Complementary Therapies for ADD/ADHD, Autistic Spectrum and Other Related Disorders
By Sue Pash
My interest in hyperactivity started over twenty years ago when one of my children became increasingly hyperactive. Another developed symptoms on the autistic spectrum.
These conditions are much more widely recognised now than twenty years ago and there is some debate as to whether the incidence of problems is increasing or whether this is accounted for by either better recognition or over diagnosis. Many parents dealing with children with any of these conditions want to know what caused it, or whether it could have been prevented. This may be perhaps because of a wish to have further children. Many are also looking for ways to treat their children and improve quality of life. They may also worry about the future welfare of their children, particularly if the symptoms appear to be worsening as their children get older.
Numerous potential causes have been put forward, including genetics, vaccinations, chemical poisoning, heavy metals, environmental pollutants generally, foetal or maternal stress and poor nutritional status. Vaccination as a cause is extremely controversial, particularly as not every child who is vaccinated gets any of these conditions, and not all affected children have been vaccinated.
Whilst some children have severe problems, in other cases milder symptoms may not be picked up at all if the child is “not the worst in the class” or “there are far worse” or if the behavioural traits are less obvious outside the home.
For those children whose problems are picked up, very often symptoms have taken some time to go past the “wait and see” stage to develop to a point where the need for intervention is accepted. It then takes time for any agreed intervention to be tried. This and even minimal delays or waiting lists can add up to a child falling further behind developmentally and with school work. Self-esteem problems often follow.
When it comes to finding holistic treatment plans for affected children, my experience as a parent leads me to believe that no one professional knows all the answers, and no therapist knows my children as well as I do. When giving talks and workshops to parents about possible complementary therapy options, my colleague and I can only offer additional information to the child’s true experts, his or her parents. Many parents are already very well informed about their child’s condition and are able to discuss and explore the various issues and options. Parents can then make choices about what would best suit their child’s unique physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. With the right support parents are the child’s best therapists!
Very often it is difficult to know where to start when it comes to complementary therapy. With more awareness of the effect of diet on behaviour, a nutritionist is often the first person to be approached for help.
Nutrition & Food Allergies
He or she may suggest an improved diet, which can often be very successful. Nutritional therapy is also particularly useful if the condition is linked to absorption problems, or factors such as leaky gut syndrome. However it can be difficult if a child is food phobic and will only eat “safe” foods. If a child is uncooperative or is hypersensitive to the taste, smell or texture of foods the therapist often needs to address these issues first.
Another issue that regularly comes up regarding nutrition is the subject of “food allergy.” Parents of hyperactive children particularly are often recommended this as an approach. However this type of testing can be a double edged sword.
Some testers advise parents to avoid certain foods for their children, which can very often show initial good results. However this can sometimes lead to deficiency problems later. Often the “allergy” culprit is not “junk food” but one normally considered nutritious. For example I know of children who had tested “allergic” to foods such as bananas but not others such as unbleached white flour. Very often parents may not be made fully aware of or understand the implications of such test results.
In other cases a child may be on an overly restrictive diet permanently, which can replace physical problems with emotional ones for the child who is for instance embarrassed at school by their “weird” packed lunch. It may lead to children not eating in front of their friends, or older children buying and eating the forbidden foods behind the parents’ backs. Sometimes the rest of the family suffer the same dietary regime. In others the child eats “different” food. It can require a huge commitment and often the diet is only partially followed or even completely given up as unworkable.
After treatment for any underlying conditions, in many cases a child may occasionally be able to eat small amounts of the offending foods. This together with general improvements to the whole family’s diet ensures the child will not remain singled out permanently, and in the long term may give better results.
There is no doubt that allergy testing can be a useful tool, but it should not be used as a stand alone therapy. Its value lies as part of a full nutritional profile and an ongoing holistic plan which takes all aspects of a child’s life into account.
In my experience food allergy is often a symptom of an underlying imbalance, not the cause. Treat the cause and often some of the “food allergies” will go away. It is therefore not advisable for a child’s diet to be set based exclusively or permanently on an allergy test, however well intentioned. A case history and discussion with the parents gives valuable information on each child’s unique circumstances and needs. Consideration can then to be given as to whether an option is appropriate at all, or at this particular time, or which step it takes in a sequence of possibilities.
Certain lifestyle and shopping choices can have a big impact in some cases. In others they may not immediately show dramatic results but it can be thought of as almost like peeling the layers of an onion. You may need to peel back several layers before you notice any real progress.
Many parents avoid colourings and chemicals in food, but are not aware of the potential intake through toiletries such as bubble baths and shampoos, which are often highly coloured to attract children. Children bathed at night may be unable to sleep, or if bathed in the morning may have worse than normal problems at school. Many of us bath our children daily in an effort to relax them, without realising we may be having the opposite effect. The more we bath our children, the higher the intakes of colourings and other chemicals absorbed through the skin. The effects on our children will depend on many factors, one of which is their ability to detoxify and eliminate these chemicals. This again can depend on many factors including nutritional status. Some chemicals damage cells and interfere with important metabolic pathways. The process of detoxification uses up nutrients, so using non-toxic toiletries may considerably help reduce chemical stress and improve the overall health picture. Reducing chemical stress in this way doesn’t make the demands on the child that other interventions can make.
