Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – 101 Non-Drug Strategies

The Story of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Based on my book:  The Myth of the ADHD Child:  101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion (Tarcher/Perigee)

Over the past forty years, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has emerged from the relative obscurity of cognitive psychologists’ research laboratories to become the “disease du jour” of America’s schoolchildren. Accompanying this popularity has been a virtually complete acceptance of the validity of this disorder by scientists, physicians, psychologists, educators, parents, and others. Upon closer critical scrutiny, however, there is much to be troubled about concerning ADHD as a real medical diagnosis.

There is no definitive objective set of criteria to determine who has ADHD and who does not. Rather, instead, there are a loose set of behaviors (hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity) that combine in different ways to give rise to the “disorder.” These behaviors are highly context-dependent. A child may be hyperactive while seated at a desk doing a boring worksheet, but not necessarily while singing in a school musical. These behaviors are also very general in nature and give no clue as to their real origins. A child can be hyperactive because he’s bored, depressed, anxious, allergic to milk, creative, a hands-on learner, has a difficult temperament, is stressed out, is driven by a media-mad culture, or any number of other possible causes.

The tests that have been used to determine if someone has ADHD are either artificially objective and remote from the lives of real children (in one test, a child is asked to press a button on a device every time he sees a 1 followed by a 9 on a computer screen) , or hopelessly subjective (many rating scales ask parents and teachers to score a child’s behavior on a scale from 1 to 5: these scores depend upon the subjective attitudes more than the actual behaviors of the children involved).

The treatments used for this disorder are also problematic. The drugs developed do not cure the problem, they only mask symptoms, and there are several disadvantages to their use: children don’t like taking them, children can use them as an “excuse” for their behavior (“I hit Ed because I forgot to take my pill.”), the side effects (insomnia, nausea, irritability) are unpleasant, and there are potential risks associated with bone density loss, cardiovascular problems, and psychotic experiences. While it is true that psychoactive medications properly prescribed and monitored by a physician can be an important tool to help some kids experience successes with teachers, parents, and peers, it still must be viewed as a last resort intervention and used with caution. Behavior modification programs used for kids diagnosed with ADHD work, but they don’t help kids become better learners. In fact, they may interfere with the development of a child’s intrinsic love of learning (kids behave simply to get more rewards), they may frustrate some kids (when they don’t get expected rewards), and they can also impair creativity and stifle cooperation.

ADHD is a popular diagnosis in today’s world because it serves as a neat way to explain away the complexities of 21st century life in America. Over the past few decades, families have broken up, the respect for authority has eroded, mass media has created a “short-attention-span culture,” and stress levels have skyrocketed. When our children start to break down and act up under the strain, it’s convenient to create a scientific-sounding term to label them with, drugs to stifle their symptoms,  and a whole arsenal of ADHD workbooks, videos, and instructional materials to use to fit them in a box that relieves parents and teachers of any worry that it might be due to the failure of the broader culture to nurture or teach them effectively.

Mainly, the ADHD label is a tragic decoy that takes the focus off of where it’s needed most: the real life of each unique child. Instead of seeing each child for who he or she is (strengths, limitations, interests, aspirations, temperaments, etc.) and addressing his or her specific needs, the child is reduced to an “ADHD child,” where the potential to see the best in him or her is severely eroded (ADHD puts all the emphasis on the deficits, not the strengths), and where the number of potential solutions to help them is highly limited to a few child-controlling interventions.

Instead of this deficit-based ADHD paradigm, I’d like to suggest a wellness-based holistic paradigm that sees each child in terms of his or her ultimate worth, and addresses each child’s unique needs. To do this, we need to provide a wide range of strategies for parents and teachers.  The following list of strategies covers behavioral, biological, developmental, cognitive, creative, cultural, ecological, educational, emotional, familial, physical, and social dimensions of the child with an ADHD diagnosis and is a step, I believe, in the right direction.

