Treating A.D.H.D. Now
In the past couple of years many pediatricians, especially those in Sears Family Pediatrics, have changed the way we diagnose and treat A.D.H.D. Once upon a time, it was primarily treated with the pills model: “Child diagnosed with A.D.H.D., take this drug…” The new and improved way of treating A.D.H.D., and the one that is more science-based, is the skills-before-pills model, meaning what the child and parents can do before what the child can take. For example, we are finding that instead of A.D.H.D., many children have other “D’s”: N.D.D. (nutrition deficit disorder) or M.D.D. (movement deficit disorder). In a nutshell, we’re going back to a “treatment” which mothers have always advised: “Eat more fruits and vegetables and go outside and play.”
New theories for treating A.D.H.D.
Once children began sitting more and moving less, as well as eating more junk food, the number of children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. went up. Any correlation? In fact, studies are now proving mother’s wisdom of going outside to play. The more hyperactive children are advised to get outdoor exercise, the better they behave and learn. One such program was done at a school in Naperville, Illinois, where they began a zero period trial – having children come to school early for a half-hour of vigorous exercise before regular class started. Other programs, such as the ABC (Activity Bursts in the Classroom) for Fitness, put together by my friend Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, has found amazing results by getting kids moving. Dubbed the “Recess Before Ritalin” approach, some schools are finding that vigorous exercise programs have increased children’s attention, improved their behavior, and lessened the need for medication in those children previously labeled with “A.D.H.D.”
A common complaint that teachers often make about children with A.D.H.D. is: “He keeps staring out the window.” That’s because he wants to be out the window. I still remember being in the fourth grade and wise Sister Mary Bonifice would say: “Billy, go take a walk for a few minutes and then come back and settle down.” It worked, long before modern scientific studies showed the calming and intellectual benefits of movement and nature on the brain. Perhaps nature, along with movement, is the mind’s best medicine.
In my medical office when I see a child for “A.D.H.D. counseling,” I take the following skills-before-pills approach:
- Require more moving and less sitting, such as getting the child into sports, even moving while watching TV, or simply using exercise bands. I request that the parents insist upon having the child have at least as much movement time as they do computer or video game time, preferably more.
- Correct the nutrition deficit disorder: begin the day with a brainy breakfast, eat wild salmon at least twice a week, eat a real-food diet, graze on good foods, and de-junk their diet.
- Keep a journal of how they’ve increased activity, decreased junk food, and increased real food in the child’s diet.
Then I see the child in my office again in 3-4 weeks along with his journal where he documented these healthy changes. Only after we’ve cleaned up the child’s diet and increased physical activity do we discuss medications.
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.