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Understanding Solutions to ADHD

by Valerie Maxwell, Ph.D.

As our understanding of ADHD evolves, the definition of "ADD" is changing. ADHD is not what it used to be. Experts disagree. Dr. Russell Barkley believes there is no difference between ADD and ADHD (Please see note below). Doctor Thomas Brown believes there is, and I agree. It may be that ADHD features hyperactive behaviors, while ADD features slow processing of information. Either way, 70% of those with attentional disorders have learning disabilities. Their brain lacks a 'spark' that stimulant medication does not fully correct.

According to Dr. Amen, through brain scans, 6 different kinds of ADD exist:

1) Classic ADHD: inattentive, distractible, disorganized, hyperactive, restless, impulsive.

2) Inattentive: inattentive, slow-moving, daydreaming, 'spacey' ("girl ADD" in the past).

3) Overfocused: gets stuck in nit-picky behaviors, worry, negative thoughts, obsessive,inflexible, argumentative.

4) Temporal lobe: angry, dark thoughts, mood unstable, seriously impulsive.

5) Limbic: inattentive, chronically depressed, negative ("glass is half empty"), low energy.

6) "Ring of Fire": angry, irritable, inattentive, hyper-verbal, extremely oppositional, cyclicmoodiness, potentially dangerous.

There may be even more types of ADD identified in the future. Each type requires differenttreatment. Proper treatment requires comprehensive diagnosis! No one size fits all. Dr. CliffCorman believes: "Ultimately, ADHD will become a catchall with many subtypes, eachrequiring a different treatment, correcting different biological deficits in different areas of thebrain." ADHD is basically a disorder of brain speed, or poor regulation of performance. ADHDis not a deficit of attention; it can be a surplus of attention, often unfocused.

  • ADHD means that the thinking brain, prefrontal cortex, is underactive -- not enough dopamine, or brain chemistry exists. According to Dr. Corman: "Think of it as being arace car running on regular gas, or a big computer running on 16 mgHz." Psycho-stimulant medication increases brain activity level.
  • There can be circumstantial ADD, although most ADD is pervasive. In other words, itaffects all areas of life, not just academics and not just group activities.
  • ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. You can be gifted with ADHD and/or, you canhave learning difficulties. For 30% of the people with ADD, medication often does the trick for regulating brain function. Others need brain training.
  • Smart people can hide ADHD, but whether they are 13 (average age of diagnosis for girls) or 45, the ADDer eventually will hit "The wall." That's when they need help. They will often present with depression or anxiety ("where there's smoke there's fire"), but have an underlying ADD. Prozac is not necessarily the answer.

The brain (with over 16 billion brain cells) is an infinitely expandable and teachable resource. In the Learning Gym, we refer to these learning disabilities as simply the absence of learning ability. We like to refer to the learning problem with neurological language, so we call thesedisorders: Processing problems. There are 5 senses which process information: taste, touch,smell, vision and hearing. Most ADDers have their senses in tact, (e.g., they can see and hear),but their brain must organize the information the sense delivers to it. 95% of what the retinasends to the brain is chaotic, random, disorganized. The data is ambiguous. Therefore, the braindoes the lion share of the work in organizing. Since the ADD brain (the prefrontal cortex, orthinking brain) is naturally disorganized, due to its under-activity, brain training assists the abilityo organize information and process the world appropriately.

Natural approaches: Many people are referred to me because they know in their hearts that thereare other ways to help with ADD or learning disorders, especially when traditional tutoring ormedication has not given them the solution for which they are looking. The following is a list ofthe treatment approaches I personally have researched or seen clients report bona fide success:

Medication in the smallest of doses. Our clinic psychiatrist is Dr. Corman who titrates medication with the TOVA (800-729-2886).

  • Essential Fatty Acids (e.g., DMAE, Evening Primrose, Evening Primrose oil, Attentiongels - not the candy bars).
  • Quality multi-vitamins and minerals (soft-gels preferably): "No matter what type of ADD you and your child has, take a vitamin and mineral supplement a day." (Dr. Amen)
  • HIGH PROTEIN DIETS, particularly protein for breakfast (decreased simplecarbohydrates).
  • L-tyrosine ("amino acid, the building block for dopamine"). Dr. Amen prescribes: "500-1,500 mgs. 2 or 3 times/ day for adults; 100-500 mgs. 2 to 3 times/ day children under 10. L-tyrosine increases PEA in the brain... a mild stimulant also found in high concentrationsof chocolate." Take it with food, he says.
  • Behavioral Coaching & parent education.
  • The Learning Gym, which stimulates brain development through visual, auditory, and sensori-integration training, combined with the SOI (Structure of Intellect) workbooks to train intelligence.
  • Intense aerobic exercise (3times wk. / 40 min. a time). Dr. Amen- discusses how exerciseincreases blood flow to the brian (certain yoga positions do the same).
  • Not having your brain turned on to the process the world creates STRESS. A good stressreduction plan is important or ultimately you run the risk of substance abuse to calmfeelings of stress.

Disclaimer: Consult with your medical doctor for all treatment. I am not a registerednutritionist, nor an M.D. This is simply what I have gleaned working for years with ADHD as aPsychologist.

NOTE: I am not sure when Dr. Maxwell wrote this article but it was years ago. It has been brought to my attention in 2008, that Dr. Barkly clearly now states that there is a difference between ADD and ADHD.

Dr. Barkley i.e. at his site: http://www.russellbarkley.org/factsheets.html,

"There is considerably less research on the Predominantly Inattentive Type of ADHD, or what used to be referred to as attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity. What research does exist suggests some qualitative differences between the attention problems these individuals experience and those with the other types of ADHD in which hyperactive or impulsive behavior is present. The Predominantly Inattentive Type of ADHD appears to be associated with more daydreaming, passiveness, sluggishness, difficulties with focused or selective attention (filtering important from unimportant information), slow processing of information, mental fogginess and confusion, social quietness or apprehensiveness, hypo-activity, and inconsistent retrieval of information from memory. It is also considerably less likely to be associated with impulsiveness (by definition) as well as oppositional/defiant behavior, conduct problems, or delinquency. Should further research continue to demonstrate such differences, there would be good reason to view this subtype as actually a separate and distinct disorder from that of ADHD."