Thursday, February 2, 2012

5 things you can do now before turning to ADD / ADHD drugs

Guest post by Heather Jones DeGorge

Editor’s note: I’m often disheartened to find that in many cases educators and parents are quick to unquestioningly trust pharma industry influenced doctors about best treatments for children’s mental and health issues without considering or researching other options. Before taking the advice to drug children it is helpful to get insights from health and wellness coaches like Heather Jones DeGeorge and  parenting coaches / counseling experts like Laurie A. Couture who have had great success with helping families find mental and physical health and wellness naturally. I asked DeGeorge to share the top five things families can do for children who have symptoms associated with ADD / ADHD. Here they are.

It’s a familiar scenario: Johnny or Jane (but statistically more frequently, Johnny) can’t sit still in class.  Add whatever other “disruptive to the learning environment” things you can think up.  Now add the at-home tensions.  Nobody needs me to paint a picture of what the world calls ADHD these days.  We may all have different pictures in our mind, but remarkably, they are likely to all qualify.  

The teachers and/or the doctors might tell you to remove sugar and food dyes.  MIGHT.  But at the end of the day, as recently exposed in a New York Times opinion piece by psychology professor L. Alan Sroufe
most doctors are going to offer you a medication.  Some schools will bully you into believing that they will not evaluate your child for IEP/504 accommodations without a diagnosis—possibly without first trying medications (both of which are illegal—at a Federal level that overrides the state).

There are some that believe that if you simply remove the child from a classroom, the problem will be resolved—that ADHD doesn’t exist.  If you’re someone for whom that hasn’t worked, you’re thinking “No, because they’re not in the classroom on the weekends or in the summer and it’s still there!”  Admittedly, you only have it half right.  Seeing a child outside of the classroom isn’t akin to what they would be like if they were learning outside of school for a variety of reasons.
For one, they need several months of decompression once removed from the school environment just to change their behaviors and mindsets.  So even if environment is suspected and the school refuses to modify, after being pulled from the school and homeschooled, there is a period of adjustment where you will not see the final (better behavior) although many kids with serious problems “behaving” in school MAY show SOME immediate improvement just from the tension being removed all around.

But I digress…

Drugs.  Aaaaahhhh drugs.  The quick, easy fix, right?  That’s easier than trying to tolerate your kid by homeschooling, isn’t it?  Sure it is!  If you don’t care what it does to your kid internally and emotionally, it’s great!  If you don’t mind that it may not actually work, was never tested for it’s effects on children, the known side effects that may not show up for several years, the propensity it may cause for addiction and the variety of other emotional disorders that may follow because of the body being disrupted by that medication—game on!  Better yet, let’s think of the drugs you will inadvertently add for the late-day inability to focus when the full-day drug wears off and/or the evening dose of a “downer” to offset the ADHD meds (which are stimulants) so the kid can sleep.  EASY!

Here’s a secret:  Western (American) medicine has a nasty habit of 1) treating symptoms instead of root causes of problems; 2) having a medical community that is usually not fully informed about options outside of drugs; and 3) not educating their patients if they happen to HAVE the information.

On the flip side, our culture is not really willing to listen to alternatives that are more work than popping a pill.  They are short-sighted and all about what’s easy today.  They’ll deal with that other bridge when they get to it (or so they think).

But let’s assume that you’re ready to step out of that vicious scenario.  You want to do it different and simply have no clue where to start.  This is the bulk of my client base—facing all manner of health (mental and physical) challenge and just NOT happy with what they’re doing or being told to do.  What now?

When it comes to ADHD, there are some very well-known things to try before medication.  Some of them are pretty painless, and have a good chance of helping.  This is not an exhaustive list of things you can do for ADHD before turning to drugs, but these are the things that EVERYONE should do before even considering it.

  1. Get a vision test that specifically screens for “convergence insufficiency”.  Any regular eye doctor can do this and the problem is easily correctable.  But the problem, believe it or not, presents as ADHD.
  2. Have a full audiogram hearing test done.  Auditory processing problems can also make a child appear to have ADHD (or other behavior problems)
  3. Have a chiropractor take x-rays of your child’s spine, hips and neck to review them for subluxations (compressions of the spinal bones) that are most known to present as ADHD because the crunching of these bones on the spinal nerves disrupts the communication network.  There is a high correlation between the the first vertebrae in the neck (the Atlas) and ADHD but other disruptions in the communication network can also cause ADHD symptoms.  The stress of daily living is enough to cause these bones to be out of alignment—there doesn’t need to have been an accident or fall, and you don’t need to be in pain to see a chiropractor.  The health benefit of chiropractic care is now well-enough documented that almost all health insurance covers at least some level of treatment.
  4. Remove all of the food dyes from the child’s diet.  All of them.  This can be hard to do if they’re in school and you can’t supervise them; but if they’re having trouble in school—the school should work with you on this.  You could see results sooner than later (as in a month or less).
  5. Last, give your child a daily dose of Omega-3 fish oil.  This may take up to 2 weeks to see some reaction to.  I happen to like Nordic Naturals brand because they are pharmaceutical grade (filtered of impurities very well) and lemon flavored—which is easy to hide.  You don’t need the child version (which is a smaller bottle giving half a dose of the same thing as the regular bottle—for the same price).  Since the American diet is extremely overloaded with Omega-6, definitely get an Omega-3.  When the two are out of balance, there are plenty of problems.
If you CAN remove your child from the school environment, try that. This can be beneficial for a number of reasons in domains that go well beyond their physical health and into their emotional health, self-esteem, ability to learn critical thinking skills, and opportunity to learn superior social skills.

