A recent article in the Press Democrat titled “Drug Firms Spend Big to Sell Public on ADHD” highlighted the proliferation of medication for ADHD children. The article illustrated how drug companies’ profit margins are directly connected to the overmedication of ADHD children. The overmedication begs us to question why so many parents succumb to medication for ADHD children when the risks often outweigh the benefits? In other words, the many challenges and failures could be a major reason why they turn to medication as a last resort for the ADHD child?

One of the greatest challenges parents of an ADHD child will face is how to determine the best support for their child. That is, the many areas that parents and child must face can become a frustrating experience that often exacerbates the ADHD child’s need for support and which may be one reason why parents often turn to medication as a panacea. For example, one of the greatest challenges will be the different school programs or support systems available to facilitate greater academic and behavioral success. That is, a percentage of ADHD children often have average to above average academic skills, which entitles them to a 504 or regular education accommodations with testing, homework preparation etc. Conversely, if ADHD children have a defined learning handicap (reading, written language, math etc.), they are entitled to special education or an IEP (individual educational program), which allows for smaller specialized classes in English, math, study skills etc. The special education identification can eliminate and provide a more flexible academic program as well as behavior accommodations for greater focusing and school achievement. Herein lies the dilemma for some parents. If we allow for a 504, are we placing the ADHD child with a known neurological disability into a classroom that requires study skills based on regular education curriculums and schedules, which is often antithetical to the child’s focusing, organization and behavior skills. Also, if the child is given a 504, will regular education accommodate extra time for tests, homework and permit the child to have periodic breaks (high school block schedules consist of 80 plus minute class periods). Finally, if the ADHD child has a learning disability, do we allow him to be placed in a special education class, which attaches a stigma and a challenge to his self-esteem?

Support from the many specialists can also be equally challenging. There could be family therapy and/or individual child therapy suggesting behavior contracts and or behavior modification or a nutritionist recommending a change in diet and so forth. When all else fails, parents turn to medication, which for some ADHD children is a short-term fix that can lead to a future addiction for hard-core drugs.

One highly successful approach as an alternative to medication is neurofeedback, also called EEG biofeedback. Neurofeedback helps the ADHD child learn how to self-regulate brain activity which for ADHD children is critical for success in school and life in general. More importantly, neurofeedback has been supported by the American Association of Pediatrics as having Level 1 efficacy (top ranking) in application for ADHD as an alternative to medication.

The parent has many choices: the regular school program with test and homework accommodations; a special education class that offers flexibility and specialization in core subjects; the private therapist who prescribes a behavior contract and works with the parent on rules and/or how to set boundaries etc.; the nutritionist who will advise the parents on sugar and/or food intake; the MD who could prescribe medication; or Neurofeedback, which teaches children how to self-regulate their brain and the ability to achieve greater focusing and with no negative side effects. Bottom line – maybe we should just ask the child.

David Sortino is a psychologist. Email him at davidsortino @comastcast.net or contact him through his blog: Dr. David Sortino – Santa Rosa Press Democrat.