The “organic movement” has roots (pardon the pun) in studies about harmful effects of pesticides. Pesticides Linked to ADHD Symptoms. A new study (conducted by Canadian researchers used data collected from nearly 1,140 children participating in the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) suggests more bad news about pesticides. There seems to be a link between level of exposure to pesticides and the development of ADHD symptoms. This MSN Childhood Health article (by Leah Zerbe Rodale) states that “this study is the first to look at everyday exposure levels in children from around the country. And as it turns out, U.S. kids are exposed to harmful levels of pesticides in their food, day in and day out.” The take-home message is: avoid using pesticides around your own lawn, and–if possible–try to buy organic foods.
According to a 2007 Columbia University study, about 1 in 70 preschoolers take psychiatric medications—including stimulants, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antianxiety drugs. It is not possible to say—without knowing these children personally—if medications are appropriate. But we do know that psychiatric drugs are not approved by the FDA for children under 6. There is simply not enough information to know how very young brains and body will respond—over time—to these medications.
As a child psychologist, I have worked with hundreds of children on psychiatric medications. In many cases, medications were necessary for the children’s safety and well-being. Almost every parent I’ve worked with has agreed to their child’s taking medication because they really believed it was the best way to get back on track. Few parents are excited about medications, but look instead to outweigh the downsides of out-of-control behaviors, moods, and urges.
But, here’s the thing. Medication is not the only option. It should never be the first option. The fields of child psychiatry and child psychology have solid, evidence-based research that shows the effectiveness of non-invasive treatments—therapy, sensory integration, parent/teacher education, and coaching.
If you’re wondering if your toddler is “abnormal,” see a child psychologist. This doctor should spend time with your child, you, and get a detailed history of the problem. Child psychologists can conduct standardized measures that have been validated to use on very young children. Mental illness is hard to characterize in preschoolers. You need an expert. There’s a national shortage of child psychologists and child psychiatrists, but it is worth the wait to see one. There is nothing less at stake than the health and welfare of the one you love most—your child.
This CNN article by Kelley King Heyworth is a thorough dialogue about the dilemma of putting toddlers on psychiatric medications.
The Centers for Disease Control reports a rise in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD.
Their report indicates a 10% rise in pediatric ADHD in the Midwest in the past 10 years. The looming question—to which no one can provide a definitive answer—is this: Does the increase mean more kids with “real” ADHD, or just more kids with the ADHD label? The difference is critical.
ADHD is considered a “mental disorder,” and as such is defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It is believed to affect, according to APA’s most recent diagnostic manual, 3%-7% of school-aged children. If prevalence rates are said to be significantly higher (and they are, according to this article by the CDC), it is fair to use the term “epidemic” to describe the rise in ADHD.
ADHD symptoms can be “caused” by numerous triggers: vision problems, hearing problems, spinal misalignments, poor sleep and/or diet, underdeveloped prefrontal lobes in the brain, and structural “abnormalities” in other brain parts. Environmental triggers such as television, video games, and busy schedules can add to a child’s propensity to develop ADHD symptoms.
Are symptoms the same thing as the diagnosis? No. A psychiatric diagnosis confers that that the caues of “problems” are known. It is not simply confirming that a variety of symptoms are present. When a mental health professional diagnoses ADHD, she confirms that she KNOWS, for example, that hearing problems are not the primary cause of a child’s inattention. An ADHD diagnosis confirms that food allergies are not the primary cause of hyperactivity. An ADHD diagnosis proposes that ADHD problems do not stem from an untreated sleep disorder. The problem with the current ways in which children get diagnosed is that many (competent and well-meaning) care providers simply do not have the time, information, or other resources to properly evaluate a child for ADHD. Is it any wonder that ADHD is so easily and so often misdiagnosed and, thus, mistreated?
To get an accurate ADHD diagnosis, Plum Tree evaluates a child with a series of interviews, observations, and tests to determine if ADHD is the appropriate diagnosis. An ADHD diagnosis should only be applied after the mental health provider has:
- Spent lots of time with your child (more than 15 minutes)
- Obtained a detailed and structured history of your child’s health, behavior, and functioning from you AND others, including school professionals, babysitters, etc.
