If you suspect you have a child with ADHD or a behaviour disorder your first point of call would probably be your GP, followed by a paediatrician and then further down the line maybe a psychologist, neurologist or a psychiatrist.
Yes these are people that studied in the fields of medicine and psychology for quite a number of years and you would expect them to know everything there is about ADHD, right? Wrong!
If you suspect that your child might have ADHD – you have to start shopping around, because there are many ‘specialists’ out there that claim advanced knowledge about ADHD, that know very little. Over the years we, as a family, have had such bad advice from professionals: doctors, paediatricians, psychologists, and psychiatrist – the whole bunch – that it angers me every time I think about it.
One psychiatrist even told me there is no such condition – it is an invention by the pharmaceutical companies. A psychologist told me my daughter was just naughty and jealous of her older brother and “she needs a strict hand”. Years later, it turns out she’s on the Autistic Spectrum. When my husband consulted a psychiatrist about his own ADHD-ness, he was told that he had childhood trauma and does not need to take medication, but should consider psychotherapy instead. If I had listened to the very first clinical psychologist I consulted about life with my then undiagnosed ADHD husband, I would have been divorced by now.
You are wasting your time and money if you don’t go to an ADHD specialist. We eventually found a great educational psychologist that works exclusively in this field – who helped us a lot. Not just good practical advice about parenting, but also about our marriage! It is also important that you have rapport with this person. It is no use taking your scientific-minded husband into an incense-burning environment with chakra charts on the wall.
The best information we got was from a self-taught ADHD coach with no psychology degree, but who suffered from the condition himself and was only diagnosed in his forties. He is passionate about ADHD and helping other ‘Adders’ – you will know when you have found the right person.
Here is some of the ‘advice’ we were given by ‘medical experts’. These did not only yield zero results but also wrecked our savings account:
• A specialist diet. We took our kids off all sugar, all dairy, and all gluten and supplemented with calcium, magnesium, zinc and Omega 3 oils. No colorants, no additives. As well as an herbal concoction that was supposed to improve concentration. It cost us a lot of money. These products are not cheap. And you cannot imagine the nightmare having to provide children with healthy snacks, and meals. My husband (who among other degrees also has an MSc) was dead set against it from the word go, but I really wanted to believe that maybe just maybe we could find a cure here. I didn’t work. They did not sleep better. They were not calmer and did not show significant improvement at school. The only thing I managed to accomplish was that I now had a long list of all the health shops in Western Cape.
• Omega 3 oils. Let’s face it research has been contradictory to say the least. Lately it is believed that Omega3’s only seems to have a marginal effect on the Inattentive Type, but no effect whatsoever on the Combined Type. Omega 3’s and Fish oils are healthy and it is good to include it in your diet anyway, but it is not the magic wand and will not do the trick on its own.
• Social skills training. Again doing some research in this field yielded controversial results. For the Combined/Hyperactive Type – social skills training could actually make your child’s ADHD worse. As a social skills therapist told me – on the day he was covering altruistic behaviour and friendship he found two kids fighting it out outside – because they both wanted to ring the bell simultaneously. This was five weeks into therapy.
It seems that children with ADD who are very shy, showed slight improvement with social skills training. My personal opinion is find a good drama club or teacher and enrol them there – it is probably the best way to learn about emotions, social skills sets and maybe just maybe your kid will have talent that is worth developing. Also great for self-esteem and confidence building. They learn to act out in a contained environment – what better way to learn.
• Neurofeedback. When it first hit the shelves – it was considered to be the cure for ADHD and I know many people that have worked with ADHD kids swear that there is dramatic improvement, especially for hyperactivity. After many years of research there are still conflicting results. With one of the latest reviews stating ‘Neurofeedback for pediatric ADHD can be currently considered as “probably efficacious”.’ It is however very expensive and not within the realm of the average family with an average health plan. Also most of the children who had this therapy still need to take medication to cope with school.
• Eye exercises. This was probably one of the worst ‘gimmicks’ we tried. My child’s eyes were routinely screened at school by an Optometrist who identified ‘lazy eyes’ in my child. This was connected to ADHD-symptoms. We were given a huge thick file explaining how the workings of the visual system influences ADHD and when given the correct eye exercises (did I also mention very expensive) you will actually see the ADHD-symptoms disappear. Well what can I say? We did these exercises three times a day, for a year. I had to pay my kid to do them and maybe it improved her eye muscles but as to the ADD-ness – zip zero improvement.
Bottom line 1: Where fantastical claims are made, fantastical proof is needed. And so it goes with conspiracy theories too.
For seven years our daughter was wrongly diagnosed before a paediatrician in UK told us she had Asperger syndrome and that Ritalin did absolutely nothing for her, except make her more anxious. She is thriving today without any supplements or medication. A happy Aspie.
In defence of the medical fraternity – in most countries many of the behavioural disorders are not properly dealt with in the Medical School curriculum. Also as many of these ‘soft’ neurological disorders overlap and intertwined with co-morbids, it is often difficult to make a diagnosis without long-term observation by a specialist team – which costs a lot of money. But it is worth spending that money initially, because a correct diagnosis can save you not only money, but vital therapy time, energy and heartache. A proper diagnosis could also minimise the use of the wrong medication.
Bottom line: Follow the team approach; with observations made by the parent, teacher, occupational therapist, psychologist and neurologists/psychiatrist over a period of 3 – 6 months to make a proper diagnosis and get the right treatment plan. If you decide on medication, review it every three months. Medication alone is not the correct way to treat ADHD. A therapeutic process including parent behaviour training, coaching, behaviour modification and cognitive behaviour therapy should all be included.
And question everything – do not except anything just because an ‘expert’ told you so.
Extra tip: when you have a list of ADHD experts, make sure that you also get a second opinion, and a third if need be.