As a former teacher, my experience makes it evident that a diligent, thinking, loving and supportive parent can provide a good education to their own child.  At minimum, you are not allowing that child’s problems to compound and negatively affect their learning because they cannot conform to the learning environment.

There is more to try before drugs.  Lots more.  It’s not as quick and easy as a pill, but the side effects are nowhere near as dangerous.  Consider it.

If you’ve already resorted to the pills, know that there is hope for getting them out of your family’s life.  Even if your child stays in school.  There is help.  There is support.  There are families that have been where you are.  Mine was one of them.

Heather DeGeorge is a holistic health & wellness coach.  In addition to general health and weight loss, she specializes in dietary intervention for behavior and development problems of children; and helping people adjust to specialized or restricted diets based on medical diagnoses like diabetes or gluten intolerance with the end-goal of being able to heal the body and eat a healthy, less restrictive diet.  For more information, see her website at


  1. Unsubscribing due to posts like this.

  2. Not sure what "like this" refers to, but in general this blog aims to share ideas that focus on what is best, not what is easiest, when it comes to young people. Doing so and thinking differently is not comfortable for many. In the case of this post, it may be especially uncomfortable for someone who has supported the use of meds for children, and potentially caused them great harm, instead of trying healthier alternatives first.

  3. I was on adhd meds all of my school years and let me just say, They're bullsh**! They DIDNT HELP ME LEARN! all they did now that I look back is SHUT ME UP! Wow! Thats the quality of education I wanna pass down to my children...NOT! I always wondered why I was labeled with adhd and told to take pills I knew nothing about. Even my mom REGRETS listening to the schools and Drs and not taking more time with me to help me with this issue. My mom thinks the drugs kept me calm but in essence she now sees it benefited the teacher not me personally and in fact she sees it did nothing to fix/change how I learned and says, "you didnt get the support" you needed to "tap into" your god givin ability to learn! We tried 5 different meds for my son last year. I spent lots of money going to counseling, phyciatrists, tutors running aroung like a chicken with my head off trying to help my son who when only in school has most of these problems meanwhile it was to only benefit the school not my child, period! My husband and I have gone over this front and back and being that I have related issues with the "meds" and how I was recieved at school we are taking a stand to not let this happen to our kids. During a phone conference with all my sons teachers a month ago we decided to have my son keep and finish his homework at school (because he's always losing it or not turning it in) and for a minute I felt great...until...and keep in mind "they know" Im refusing to medicate him...they ended the conversation with, "you want us to connect you with the school nurse, she can help you find programs that will pay for your childs adhd medication"...ahhhhh???? My response to them was, Im sure they do and no thanks! Im done! Ive/we've wasted the last 2 yrs of my childs education with my son who is a natural born athlete and was reading and counting change at age 3 to him lost in the "system" unable to get things and feels bad about himself. Im his mother and I say that this is not ok with me our family and especially my bright beautiful son. He's internalizing his inability to get things like the other students and as he puts it,"feels stupid or dumb":( Im in the process of pulling him out and it has not been an easy decision because of the way we are all taught. For me its time to grow a back bone with the schools. Meanwhile, my son who was counting change and reading books by age 3 didnt feel that way until he started school. Thanks for doing what your doing:) keep it up and going:)like the saying, "build it and they will come" here we are! keep spreading the word!!!!

  4. I have 3 young boys, but my 10yr old is my adhd child. All of my youngers were home schooled for 3 years, until Feb 2011 when they needed to go to public school due to me returning to work. We new the 10yo would have issues adjusting, and I suspected adhd. We were encouraged by the school to get the evaluation and they and the doctor both were very positive about trying meds, which we did. It was not horrible, but it was not great... his behaviour at school had started improving even before the ritalin but it DID help his classroom behaviour. The downsides were irritability in the afternoons, lowered frustration tolerance, and sleep problems that became more and more dramatic. One night he was awake until 3am ... it was awful. And there was bullying, due to adhd behaviours.

    In november, toward the end of our school year we withdrew him to return to home education and he was thrilled. We immediately stepped him off the medication and his sleep was brilliant pretty much over night. His behaviour still has it's moments, but he is overall MUCH better. I think the stress of school ramped up his ADHD symptoms and I think the school & paed were so medication positive because it makes their job easier.. not because it makes our childrens lives better.

    Thank you for this post!

  5. Caz,

    I think there are a contingent of children for whom ADHD is not the problem, but they are reacting appropriately to an inappropriate environment and/or demands for extended periods of time.

    I think there is also a contingent of children for whom ADHD is not the problem, but the symptom of an underlying physiological or biochemical issue that is not addressed well with the meds (which are a band-aid for the symptom).

    THRILLED that your child responded to homeschooling. I think being at home is a huge help to any child with an issue. My own is home in an environment that in NO WAY replicates a classroom--but he still suffered. Our belief is that his is a biochemical problem. Figuring out that puzzle is neither quick nor easy, but I'll take it on over the damage that can be done by meds (both physically and mentally). Aside from my health coaching practice, my own household has managed to transition a family member off of medication. We are on to helping the other (who has never had medication).

    It is definitely easier to pop a pill that "sorta" works than to struggle trying to nail down an individual's biochemical makeup and where it could be lacking in a way that presents like ADHD. But given the adverse affects of the drugs, we're taking that route. Hopefully the science will catch up to make that task easier sooner rather than later; but given that the pharmas make money on drugs--I don't see it happening anytime soon. :/

  6. I love your article! Your message is one that all parents and educators desperately need to hear. I particularly enjoy your honesty and the way in which you tell it like it is. It is people like you that make what I do much easier.