- Administered a computer test (TOVA) to measure objectively your child’s inattention and impulsivity rates
- Ruled out other mental health conditions and the possibilities of other health conditions
A CNN article reviews the role of electronic media in children’s lives—the good, the bad, and the narcissistic. The research was conducted by Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and technology researcher. Below is a summary of the major trends observed by Dr. Rosen. Social Media Effects on Children.
– Social media is a great tool for engaging and captivating children
– Online networking can teach socialization
– Online users show more “virtual empathy”
– Social Media can help children establish a sense of self
– Students using social media during study breaks received lower grades
– Children who use social media tend to be more narcissistic
– Research suggests social media can increase anxiety and depression in children
Dr. Weller suggests that parents stay up-to-date on social media trends. Become familiar with what sites your child uses. (St. Charles school district has recently offered teen-led classes to parents for help with this). Like anything done in mindful moderation, social media can play a role in a well-balanced life.
Clinical psychologists have doctoral-level training to provide therapy (including coaching) and consultation, and psychological testing.
Psychologists review why people “choke” under pressure. We know that preparing and practicing for high-stress situations can improve performance. Coaching is a good way to do this.
The American Psychological Association (APA) posted an article about helping children develop better eating and exercise habits. Below are the benefits of good nutrition and daily exercise, according to the APA.
Good nutrition is essential to healthy brain development in children which is, of course, critical to learning.
Mental and behavioral benefits
– perform better academically
– feel better about themselves, their bodies, and their abilities
– cope with stress and regulate their emotions better
– avoid feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Establishing healthy eating and exercise habits early in life can lead to long term healthy behavior in adulthood.
Children need a wide variety of nutrients (e.g., protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, minerals, vitamins) to assist in their daily growth and development and to protect them from childhood illnesses.
Daily exercise also helps children to build stronger muscles and bones and limit excess body fat.
Healthy eating also cuts down on risk for cavities, eating disorders and unhealthy weight control behaviors (i.e., fasting, skipping meals, eating very little food, vomiting, using diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics), malnutrition, and iron deficiency.
Healthy eating and consistent physical activity help to prevent chronic illnesses that appear in adulthood associated with obesity, e.g., heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and several forms of cancer.
The relationship between a healthy diet and a healthy mind is perhaps intuitive. But scientists are discovering more every day about how what-children-eat is related to their behaviors. Particularly ADHD research shows how food allergies and sensitivities can mimic ADHD sypmptoms. Before starting any medication, Dr. Weller recommends ruling-out food-related issues. A visit to a Registered Dietician is a good first step.
Sleep is an integral part of children’s health. Amazing things happen while they sleep, including bursts in physical growth and solidification of learning. Studies show that a good night’s sleep helps buoy moods, improve cognitive performance, and build the body’s resilience against illness and accidents. Problems with sleep are parts of major mental illnesses, including mood disorders. Some scientists suggest that depression is linked to prolonged REM sleep. There is also a growing body of evidence suggesting that ADHD may stem from “a sleepy brain.” Specialists have said that as many as 40% of children who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD also meet criteria for a sleep disorder.
An article from the Wall Street Journal reviews findings that link sleep problems with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, aggression, learning problems, and obesity.
Good sleep hygiene is a must. It is also the first place to start when you notice patterns of childhood misbehavior or under-performance. Sleep hygiene includes:
- Routine: Regular, predictable soothing activities cue the brain that sleep is on the way. Reading, baths, relaxing music, calm activities, low lights, soft pajamas—integrate these into a pattern for your child. Start 1 hour before sleep is to begin.
- Children need more than 8 hours of sleep per night. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following sleep guidelines:
- Infants: 14 to 15 hours
- Toddlers: 12 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours
- School-age kids: 10 to 11 hours
- Teenagers: 9 to 10 hours
- Turn off electronic media 2 hours before bed. Studies show that children with TVs and video games in their rooms get less sleep. Cell phones (including texts, email, games, and other apps) can also rob many teenagers of a good night’s sleep.