101 Non-Drug Strategies for ADHD

(For detailed information about each strategy, see The Myth of the ADHD Child:  101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion)

  1. Let Your Child Fidget
  2. Channel Creative Energies into the Arts
  3. Emphasize Diversity, Not Disability
  4. Enroll Your Child in a Martial Arts Class
  5. Make Time for Nature
  6. Hold Family Meetings
  7. Teach Your Child Focusing Techniques
  8. Discover Your Child’s Best Time of Alertness
  9. Encourage Hands-On Learning
  10. Build, Borrow, or Buy Wiggle Furniture
  11. Consider Alternative Healing Options
  12. Take Care of Yourself
  13. Provide a Balanced Breakfast
  14. Give Your Child Choices
  15. Remove Allergens and Additives from Your Child’s Diet
  16. Use Music to Focus and Calm
  17. Teach Your Child Self-Monitoring Skills
  18. Use Effective Communication Skills
  19. Take a Parent Training Course
  20. Nurture Your Child’s Creativity
  21. Hold a Positive Image of Your Child
  22. Provide Appropriate Spaces for Learning
  23. Encourage Your Child’s Interests
  24. Establish Consistent Rules, Routines, and Transitions
  25. Celebrate Successes
  26. Make Time for Your Child to Play
  27. Be a Personal Coach to Your Child
  28. Build Resilience in Your Child
  29. Give Instructions in Attention-Grabbing Ways
  30. Limit Junk Food
  31. Empower Your Child With Strength-Based Learning
  32. Support Full Inclusion of Your Child in a Regular Classroom
  33. Teach Your Child How His Brain Works
  34. Eliminate Distractions
  35. Promote  Daily Exercise
  36. Foster Good Home-School Communication
  37. Strengthen Your Child’s Working Memory
  38. Limit Entertainment Media
  39. Promote Flow Experiences
  40. Use Online Learning as an Educational Resource
  41. Show Your Child How to Use Metacognitive Tools
  42. Teach Emotional Self-Regulation Skills
  43. Teach Your Child Mindfulness Meditation
  44. Let Your Child Engage in Spontaneous Self-Talk
  45. Engage in Family Exercise and Recreation
  46. Share Stress Management Techniques
  47. Identify Mobile Apps That Can Help Your Child
  48. Match Your Child with a Mentor
  49. Find a Sport Your Child Will Love
  50. Provide a Variety of Stimulating Learning Activities
  51. Teach Goal-Setting Skills
  52. Provide Immediate Behavioral Feedback
  53. Work to Promote Teacher-Child Rapport
  54. Consider Neurofeedback Training
  55. Use Touch to Soothe and Calm
  56. Provide Opportunities for Learning Through Movement
  57. Make Time for Plenty of Humor and Laughter
  58. Spend Positive Time Together
  59. Discover Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences
  60. Help Your Child Develop a Growth Mind-Set
  61. Use Natural and Logical Consequences as a Discipline Tool
  62. Provide Access to Natural and Full-Spectrum Light
  63. Cook with Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  64. Consider Family Therapy
  65. Pep Up Each Day with at Least One Novel Experiencce
  66. Provide Positive Role Models
  67. Discover and Manage the Four Types of Misbehavior
  68. Co-Create an Internally Empowering Behavior Mod Program
  69. Use Aromas to Calm and Center
  70. Employ Incidental Learning
  71. Rule Out Other Potential Contributors to Your Child’s Behavior
  72. Suggest Effective Study Strategies
  73. Provide Your Child With Real-Life Tasks
  74. Use Time Out in a Positive Way
  75. Enhance Your Child’s Self-Esteem
  76. Avoid Exposure to Environmental Contaminants
  77. Make Sure Your Child Gets Sufficient Sleep
  78. Activate Positive Career Aspirations
  79. Teach Your Child to Visualize
  80. Play Chess or Go With Your Child
  81. Have Your Child Teach a Younger Child
  82. Help Your Child Become Self-Aware
  83. Utilize the Best Features of Computer Learning
  84. Let Your Child Play Video Games That Engage and Teach
  85. Get Ready for the Thrills and Chills of Augmented and Virtual Reality
  86. Consider Alternative Schooling Options
  87. Have Your Child Learn Yoga
  88. Find an Animal Your Child Can Care For
  89. Support Your Child’s Late Blooming
  90. Consider Individual Psychotherapy For Your Child
  91. Creative a Positive Behavior Contract With Your Child
  92. Engage in Positive Niche Construction
  93. Help Your Child Develop Social Skills
  94. Lobby for a Strong PE Program in Your Child’s School
  95. Support Your Child’s Entrepreneurial Instincts
  96. Use Color to Highlight Information
  97. Have Your Child Create a Blog
  98. Work to Enhance Your Child’s Social Network
  99. Encourage Project-Based Learning at Home and in School
  100. Show Your Child Work-Arounds to Get Things Done
  101. Teach Your Child Organizational Strategies

For detailed information about these strategies, plus a discussion of seven reasons for the ADHD epidemic, see my book The Myth of the ADHD Child, Revised Edition: 101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion (Tarcher/Perigee)

To order the audio version on Audible of The Myth of the ADHD, click here. 

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