Attention

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ADHD: Benefits, Causes and Holistic Treatments

2017 April 27 by

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ADHDAttention problems have become an apparent epidemic. Why are so many kids diagnosed with ADD and ADHD today? Why are so many kids routinely prescribed medication with potentially harmful side effects for these issues? The subject of attention is a huge field. I will try to summarize some of the main issues from the perspective of holistic pediatrics.

Causes of ADHD

There are many contributing causes to the epidemic of ADHD:

  • Not the least of these is the expectation that children need to sit still for hours at a time at early ages doing repetitive academic tasks like worksheets. Many children will attempt to avoid these tasks by not paying attention.
  • Another contributing factor implicated in the ADHD epidemic is the neurological damage caused by the onslaught of vaccines and toxic vaccine ingredients on the developing brains of small babies.
  • Yet another contributing cause of ADHD is the typically deficient and harmful diet of many children that includes empty calories, high fructose corn syrup, and nutrient-deficient junk food.
  • Children’s increasing exposure to television and other electronic screens may also be a factor in shorter attention spans and altered information processing. “It certainly has been shown that exposure to nature and increasing exercise foster creativity and healthy brain development.”1

Understand Your Child

Creating a learning environment that encourages a child’s strengths and talents will help to place their attention style into perspective. If parents develop an understanding of their child’s attention style and their unique personality, then they are in a better position to understand how that child will flourish.

There are several ways to understand and describe children’s learning styles:

A good place to start is temperament. Several temperament characteristics have significance for attention. One of these is the level of activity of an individual child. Some children are more active than others. This typical activity level can be described with an analog scale from low activity to high activity children. High activity characteristics can result in restlessness and fidgetiness in the classroom that teachers see as disruptive behavior.

Persistence is another category that contributes to attention. The child who is persistent, stubborn, and obstinate will tend to have better focus skills and stay on task longer. By contrast, children who are not very persistent will tend to get distracted more easily.

Finally understanding a child’s behavioral style throws light on attention. The hunter/ farmer analogy is relevant here. Some children are natural hunters. They learn best by roaming around, exploring, and discovering things on their own. These kids will appear more restless and impatient. Other children are more like farmers – patient, observant, and passive. They are able to delay gratification and learn by watching. Books by Thom Hartmann and Mel Levine describe the variation of children’s attention styles and can provide parents with a healthy perspective on ADHD.

Chinese medicine has described children as one of five typical types. An excellent book that describes this typology and its application to attention problems is Fire Child, Water Child by developmental pediatrician Stephen Cowan.

Advantages of ADHD

Attention is a tricky business. Let’s consider one example. A child who is restless, distracted, and impulsive in the classroom is often seen as problematic or pathological. When you take this same child onto the basketball court or soccer field his quick reflexes, impulsive reactions, and excellent scanning abilities provide the skills he needs for flexibility and quick responsiveness that bring approbation from coaches and fans.

Some of our most successful athletes, innovators, and entrepreneurs have unconventional attention functions.

Holistic Treatment of Attention Problems

Some children do need help to focus and attend to tasks. Several natural supplements can help brain function. For example,

  • an Omega 3 fat supplement will make anyone’s brain function better by creating flexible cell membranes that allow nerves to communicate more efficiently.
  • Phosphatidylserine will often help children who tend to be restless.
  • And DMAE helps spacey, inattentive kids with focus control.
  • Many other supplements can assist specific neurotransmitter function, and homeopathic medicines can address individual attention and behavioral symptoms as well.

Seeking the care of a holistic pediatric practitioner can provide solutions in the form of an individualized treatment plan for a child struggling with attention issues. An excellent book that describes natural supplements for attention problems is Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies by Kenneth Bock. This holistic approach can also uncover the hidden connections between neurotransmitter balance, nutritional status, food sensitivities, digestive function, and attention in our children.

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Back to School

2013 August 14 by

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Time again to buy school supplies and pack off your kids to the first day of the next year of school. Here is a checklist to help set them on the right path this year.

