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Understanding Solutions to ADHD

by Valerie Maxwell, Ph.D.

As our understanding of ADHD evolves, the definition of "ADD" is changing, ADHD is not what it used to be. Experts disagree. Dr. Russel Barkley believes there is no difference between ADD and ADHD. Dr. Thomas Brown believes there is, and I agree. It may be that ADHD features hyperactive behaviors, while ADD features slow processing of information. Either way, 70% of those with attentional disorders have learning disabilities. Their brains lacks a "spark" that stimulant medication does not fully correct.

According to Dr. Amen, through brain scans, 6 different kinds of ADD exist:

1) Classic ADHD; inattentive, distractible, disorganized, hyperactive, restless, impulsive;

2) Inattentive; inattentive slow moving, daydreaming, "spacey" ("girlADD" in the past);

3) Overfocused: gets stuck in nit-picky behaviors, worry, negative thoughts, obsessive, inflexible, argumentative;

4) Temporal lobe: angry, dark thoughts, mood unstable, seriously impulsive;

5) Limbic: inattentive, chronically depressed, negative ("glass half empty"), low energy;

6) "Ring of Fire": angry, irritable, inattentive, hyper-verbal, extremely oppositional, cyclical moodiness, potentially dangerous.

There may be even more types of ADD identified in the future. Each type requires different treatment. Proper treatment requires comprehensive diagnosis! No one size fits all. Dr. Cliff Corman believes: "Ultimately, ADHD will become a catchall with many subtypes, each requiring a different treatment, correcting different biological deficits in different areas of the brain." ADHD is not a deficit of attention; it can be a surplus of attention, often unfocused.

  • ADHD means that the thinking brain, prefrontal cortex, is underactive -- not enough dopamine, or brain chemistry exists. According to Dr. Coreman: "Think of it being a race car running on regular gas, or a big computer running on 16 MgHz." Psychostimulant medication increases brain activity levels.

  • There can be circumstantial ADD, although most ADD is pervasive. In other words, it affects all areas of life, not just academics and not just group activities.

  • ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. You can be gifted with ADHD and/or, you can have learning difficulties. For 30% of the people with ADD, medication often does the trick for regulating brain function. Others need brain training.

  • Smart people can hide ADHD, but whether they are 13 (average age of diagnosis for girls) or 45, the ADDer eventually will hit "The Wall." That's when they need help. They will often present with depression or anxiety ("where there's smoke, there's fire"), but have an underlying ADD. Prozac is not necessarily the answer.

The brain (with over 16 billion brain cells) is an infinitely expandable and teachable resource. In the ADD-SOI Testing Center, we refer to these learning disabilities as simply the absence of learning ability. We like to refer to the learning problem with neurological language, so we call these disorders: processing problems.

There are 5 senses which process information: taste, touch, smell, vision and hearing. Most ADDers have their senses intact (e.g. They can see and hear), but their brain must organize the information the sense delivers to it. Ninety-five percent of what the retina sends to the brain is chaotic, random, disorganized. The data is ambiguous. Therefore, the brain does the lion's share of the work in organizing.

Since the ADD brain (the prefrontal cortex, or thinking brain) is naturally disorganized, due to its underactivity, brain training assists the ability to organize information and process the world appropriately. Natural approaches: many people are referred to me because they know in their hearts that there are other ways to help with ADD or learning disorders, especially when traditional tutoring or medication has not given them the solution for which they are looking.

The following is a list of the treatment approaches I personally have researched or seen clients report bona fide success:

  • Medication in the smallest of doses. Our clinic psychiatrist is Dr. Coreman who titrates medication with the TOVA

  • Essential Fatty Acids (e.g., DMAE, Evening Primrose, Evening Primrose oil, Attention gels - not the candy bars).

  • Quality multi-vitamins and minerals (soft gels preferably): "No matter what type of ADD you or your child has, take a vitamin and mineral supplement a day." (Dr. Amen)

  • HIGH PROTEIN DIETS; particularly protein for breakfast (decreased simple carbohydrates).

  • L-tyrosine ("amino acid, the building block for dopamine"). Dr. Amen prescribes: "500-1,500 mgs 2 or 3 times/day for adults; 100-500 mgs 2/3 times/day to children under 10. L-tyrosine increases PEA in the brain - a mild stimulant also found in high concentrations of chocolate." Take it with food, he says.

  • Behavioral Coaching & parent education.

  • The ADD-SOI Testing Center, which stimulates brain development through visual auditory, and sensory-integration training, combined with the SOI (Structure of Intellect) workbooks to train intelligence.

  • Intense aerobic exercise (3 times/week/40 minutes a time). Dr. Amen discusses how exercise increases blood flow to the brain (certain yoga positions do the same).

  • Not having your brain turned on to process the world creates STRESS. A good stress reduction plan is important or you run the risk of substance abuse to calm feelings of stress.

Disclaimer: Consult with your medical doctor for all treatment. I am not a registered nutritionist, nor an M.D. This is simply what I have gleaned working for years with ADHD as a Psychologist.

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