A. D. D., Diet & Herbs (Jim's Story)
Author Lori Herron ADD Links
He's the son every parent dreams of - exceptionally bright, funny, handsome, athletic, full of energy and the joy of life. Always a step ahead of the other children his age, and always restless to do more, learn more, be more. Being a working mom, Jim was in day care full-time since infancy, and was always stepped ahead early to the next oldest class. Naturally, as soon as he was old enough for kindergarten, we didn't hesitate to enroll him. Every parent's dream would be every teacher's dream? wouldn't he?
But the dream quickly crumbled into a nightmare. Jim was unable to maintain his focus for group activities, unable to sit still for story time; and although he loved school, he quickly grew bored without the constant play breaks he had in daycare. The school staff (Jim's teacher, principal, and even the counselor) was unsympathetic and actually suggested that I pull him out of school and put him back in daycare and "try again next year". He was even suspended twice for his "disruptive" behavior. I was completely at a loss. Jim was always everyone's favorite child. What was happening here?
Well, part of the problem was a surprisingly backwards staffing at the school. They didn't recognize the characteristics of Jim's behavior as being typical of ADD children. He was also very young, having just made the legal cutoff date to enter kindergarten. Repeating kindergarten was a good idea; it gave Jim a chance to mature and be on more of a peer level with his classmates. Pulling him out of school would have been traumatic, however, and should not even have been suggested. Once they were reminded that they had a moral and a legal obligation to keep Jim in school, they backed off and actually began to try and cope with Jim. I also began working with Jim to try and help him focus more and behave in school.
Attention Deficit Disorder, better known as ADD, is becoming quite well known. Probably half the messages I see posted on herb lists and bulletin boards talk about ADD (and, the other half seem to talk about St. John?s Wort!). In all seriousness, now that we're able to recognize ADD, it doesn't have nearly the stigma that it used to. Treatments abound in the allopathic medical world, with Ritalin being the drug of choice for children diagnosed as ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Even adults are now realizing that they're not "stupid, crazy or lazy", but that they have a recognized and treatable condition.
When I say treatable, in a traditional medical sense, that means you have to take some sort of drug on a daily basis, possibly for the rest of your life. Usually the drugs are a stimulant that activates the part of the brain that controls focus and attention. At first, I was resistant to using any sort of drug on a child. However, when Jim re-entered kindergarten (at a different school!) the next year, while he was more mature and somewhat more focused on his learning, he still had behavioral problems and was somewhat disruptive in class. His teacher was a jewel, and told me she wished she could have a class of just Jim and maybe four or five other students, because then he could get the attention he needed. But, in a class of 23, he was just too restless and still unable to focus on group activities, and it was difficult for everyone. She suggested that I have him tested for ADD.
You guessed it ? Jim was a classic case. And, the doctor recommended Ritalin, of course; which I put Jim on with great reluctance. He remained on Ritalin for the last part of school, and in the first few weeks of summer vacation, I weaned him off of it, with his doctor's permission, so that I could try some alternative methods. Jim was going with his brother and step-father to visit friends for the summer. I had always had an interest in herbs and natural medicine, as did our friends, so I told her to try modifying Jim's diet and then we could look at herbal supplements.
The first thing to go was sugar. I had already cut it way down, but on a busy morning Pop-Tarts make a quick and tasty breakfast! Jim still gets the occasional sweet, but doesn't crave them at all, and gets plenty of fruit. In addition, red dyes were removed. His favorite Pop-Tarts were the cherry ones, so that was really a double-whammy. But, red dyes are abundant in foods that aren't even red, so I read every label before buying anything to make sure there weren't any red dyes lurking about. We've eliminated most processed foods from our diet, so this wasn't as difficult as it seems.
Jim started the school year as a first grader with much more confidence, and was much better behaved. His teacher had elected to advance with the class because she was so fond of all of them (I don't have enough ego to claim it was just for Jim!), and she noticed the difference immediately. So, the change from a diet of mostly processed foods with some sugars and red dyes to a diet of mostly fresh foods, with few sugars or dyes of any kinds, had made a significant difference. What we were eating didn't change a lot; we've always been fond of fruits and vegetables, fish and poultry. What changed was the processing of foods; more fresh and frozen vegetables, less canned food altogether. Is it more work for Mom? Well, sure. It's easier to dump a can of Chef Boyardee into a pot and heat it up than to cook tomatoes down and boil pasta, but it's the difference between cooking a five minute meal and a fifteen minute meal, and my kids are surely worth an extra ten minutes a day! I've also gotten into the habit of preparing huge pots of sauce, chili, soup, and stew and freezing what we don't eat to warm up for another meal.
Still, though, Jim needed a little more help. While he was getting happy faces every day on his school work, his conduct averaged about one or two happy faces out of five. I had him write sentences as a punishment, but it made only a marginal difference. I definitely didn't want to have him go back on Ritalin (which hadn't helped a lot, anyway!) so I turned to herbs. My grandmother and my aunt are herbalists and my mom dabbled in it, so I'd grown up learning about the properties of different herbs, and I'd done some studying of my own here and there. I began studying more in earnest when Jim started kindergarten, more because I had the time than as a way to help him out, because I didn't know a thing about ADD then, and didn't know much about herbs that would help.
I began with chamomile tea in the mornings and evenings. The difference was noticeable; his happy faces went from one a week to three! A friend on one of the herb lists suggested I have him join a study on the effects of Crimson Columbine flower essence. He then went from three a week to three, sometimes four. At home, he picked on his brother less and began finding activities for them to do together. I've also placed lavender pomades in their rooms. While it's not a very masculine scent, it is soothing! I also make sure that any cookies I bake have oats in them, and they frequently eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I'm not sure if Jim will ever get five happy faces in a week, and if he does, I don't know that he'll be able to do so every week. He is, after all, a very active child, and will probably get bored from time to time in school when lessons are repeated that he has already mastered. Most children of above-average intelligence have this problem. And at the risk of sounding sexist, boys will be boys! He has shown a remarkable improvement, though, and the times he has lost his happy face now have more to do with getting caught talking to the prettiest girl in class than with being disruptive. I think I can live with that!
Copyright 1996, 1998 by , Lori Herron and Alternative Nature.
All Rights Reserved.
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