School lunches

Talk to your kids about healthy foods that they will actually eat in their lunches. This is a good opportunity to discuss processed and whole foods choices. Fruits and cut up veges that contain antioxidants and vitamins are preferable to foods that contain chemical additives and added sugar. Explain that corn syrup is not an ingredient they want to include in their lunch choices. Sandwiches with whole grain bread and nut butters or cheese, meats, and veges are a good choice, or wraps that include vegetables will provide some variety. Snacks of dried fruits and nuts or granola bars are also healthy options. Be creative and let your kids suggest possibilities. You might be surprised by some of their new preferences this year.

Vaccinations

Schools will urge you to get the latest boosters of various vaccines including measles, whooping cough, and Gardasil (HPV). Don’t be bullied into getting any vaccines that you question. You can always obtain a waiver for any vaccines you don’t want. Research the specific vaccines and decide whether they are right for you. Trust your own judgment once you have done your research. Read the sections of vaccine choice books like the Vaccine Guide to decide where you stand on a particular vaccine.

Learning issues

If any issues around learning skills (reading or writing or math), achievement, or attention came up during the last school year, be prepared in advance to address these with your child’s new teacher. Take a proactive approach to inform the teacher about any concerns you may have. You may want to consider starting some nutritional supplements that optimize brain function. These could include fish oil with at least 400 mg of DHA and Phosphatydilserine ( 100 mg) for attention. Other supplements can be useful for maximizing attention functions if you have concerns. Check out my educational presentations on learning and attention at the CureChild website.

Homework help

Start getting prepared for homework. Establish a homework time schedule taking into account after-school activities. Get some hourly planning sheets so your child can plan out the evening. Have your student estimate how long their assignments should take and write in specific subjects on a time planner. This will make your child responsible for homework estimation and completion.

Sleep schedules

Getting a good night sleep will help ensure alertness, efficient learning, better ability to focus, and success in school. This means at least 8 -10 hours of sleep for your school-aged child. Make some rules about a time to turn off screens and a time for lights out.

Physical exams and health forms

Get all of those forms together for the school year and make sure you have a check-up form completed by your doctor if your packet includes one. For patients in my practice I reserve time in my schedule for those last minute physicals.

Long distance medical care

I am available for Skype or Facetime visits for anyone who lives outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. Send me an email at CureGuide@gmail.com to set up a consultation. We can discuss your child’s learning issues, or immune function, or any medical problems.

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Exercise Improves ADHD in Children

2013 April 12 by

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A simple and very effective way to improve attention functions in children is to make sure they are getting daily exercise. Keep your kids moving and involved in physical activity programs.

Exercise increases the production of several neurotransmitters which are known to improve memory and attention, and decrease impulsivity. These include dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Exercise, especially sprinting, also increases Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that improves the communication between nerves. For a detailed explanation about how exercise improves brain function, read Dr. John J Ratey’s book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

Short bursts of exercise will increase these neurotransmitter levels in the hours following exercise, for example during the school day. This can result in more effective learning. But a prolonged exercise program will also raise these neurotransmitter levels over the long-term, providing a persistent benefit to attention functions.

Reference:

Wigal SB, et al. Exercise: Applications to Childhood ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders 2013 17: 279.

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Back to School – Time for Drugs?

2012 August 20 by

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Vaccines?

The school year is about to begin for America’s children and drug prescribing will be back in full swing after the lull of summer vacation. Parents are being informed that their children will not be admitted to school without their required vaccinations. As parents rush to their pediatricians for completion of school forms, vaccine boosters come fast and furious. Whooping cough, measles, and hepatitis vaccines are now administered to schoolchildren in record numbers.

Parents are not informed that these vaccine boosters are not actually needed for school entry. Quite the opposite. Parents are pressured into giving vaccines even against their wishes. But in all states vaccine exemptions are readily available to parents. Nearly half have philosophical exemptions so that parents can merely submit a note stating that vaccines are contrary to their personal beliefs. In the remaining states parents can obtain a religious exemption, which can also be determined by a personal belief.

Vaccines are controversial for many reasons, not the least of which is the risk of serious adverse reactions. The association between vaccines and autism and ADHD has many parents worried about their children’s safety. But if the increasing number of required vaccines for children is causing an increase in learning disorders and attention problems parents can be assured that other drugs will be prescribed for these problems.

ADHD drugs?

