Treating ADHD Holistically

Debra Burdick knows a lot about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Not only has Burdick, a clinical social worker, treated thousands of children and adults with this disorder, she is the mother of a daughter who has it, was married to a man who has it, and was a business partner with someone who has it.

In response to what she sees as a need for a more holistic solution for parents, and to help reduce or eliminate the need for children to take medications, Burdick has developed "A Holistic Approach to Successful Children With ADHD, A Home Study System for Parents." It includes a manual, worksheets, 11 CDs, two meditations for children (one for sleep and one for concentration), and interviews with eight experts in the fields of medicine, naturopathy, special education, nutrition, sleep, neurofeedback, professional organizing, and parenting.

What do all those letters after your name mean?

I am a licensed clinical social worker and I am certified by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America in neurofeedback. I have completed hundreds of hours of coursework in neurofeedback and neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the brain. My practice provides outpatient psychotherapy, neurofeedback and substance abuse counseling.

How did you come to create this holistic approach to treat ADHD?

My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in 4th grade. We followed the traditional protocol and she started taking medication. Her grades went up and her behavior improved.

In the meantime, I started to study neurofeedback and added that to my practice in 1999. My daughter was my first client. We were soon able to take her off the medication. Her grades continued to improve and she just graduated from college this year, where she spent three years on the dean's list.

In addition to all of this is my own healing journey. Back in 1984 I got sick and no one could figure out what was wrong. I learned about different treatment modalities, including naturopathy, physical therapy, massage therapy, nutrition and allergy elimination diets. I learned about meditation and positive visualization. Through trial and error and a lot of help, I healed. A lot of what I learned, I have applied in this approach to ADHD.

What are the steps you developed to help parents help their children with ADHD?

There are 14 steps that are part of this system:

• Take care of yourself

• Consider the basis of success

• Get an accurate diagnosis

• Get counseling and/or coaching

• Consider treatment options

• Feed your child's brain

• Get your child to exercise

• Get your child to sleep

• Improve your child's behavior and relationships

• Organize your child's life

• Help your child be a successful student

• Exercise your child's brain

• Limit television

• Teach your child to meditate

Your first step is about taking care of yourself as a parent. Why is this important ?

I like to use the "oxygen mask" analogy. If you have ever flown, you have seen flight attendants demonstrate how to use an oxygen mask and they always say, "If you're traveling with small children, please put on your own mask first, and then help the child."

It's important to take regular breaks, even if just for an hour. It's also helpful to find someone with whom you can talk and get support. Make sure you get adequate sleep, eat healthy foods, get regular exercise, develop a meditation practice and, most importantly have some fun! By doing these things, you will help yourself AND model self care for your child.

How do parents deterimne if their child has ADHD?

While there is no definitive test, there are a number of tools and assessments that can lead to an accurate diagnosis, including a medical assessment, the child's developmental history, family history, academic history and testing, a test of Variables of Attention and a quantitative EEG.

It's also important to rule out other causes of ADHD symptoms, such as food or chemical sensitivities, allergies, vision or hearing problems, learning disabilities, heavy metal exposure, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, swollen tonsils, sleep apnea, stress or anxiety.

What are some
treatment options?

Medication is one option, but it is not for everyone, either because of the side effects or because parents do not want to expose their children's developing brains to the medication. Most ADHD medications are stimulants, either long acting (time released) or shorter acting. Some are in a class of drugs called amphetamines. They work by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain and speeding up the frontal region of the brain so it works better. Side effects include a decreased appetite, headaches, stomachaches, trouble getting to sleep and social withdrawal.

Neurofeedback is a medication-free treatment for ADHD (and many other disorders). It is a form of biofeedback that teaches a person to change and correct their brain waves.

How effective is neurofeedback in treating ADHD?

Neurofeedback is basically a learning strategy. It is painless and non-invasive. One or more sensors are placed on the scalp and one to each ear. Brain waves are then displayed on a computer in an EEG video display, as well as by means of a video game. The person operates the video game with his brain. As desirable brainwave activity increases, the person is rewarded by scoring points and hearing a beep. Gradually the brain responds to the feedback that is given and a "learning" of new brain wave patterns take place. The new pattern is one that is closer to what is normally observed in people without whatever condition or disability is being addressed.

In the case of ADHD, impulsivity, distractibility and hyperactivity may all be reduced with training. Cognitive functioning can improve as well. For most conditions, initial progress can be seen after 10 sessions. Training goals can be met in 20 sessions. For some conditions, training can take as many as 40 sessions.

Are symptoms of ADHD affected by what a
child eats?

Absolutely. Studies repeatedly demonstrate the importance of eating a healthy diet and your child's diet can have a signficant impact on brain, health, concentration, behavior and sleep. My guidelines include:

• Avoid high sugar content food
and drinks, caffeine and margarine

• Avoid artificial sweetners (stevia is a good substitute) and such additives as artificial colors, flavors, stabilizers and binders

• Avoid MSG (often listed as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast and sometimes natural flavorings)

• Use only monounsaturated fats (olive oil, nut butters) or small amounts of butter

• Serve a good amount of protein at each meal (at least 0.36 of a gram of protein per pound of body weight, which would mean 14.4 grams of protein for a child who weighs 40 pounds)

• Serve fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains

• Use supplements with vitamins/minerals and fish oil.

Is exercise helpful?

Research has found that physical exercise is the single most important thing anyone can do to keep their neurons healthy over time. There is a direct correlation between the amount of exercise a child gets and the severity of symptoms. I recommend exercising three to four times per week for at least 30 minutes. Help your child find activities he or she enjoys, whether it be team sports, bicycling, running, swimming, dancing or karate. Exercise with them!

How do parents know if their child is successful?

Both you and your child need to define what "success" means and what it looks like. There are those successes that are more material, like good grades, appropriate behavior, going to college and making money. Then there are other ways to measure success: the ability to love, self confidence, empathy, the ability to feel joy, to understand one's life purpose, the ability to communicate well, to make good choices and to have good relationships.

I often ask parents to consider a more spiritual connection by asking themselves questions like, "Why did this child choose me as parent?" and "What does this child need from me?" Another good exercise is to write down everything you love about your child.

Debra Burdick, LCSW, BCIA-EEG

Advanced Options, LLC

495 Gold Star Highway, Suite 320

Groton, CT



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