This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders.
Non-Medical Treatments to Help ADHD Children by Elle Skelton
It seems as though our society is continually looking for that magical pill or serum that will cure anything we need. Unfortunately, the realities of many medications are not a cure but rather symptom suppression. ADHD is most commonly treated by psychostimulant medication, which help individuals who are suffering from symptoms of ADHD. However, are our children and even adults overmedicated? Today there are medications that are prescribed for children to take as young as 3 years old. Prescribed medications like Ritalin and Adderall are increasing in popularity, especially with children that are high-school age and younger. There has also been large amounts of documented ADHD medication abuse in teenagers and adults, especially in college students, that are not even diagnosed with ADHD nor prescribed the medication.
Although medications have helped many children and adults cope with ADHD symptoms, there are times when medication may not be appropriate for some individuals. There are alternative, evidence-based treatments that do not involve medications for all ages of ADHD individuals. Interestingly, even with an increase of prescribed medication, it is reported that up to 90% of those children and adolescents with ADHD stop taking their medication by the end of their high school career. It is also thought that an ADHD child can eventually grow out of it; however that doesn’t actually seem to be the case. There are many successful children and now adults that suffer from ADHD, but nonetheless lead healthy and high functioning lives. As children, we are not able to choose the environment that we work, learn, and play in. In contrast, as adults, we are able to choose our occupation, city that we live in, recreational activities, etc. So perhaps those individuals with ADHD, rather than growing out of ADHD, have found the right job, environment to live in, and hobbies that fit them, while providing for themselves and leading successful lives.
As previously stated, most children cannot choose their learning and recreational environment, therefore the responsibility and pressure falls on caregivers and teachers to assist them in coping with ADHD. The DSM-5 states most children’s hyperactivity symptoms are identified in preschool while their inattention is identified in elementary school. Thus, teachers are a primary tool in helping children with ADHD in school. In both parental training and teacher intervention it is important to identify the antecedents, behaviors, and consequences of the behavior that is undesired. Then looking at those elements, parents and teachers, together, can help to shape the child’s actions towards the target behavior.
An article published by American Psychological Association (APA) gave a great example of how teachers are enhancing the learning experience for children with ADHD. The article’s example showed how a child that was struggling with math was able to increase his accuracy to 84% through a more interactive approach. The child would answer the math problem and then use an invisible marker that, when written with would reveal the right answer. Other programs like this math exercise within the classroom environment provide students that struggle with ADHD a “straightforward and one step at a time” instruction that assists them to stay on task while at the same time creating interactive learning experiences.
Other treatments that are school related are behavioral interventions conducted within the classroom setting, and also focused on academic achievement. For example within the classroom, a popular tool to use is a DRC or daily report card. This DRC provides the child with daily goals that are obtainable and can be immediately rewards when achieved. DRC’s allow for specific collaboration between the parent or guardian and the teacher in communicating the progress of the child.
Furthermore, parent training is not only directly beneficial for the child with ADHD but also for the parent themselves. Techniques learned by parents include identifying the antecedent and consequences of their behavior, knowing when to appropriately reward/reinforce a behavior or ignore the child’s actions or tantrums, and learn alternative discipline techniques. It is reported that by successfully implementing these strategies, parents or guardians often feel less stressed regarding their child’s ADHD behaviors. Additionally, providing structure or even changing the environment in which an individual with ADHDA works and learns in could be greatly beneficial. Changes in the environment may include but are not limited to determining a schedule for the child not only for school but for the home and other activities, organizing everyday items along with school and work materials, practicing appropriate social interactions, etc. Although these are good tips to follow, it is very important that the actions taken in changing their environment stays consistent.
Lastly, it is important to consider behavioral interventions for ADHD children and their interaction with peers. Comorbidity like anxiety can exist with individuals with ADHD because many times children can feel socially isolated or rejected by their peers due to their hyperactive, inattention, or impulsive behavior. Childhood and adolescence are a crucial time for these individuals to learn socially acceptable skills that usually come naturally but are difficult to those struggling with ADHD. These skills learned through peer interaction are appropriate recreational play, cooperation, sharing, working within a group setting, conflict resolution, negotiation, etc. These skills are learned all throughout childhood, adolescent years, and into adulthood. If these relational skills are not developed, many ADHD individuals may experience anxiety, depression, or may even lash out towards others due to a lack of peer acceptance and/or relatability. This anxiety or rejection can bleed into adulthood and affect these individuals in their occupational setting and other environments. However, successful interactions between peers and others can be accomplished by consistent behavior intervention by parents/ guardians and teachers together.
No matter what therapy treatment is chosen for children or adults, it is important to take into consideration the individual’s developmental stage and where and how the potential benefits and risks from the treatment will affect the ADHD individual. There are many different behavioral therapies that are evidenced based that don’t involve medication. Although some turn to a combination of behavioral therapies and medications, behavioral treatment involving parent training, school and classroom interventions, and peer/social learning skill interventions seem to be quite successful and perhaps are an alternative and longer lasting approach in helping individuals with ADHD.