Prescriptions for ADHD have skyrocketed to record numbers. Children are expected to sit quietly and passively in classrooms regardless of their individual learning styles. If a child learns best through exploration and active participation, they may be seen as disruptive. Lack of conformity to the expected norms of behavior can land children in the pediatrician’s office for prescriptions to calm them down. These prescriptions for supposed ADHD behaviors attempt to manipulate brain chemistry and neurotransmitters, sometimes with disastrous results. Side effects of these medications may include insomnia, tics, sedation, and suicidal thoughts. And yet children are routinely medicated with antidepressants, amphetamine-like stimulants, and other ADHD drugs at the request of teachers and schools.

The Holistic Alternative

There are alternatives for parents to all of these drugs. If children have a resilient immune system, then they may not need vaccines to artificially stimulate antibody production. A whole foods diet and a few nutritional supplements will produce a healthy and vigorous immune system with the strength to resist and control infections. Herbal supplements like Astragalus, elderberry, and medicinal mushrooms all have the ability to activate and balance the immune system. Nutritional supplements such as whey protein, vitamin D, and probiotics also support and activate the immune system.

There are supplements also that can improve children’s attention functions and sharpen mental processes. The Omega three fats in fish oil promote healthy communication between nerves that results in efficient mental processing. Other supplements can safely develop more alertness and focus in children. Holistic pediatric specialists are well-trained in using these supplements. However, taking a different perspective on children’s behavior helps to keep a sense of balance when viewing these symptoms. For example, a child who is impulsive and easily distracted will flourish in an environment that encourages active learning. And of course these active, inquisitive, and restless children become the stars on the soccer field and basketball court. They become the innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in their future careers. It’s a matter of perspective.

It is time that we re-evaluate the use of drugs to control symptoms in children when safer, more effective methods are available.

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Beyond Attention Problems and ADHD; A book review

2012 May 22 by

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Fire Child, Water Child: How understanding the five types of ADHD can help you improve your child’s self-esteem and attention. Stephen Scott Cowan, MD. New Harbinger Publications. 2012.

What an amazing gem of a book! I call it a gem because, like a diamond or ruby, the deeper you look the more facets and marvels you discover. I have heard Dr. Cowan lecture on the subject of attention problems in children several times. His ability to perceive the nature of each individual child is inspiring, but each time I wanted more clues to the management of their behavior problems. This book provides it all.

There are many excellent books about children’s attention problems and ADHD, but none of them provide the unique perspective of Dr. Cowan’s analysis and method. He applies the sophisticated understanding of Chinese medicine to the perplexing pediatric topic of ADHD. In the process he shows that ADHD is really a style of behavior. Each child can be understood through the filter of the five elements of Chinese medicine. Dr. Cowan brings this process alive with case examples and vivid descriptions of the characteristics of each type. Once parents understand which of the five types best describes their child’s behavioral style, then they can apply specific remedial tools to encourage their child’s emotional and spiritual development. This process is not a simple one for parents, but Cowan carefully and sensitively takes parents along the journey of discovery to understand their child through the perspective of the five types and to apply a wide range of interventions best suited to that type.

The interventions that Cowan proposes are calculated to bring the individual child’s style into a greater balance and harmony. Although these interventions vary for each type, they have a common thread. All of them provide positive and life affirming activities and environments to encourage that child on the path of healthy development. The activities may include meditation, music, artistic pursuits, board games, martial arts, certain foods, or types of chanting depending on the child’s type. Environments may include more exposure to nature, more direction and structure, or bringing certain types of sounds into the child’s space.

Not only does he describe the five children’s types and show the best activities to bring out the strengths of that type of child, he also takes a major leap into the realm of true child development. As a developmental pediatrician, Cowan brings a wealth of understanding to the process of maturation. With the tools and models of Chinese medicine and philosophy he maps out an emotional and spiritual developmental path for each type of child. Although he presents this sophisticated model in simple terms that parents can understand, this application of Chinese medical principles to child development represents a major philosophical breakthrough in developmental pediatrics. Cowan actually maps out the maturation of each type of child in the direction of their higher purpose.

This complex understanding of their child will probably require several readings by parents. Over the course of a child’s elementary school years parents will return again and again to reference these sections about their child’s type to further their understanding as their child grows and develops. I would highly recommend this book to every parent who wants to understand their child and help them grow emotionally and spiritually, whether or not they are struggling with attention issues. Similarly, pediatric clinicians and therapists will find in this book a wealth of information to benefit the children in their care.

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