"ADD", "ADHD" and "LD" are just the most common in the growing alphabet soup of labels associated with learning and behavior disorders. The symptoms range from mild difficulties with concentration in school or work situations to outright inability to learn or perform intellectual tasks, from boredom and restlessness to overt anti-social behavior and violence.
The diagnostic terms cover a great variety of symptoms and situations. There is alot that is not yet understand about how the syndrome, arises and what to do about it. So much attention has been focused on this issue recently that it appears that the country is suffering from an epidemic of learning and behavioral dysfunction.
Theories about the reasons of attention deficit syndromes abound: chemical imbalances in the brain, inheritance, food allergies, inner ear imbalances, family and social environment, ... It is safe to assume each point of view has a partial grasp of the truth. But the more imposing question is how to treat it.
Families that have consulted with me about this type of problem for their children have typically run the gamut of meetings and evaluations with teachers, counselors and various specialists. They have most often already visited psychologists to address emotional issues and medical specialists who have generally prescribe drugs which calm the child down.
Ritalin, the well known first line of conventional treatment is, oddly enough, a stimulant — an amphetamine — which has the opposite effect of slowing down the over-revved minds of certain persons and enhancing theirer attention span. Earlier this decade one million children in this country were taking Ritalin. Now, that number has probably tripled.
But its widespread and sometimes indiscrimant usage is a point of controversy. A quick perusal of the growing literature on learning and behavior disorders reveals that amongst experts in the field there is a great ambivalnce about prescribing Ritalin in a knee-jerk fashion.
One article on hyperactivity relates that although "stimulants improve these children's sudden mood changes and ability to maintain attention, numerous studies have failed to show improvement in retention of learning, overall achievement, or control of anger".1
It goes on to state that "common side effects of these drugs in children are headache, appetite loss, and insomnia; and less frequently, bed wetting, irritability, depression, growth retardation, and liver toxicity. From 20 to 25 percent of childrenn with A.D.D. show no repsonse to medication with stimulants."
Other critics feel that the prescriptions are made more for the teachers than the child. Already burdened with crowded classrooms and children from broken homes, they find themselves beleagured with an especially difficult child who is inattentive and disruptive. At least the drug will make for a more docile student.
And many parents are loath to subject their children to ongoing drug therapy. Children, too, often express a dislike for it. I have heard them say that they feel like they are "in a straight jacket", "not themselves", or just plain sick when taking Ritalin.
Are there alternatives? Fortunately, the answer is yes. The problem is that many parents, teachers, psychologists and medical personnel are mostly familiar with the conventional approach of using Ritalin. It is hard for them to explore or recommend alternatives that are unkown quantities.
Amongst others, there are ocular specialists who address problems of visual perception, nutritionists who endeavour to eliminate possible allergic responses and restore biochemic balance of the brain chemistry, herbalists who offer plant based alternatives to Ritalin, osteopaths and chiropractors who tone the nervous system through various manual manipulations.
Along with these, homeopathy also offers a child the possibility of overcoming many learning and behavioral difficulties. The aim of homeopathic treatment is to facilitate a change in the way the person perceives the world and perceives his/ herself in the world. Its ambitious goal is cure.
(After all, while drugs are effective in calming the child while he or she is taking them, they do not effect a real change in behavior, abilities and perceptions. When they wear off, the old patterns re-emerge.)
The strength — and difficulty — of using homeopathy is that each case is treated individually. Often I hear the question, "What is the remedy you use for hyperactivity?" The truth is that there are many different remedies that are used.
Since the behavior and symptoms of the syndrome differ so much from case to case, it really is not even reasonable that one medication will be appropriate for everyone. Every person must be evaluated very carefully to determine what is correct for them. Sometimes the first choice of a remedy doesn't do the trick, so re- evaluation is necessary.
Here is one example of a homeopathically treated case:
Steve was an eleven year old who visited my office last spring. His mother had personally experienced great success with homeopathic , and hoped that it might help her son, too. He was a nice kid, out going and well liked at school. Physically, there were few problems. He seemed healthy and his athletic capabilities were high.
But school was a challenge for Steve. Both math and spelling were especially difficult and his overall concentration was poor. He was diagnosed with a problem in "visual sequencing" which made it hard for Steve to order numbers and letters. His inability to do what was asked of him lead to frustration and boredom.
He was given a dose of a homeopathic preparation on the day of his first visit. One month later his mother reported that he seemed much calmer. His teachers had also noticed a difference. His concentration was better and he read for a longer period of time. Following up seven months later, his mother reports that "he is doing great". He is much more focused, school goes well, and even his athletic talents have been enhanced by his mental calm.
Lest anyone mistakenly believe that I am touting a miracle cure, let me state categorically that is not the case. There are a great many persons who are helped through homeopathy but, in my experience, it is not everyone. It can also demand patience and perserverance. Not every response is as quick and thorough as Steven's.
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, patients and/ or their families are not willing to see the course of treatment through to its conclusion. Another common issue is the pressure to seek more conventional treatment which is applied by family members, teachers or other professionals. Also, in serious cases, even when the correct remedy has been prescribed results may appear only after many months or are limited by neurological damage to the child.
Yet, for those families and children (and adults) who experience the positive effects of homeopathic therapy, it is a great blessing. A wonderful resource to explore this option further is a book entitled "Ritalin Free Kids" by Judyth and Robert Reichenberg-Ullman.
1 Reichenberg-Ullman, Judith, N.D, M.S.W. "Homeopathy for Hyperactive Children", Natural Health. pg. 70, Nov/Dec. 1992
Julian Jonas is a certified homeopath practicing in Keene, and Saxtons River, VT. He can be contacted at 802-869-2883 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.