Treating ADHD Without Medication
More children are taking more pills for more illnesses than ever before. There are pills to perk them up, pills to calm them down, pills to help them focus, pills to help them sleep. ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is one of the most common disorders that kids get prescribed pills for. If kids were first treated for what I call Nutrition Deficit Disorder (NDD), they wouldn’t need so many pills. Diagnosing and treating NDD can be very helpful in treating ADHD without medication.
The Pills/Skills Mind-Set
The longer I practice medicine, the more I realize that the most effective and scientific way to practice pediatrics is to teach parents and children the tools they need to manage their bodies. In practicing what I call the “pills/skills mind-set,” instead of, or in addition to, asking the doctor, “What can my child take?” you ask, “What can my child do?” As soon as you change the “take” to “do,” you prompt your child’s doctor to click into a healthier mind-set, not “Here’s what I prescribe” but “Here’s what I advise.” The pills/skills approach is especially effective for treating ADHD without medication.
In more than forty years in the practice of medicine, I have never seen a D (ADHD, NDD, etc.) that responded to the pills-only treatment. A safe and lasting treatment for any illness is either the skills-only approach or the pills/skills approach, but never pills only.
How I Use the Pills/Skills Model
I use the pills/skills model of medical care in approaching all the Ds in children. Here’s an example of how I use it to in an attempt at treating ADHD without medication for a child in my practice. Jimmy and his parents are sitting in my office, and, based on the history of Jimmy’s school performance provided by his teachers and parents and through my own assessment, I make the diagnosis of ADHD.
I impress upon them that this is the healthiest way in treating ADHD without medication and approaching any medical problem for that matter. First I teach them that ADHD is not really a disorder, it’s a difference. Jimmy thinks, acts, and learns differently, so he needs a different style of teaching and parenting. He’s simply quirky. I reassure them that the brains of many quirky kids are wired differently. They think outside the box. I tell them that with early intervention using the pills/skills model, they can channel their child’s individual way of thinking to his advantage so that he will continue to think outside the box and someday build a better box. The world is a better place because of quirky brains doing interesting things – think Mozart, Edison, Einstein, Bill Gates. Can you imagine what would have happened to Mozart’s magical melodies had he been drugged? Yet if he had had early intervention and help, he might have lived much longer. Now that his parents understand Jimmy’s quirk in a more positive way here’s what I advise:
Step 1: Practice the Skills
I explain that NDD could be playing into Jimmy’s ADHD. I instruct them to keep a diary and document the changes they’ve made. Alongside practicing new nutritional skills, for treating ADHD without medication, I recommend educational skills such as tutoring, behavior modification, matching child and teacher, etc. Then I reevaluate the situation in about three weeks to determine if any progress has been made.
Step 2: Possibly Add Pills
Suppose Jimmy is making progress, but Jimmy’s parents, his teacher, and perhaps an ADHD specialist feel he is still struggling and might benefit from pills. I prescribe the pills using the “start low, go slow” approach, starting with a low dose and gradually increasing if necessary. I impress upon the parents that the pills are to be used in addition to, not instead of the skills. And, to reinforce the fact that the skills are more important than the pills, I tell them, “When you come back in a month for a ‘medication check,’ bring your diary. I will only refill the prescription of the pills if you assure me that you have tried other methods for treating ADHD without medication along with using the pills.” I make this pills/skills deal with the parents because I don’t want Jimmy to begin life with the “have a problem, pop a pill” mind-set. Rather, I want children to learn early on how to take control of their quirks and practice the pills/skills mind-set throughout their lives.