Many people are sensitive to the fluoride found in toothpastes, mouthwashes etc. and in the water supply in some places. Some forms of fluoride used are by-products of the aluminium industry, and not pharmaceutical grade sodium fluoride. In whichever form it takes its use to prevent tooth decay is highly controversial, particularly as the “dose” is random depending on whether your water supply is fluoridated, and if so how much of the water you drink, how much is absorbed through the skin, and which fluoridated oral health products you use.
Some people are unable to excrete fluoride effectively. One reason may be because of a poor thirst mechanism and therefore under functioning kidneys or simply that intake exceeds output. A very low protein diet or poor protein digestion can sometimes be implicated, as certain amino acids are very important for detoxification. A number of factors might therefore be associated with a build up in the body including the brain. Fluoride is particularly linked to accumulation in the pineal gland. It is implicated in light sensitivity, behavioural problems, “couch potato syndrome” and other problems that may be a factor in a child’s symptoms or diagnosis.
One four year old child was food phobic, water phobic, light sensitive and slowly becoming more malnourished, withdrawn, and socially isolated. His behaviour rituals, which offered valuable clues, were becoming more demanding and more fixed. He did not live in an area where the water supply was fluoridated but had a very poor thirst mechanism and his “safe” foods did not include good protein sources. Although there were several factors to his condition, it was the change to non-fluoride toothpaste that was needed first to trigger his healing process. Three days later, light sensitivity improved to such an extent that he announced he was going outside to play.
He started choosing clothes in bright colours rather than dark blues and blacks. Within a few weeks behaviour patterns were less fixed and he had started eating a wider range of foods. A particular emphasis is made on ensuring adequate protein intake and sufficient fluid. What was particularly noticeable was that, given the chance, his body naturally made up for lost time. His previous lethargy and inactivity was replaced by the joy of using a ‘rebounder’, improving his co-ordination, balance and muscle tone. After several weeks he had “had enough” and lost interest in it. His sleep pattern gradually improved. His only other treatment consisted of a full spectrum light in his room, the occasional colour therapy treatment, flower essences and homeopathic remedies if necessary. In addition the microwave oven was removed from the home, a bungalow. His bed was in direct line with the microwave in the kitchen opposite and his sister, who had occupied the room before him had also hated sleeping in the room. Two years later there is no sign of his previous problems.
In this case the primary cause of his behaviour ritual symptoms was tracked down, and could be dealt with first. The other factors, just as important, then gradually sorted themselves out with very little intervention. More often there may be several factors to be addressed and although it may not be possible to “cure” the most severe conditions there can often be improvement.
Another useful path to explore is the role of sleep. All children need adequate sleep. It is during this time that the brain prunes and rearranges neurons important for learning and the body does a lot of its healing work. A lot can be done to improve poor sleep patterns including improved nutrition, flower essences, avoiding chemical stress and by using the basic principles of colour therapy to decorate a child’s room in a way that is calming and soothing. Hyperactive children have been known to punch plaster off bright red bedroom walls and jump out of the (upstairs) window. In cases of hyperactivity soothing cooling colours are more suitable. Even hypo (under) active children do not need sensory stimulation at bedtime. Keep the room as neutral and calm as possible, whatever the condition. It is then easy to add perhaps a slowly moving coloured light, or to play soft music, or use aromatherapy oils for relaxing scents, depending on the child’s preference and their individual sensory problems. .
To start with a blank canvas and add gentle touches of interest while a child settles, is far easier to control and turn off when they have served their purpose than the constant stimulus of bright walls and other distractions. If possible avoid computers and televisions in bedrooms. If there is no option but to do homework in the bedroom try to allow a period of an hour before bedtime when homework is finished and more relaxing things are done, letting the child’s body know it is time for winding down in preparation for sleep. If a child is used to staying up late, bring the time back by a few minutes every few days until eventually they are going to bed at a more suitable time. Consider electromagnetic field problems from equipment such as computers, televisions and microwave ovens in close proximity. Some children are especially hypersensitive and may be unconsciously reacting to the stress being caused by lying in these fields
I have only touched on the subject of complementary therapy and ADD/ADHD, ASD and related disorders in these few pages. There are many parents trying to deal with their children’s unique problems on a day to day basis, whatever the ultimate diagnosis. It is often extremely difficult for them in terms of time, energy and finance to be able to research and try the many different therapies that may be of benefit to their children.
With my own children’s problems it would have been useful to have been taught how to give a massage or reflexology session and which aromatherapy oils would be most suitable for calming and soothing. I could have made better use of colour in bedrooms and been able to reduce any sources of electromagnetic stress, chemical stress, indeed any type of stress that may have been making problems worse. I would not have based four years of my hyperactive child’s diet on a one hour “allergy test” and would have avoided the subsequent repercussions on other levels. I could have learned about increasing a child’s self esteem, about nutrition, about strategies to cope with the behavioural problems. I hope I would have made better choices. Twenty years ago even knowing we had choices would have been nice!
I hope that eventually it will be routine for doctors’ surgeries to refer parents of children with these conditions to workshops or seminars where they can learn basic principles of some of the complementary therapies that might be valuable. Many doctors are open to complementary treatments and might be willing to work with complementary therapists to agree an acceptable format for workshops to avoid the “alternative versus conventional” trap.
Offering a variety of approaches requires therapists of different disciplines working together to offer parents and carers information and advice they can immediately make use of.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone interested in this subject, and would appreciate any information about the conditions you would like to share.
The Therapists’ Network Website: http://www.therapynetworkonline.co.uk