Is it really ADHD?
What is ADHD? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, it’s a term tossed around all the time, but do we really know what it means?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” (1)
They go on to describe Inattention as making careless mistakes, difficulty organizing, difficulty sustaining attention and holding conversations, inability to follow through on instructions, being forgetful, and easily distracted. These children are sometimes referred to as the dreamers.
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity are described as difficulty sitting still, excessive talking, interrupting others, inability to wait for one’s turn, and always on the go. These children are going full speed ahead when they are awake.
The confusing thing about ADHD is the ability of these children to hyper-focus. Parents are often confused by a child’s ability for sustained attention on a video game or an activity that they find enjoyable. This is typical of most people but seems exaggerated in those with ADHD symptoms. Because of this “hyper-focus”, many children have a difficult time transitioning.
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? If you have a young child, they should. They are all part of human development and learning how to interact with the world around us. When these symptoms interfere with one’s ability to interact with daily activities and tasks it’s time to look deeper.
As a child grows from toddler to school age they learn to be more attentive, they model behaviors that they see in their environment. What we say has much less impact on our children than how we act.
All kids mature at different rates. Some kids are more active than others, perfectly acceptable; we should all embrace our uniqueness. What isn’t acceptable is when the symptoms of ADHD interfere with the ability to learn, enjoy social relationships and interfere with developing skills necessary for living day to day.
If you recognize these symptoms in your child, does it mean he has ADHD?
If your child’s teacher reports some of these symptoms in your child, does that mean she has ADHD? No. It means your child’s brain needs support. It means there is deregulation in the nervous system, a neurochemical imbalance. It means that we need to figure out what is causing the symptoms.
Do we or don’t we medicate?
In the short term, medication might be the answer for some children. I will address medication and other treatment options in a future article. A treatment plan should be individualized to each child’s situation and include a thorough evaluation.
Long-term, medication can do more harm than good for most children. The answers aren’t black and white, there should not be one protocol for ADHD treatment. ADHD symptoms are telling us something, ADHD symptoms are the body’s way of telling us there is a level of Neuro-inflammation that needs to be addressed.
So, what’s Neuro-inflammation?
Neuro= brain, Inflammation = an immune response to an irritant (2)
“Inflammatory responses that are centralized within the brain and spinal cord are generally referred to as “neuroinflammatory”. Aspects of neuroinflammation vary within the context of disease, injury, infection or stress. The context, course, and duration of these inflammatory responses are all critical aspects in the understanding of these processes and their corresponding physiological, biochemical and behavioral consequences.” (3)
Neuroinflammation can be caused by a variety of irritants, germs, chemicals, toxins, etc. These irritants can cause lots of damage to the body if they go undetected. This is why it’s important to recognize symptoms of neuroinflammation and then look for the inflammatory agent.
Helping decrease symptoms is important. Looking for the cause of the symptoms help decrease the risk of further complications from an inflamed nervous system. Continued chronic inflammation will lead to further disease processes in the body. The ADHD symptoms are just the beginning of a chronic illness cascade for many people.
I’ve worked with a lot of kids with ADHD, and most of them are really great kids. They aren’t lazy, they aren’t stupid, they aren’t purposefully defiant… they are misunderstood.
Most of the kids I’ve worked with have tried multiple medications and still don’t have the relief of symptoms they were expecting. This makes treatment that much more difficult. Kids start to think something is wrong with them. If the medicine doesn’t work, it must be their fault. They want to do better, but their brain won’t do what they need it to do. They get depressed, they feel anxious, and a vicious cycle begins.
I think we are looking at ADHD all wrong… ADHD is not a definitive diagnosis that needs medication to help with focus and attention; ADHD is a group of symptoms telling us that the brain needs support because something is wrong. WHAT? That’s where the investigation begins.
How do we figure out the triggers?
There are ways to look at the inflammatory response the body is having, along with how that is affecting immune function and other bodily functions. There are ways to look for the pathogens and chemicals that may be causing problems. There are also ways to look at neurotransmitter levels to determine the need for medication while we figure all those things out.
Finding the root cause of ADHD symptoms for a child can be life-changing. Children with ADHD carry a heavy burden, they feel responsible, and they shouldn’t. It affects their self-esteem, their relationships, and their future. Helping them find a way to eliminate these symptoms so they don’t develop other chronic illnesses is not only life-changing, it can be life-saving.
Changing the future of mental health.
When we to start thinking of mental health as brain health and nervous system health we will start changing lives. We need to start looking at mental health diagnoses as brain illnesses that can be treated and even cured. Looking deeper to figure out what that root cause is will not only save lives, it could change the trajectory of our society. The mental health of our society has a direct impact on the safety of our society.
Does your family need help?
If you are concerned that someone you know and love has symptoms of brain dysfunction, consider finding a pediatric provider like me to help dig deeper.