and depression in girls, and worse educational attainment measures like grade advancement and math scores.
This raises the question of whether the many side effects, including insomnia and increasing blood pressure, are worth it, and if drugs should be a first line of treatment for children with ADHD.
So what’s a parent to do?
Some clinicians recommend exploring a drug-free approach. Dr. Newmark, author of ADHD Without Drugs: A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD, recommends first considering the child’s nutrition, the kind of parenting they are getting, possible school interventions, and various complementary therapies like neurofeedback, acupuncture, and meditation.
Studies are also showing positive results from interventions that help coordinate the body and the mind. One such program is BrainBeat. It is a cognitive trainer that integrates sight, sound and motion with focus skills to help train the brain to be more attentive. Studies have shown that using this technology can help improve focus by as much as 30%, and math skills and reading skills by as much as 20%.
A more holistic approach to treating ADHD and ADHD-like symptoms may be a good way for families to help their children get on the path to better balance and better focus.