ADHD is a complex condition, elusive and frustrating for children who have it, and perhaps even more challenging for the parents who are trying to help.
Each expression of ADHD is unique, but in every case, an individualized program that corrects imbalances in a child’s brain and gut is the key to successful treatment.
ADHD is defined by a set of behavioral symptoms. Whether a person’s condition is characterized as inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or a combination of these, it results from neurotransmitter problems and brain imbalance.
Dr. Paul Austin explains: the frontal lobes of our brain control executive function – how we navigate the world. The right and left frontal lobes have opposing attributes. Left brain is the “go” brain, and right is the modifier. Left is linear, logical, literal thinking and computation; right is emotional intelligence and metaphorical processing. Left governs verbal communication and fine motor skills; right handles non-verbal communication and gross motor skills.
ADHD brains are typically under-developed on the right side. These people rely heavily on the left brain to navigate their experience. A left-brain-dominant child is likely to be impulsive, motivated by interest and concerned with what’s right in front of them. They may be very intelligent, but challenged by simple daily routines and expectations.
Dr. Austin says children’s lifestyles and the demands placed on them these days can exacerbate brain imbalance. The fine-motor and intellectual emphasis in school and the 2-dimensional world of the computer screen favor the left brain. We have come to expect lots of stimulation from TV, computer games and online interaction, all of which excites the left brain.
As with muscles in the body, we want the full range of motion and function in the brain. The good news is that brains can change as muscles can. We can balance the two sides and strengthen the communication between them with brain balancing tools and supportive exercises.
Neurotransmitters support communication within the brain. They carry chemical “messages” across the synapses between neurons. People who exhibit ADHD symptoms have common neurotransmitter problems: they are dopamine-deficient and/or they have issues with dopamine uptake.
Dopamine affects executive function, motivation, reinforcement and reward, and motor control(1), among other things. Problems will manifest differently depending on which parts of the brain are involved. These differences determine the types of ADHD and each person’s unique picture within that subgroup.
Through specialized testing, Dr. Austin can obtain accurate information about conductivity and function in different parts of the brain. He can use these same tools to assess improvement objectively throughout a therapeutic program.
Gut health and brain function are intimately connected. Thankfully, this has become common knowledge. Inflammation in the gut causes inflammation in the brain, which causes an increase in neurological symptoms. Basically, when we calm the gut, we calm the brain – particularly the left side. A holistic approach to ADHD treatment should always include food sensitivity testing, dietary assessment and supplementation to support gut health and brain function.
Food Sensitivity Testing is easily done with a finger prick these days. Rather than trying to get rid of everything that might be problematic, test results will show you clearly which foods to eliminate for greatest effect.
Objective information from food sensitivity testing can also help motivate you and your child. Being asked to give up a favorite food can be difficult for anyone – especially for a child with impulse control issues. If we make the correlation between an offending food and its effect – hyperactivity, mood changes, or brain fog – it may be easier to motivate and make the change.
4 WAYS PARENTS CAN HELP
In addition to professional support, what can we do to help our children balance their brains, increase dopamine receptivity, and calm their guts? From a behavioral standpoint, how can we support them in making these changes?
Remove offending foods from the diet. Foods that may inflame the gut include dairy, gluten and refined grains, soy, corn, sugar, chemical additives and preservatives.
Encourage a healthy diet of whole, fresh foods, plenty of protein, vegetables and fruit, and adequate water intake. Your whole family will feel better!
Make changes systematically and slowly. Increase water one week and protein the next. If these changes are difficult for your child, see if you can create a challenge or an experiment around it. Remember, ADHD brains are motivated by interest and challenge… not by should or what’s “good for you.”
Add Supplements: ADHD kids are often picky eaters and don’t get the full spectrum of necessary vitamins and minerals. Supplements can support them as you balance their diet.
- Vitamin D – enhances dopamine release and supports immune function.
- Omega 3’s – Omega 3’s are critical for brain and nervous system function. They have also been shown to increase dopamine in the brain. (2)
- Magnesium – has calming and antidepressant effects, in part because it increases dopamine activity in the brain. (3)
- Tyrosine – this amino acid is a dopamine precursor; it boosts dopamine production.
- Methylated B vitamins – particularly B6, B12, and Folate – as methylation defects are common in people with ADHD.
- Probiotics – to support gut health. Also, certain species of lactobacillus have been found to increase dopamine levels in the frontal cortex. (4)
To be sure your supplements are high quality, purchase them here.
Dr. Austin says, “Exercise is my Ritalin!” Daily cardiovascular exercise is an excellent way to improve dopamine transmission (5) and stimulate the right brain through gross motor activity.
Outdoor exercise is particularly beneficial because sunlight boosts vitamin D levels and – for most people – elevates their mood. Outdoor activity engages multiple senses, develops spatial awareness, and can improve kids’ confidence in their ability to navigate the world.
Many types of exercise promote interaction between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Anything involving coordination – like passing a soccer ball, shooting hoops, or playing tennis – is helpful. Choreographed movements – dance and martial arts – offer a mental and physical challenge.
Indoors or outdoors, the form of exercise should be one a person really enjoys for them to derive maximum benefit. For children with ADHD, it must engage and maintain their interest.
Short-term specific goals will be most interesting for your young child. Try things like “How many more jumps of the rope or push-ups or laps can you do today?” rather than setting an end-of-the-month goal. Try a brisk outdoor game of Follow the Leader, where the focus and the short-term goal shift every few moments.
For older children, you can help them find another level of interest or challenge to motivate them toward longer-term goals. For instance, they might be more engaged in their training program if they are able to collect specific data and calculate improvement with a fitness monitor.
Even short periods of exercise or standing can improve concentration and fight fatigue. Mix it up with the sitting during the day! Get them up and take a dance break or try the activities below.
3. BRAIN BALANCING ACTIVITIES:
You can break up the day with these fun exercises. Each engages both sides of the brain and encourages them to communicate.
- Jumping Jacks – do as many as you can in 10 seconds. Freeze! Repeat jumping jacks as many as possible for ten more seconds. Do this several times a day.
- Superman – Lie flat on your belly with arms extended straight above your head. Hold one arm and the opposite leg up for 15 seconds, and then do the other side. Next, lift all four limbs off the floor simultaneously and hold – like Superman flying. Work up to holding this position for 60 seconds, and repeat four times.
- Planks – engage the brain to manage your core muscles’ activity. This exercise is about neuro-conditioning, not just muscle strength. Time your planks, or count your breaths as you hold to gauge improvement from day to day. Or do it together and see who can hold the longest.
- For Memory and Cognition – Stand up and name as many things as you can in one minute that begin with a particular letter of the alphabet. Or name ten things in a category (countries, animals, kitchen utensils) as quickly as possible.
Finally, we offer a few notes on relational support. Sheila Kiechlen of Big Bang Coaching says the most supportive thing a parent can do is listen. How does your child perceive their struggles? What support do they think they need from you? How do they say you can help?
She also suggests parents play to their children’s strengths and be careful with criticism. Most of all, “help them learn to accept the entire picture of who they are.” Thanks, Sheila.
Overcoming ADHD – or living successfully with it – is a huge challenge. We at Austin Functional Wellness are here to help with testing, therapeutic tools, and more. Brains can change, and they will learn. Set your kids up for success by supporting them now.
* This information is not meant to diagnose, treat or prevent any condition. It does not replace prescriptions made by your medical provider.
Imagine! This local organization offers funding for therapeutic services for children with ADHD. Dr. Austin is one of their providers.
ADDitude – a wealth of online information and support for the ADHD brain
CHADD – also improving the lives of people affected by ADHD.