Looking at the ADHD treatment landscape, it can be easy to feel frustrated. Medication may be the typical ADHD treatment strategy, but ADHD medications treat the symptoms, not the root causes, of ADHD. Moreover, research shows that while ADHD medications offer a short-term academic boost, their long-term benefit is basically zero. Plus, most pharmaceutical approaches to ADHD treatment can cause side effects ranging from insomnia to heart palpitations.
ADHD Treatment Alternatives
Before defaulting to medication as an ADHD treatment for you or your children, talk to your doctor. Decide together whether any of the following non-pharmaceutical treatments might work:
1. Curricula that addresses ADHD’s causes
Two individuals with the same ADHD symptoms might be struggling with the disorder for different reasons. For one, it could be an issue with processing auditory information. For another, it might be cognitive processing challenges. A third might simply be overly sensitive to light and sound. All three people may appear to have the same issues, but each has unique strengths and challenges stemming from separate causes.
Programs that work to address sensory-motor integration and cognitive processing speed have been shown to be particularly effective for ADHD treatment. Axiom Learning, an education service founded by Harvard University alumni, uses gamified exercises as part of its LEAP 3.0 program to accelerate cognitive processing and improve sensory-motor integration. Because it’s a cause-oriented ADHD treatment, many sufferers find they no longer have the condition at the program’s end.
2. Executive function coaching
Do you have trouble starting tasks or remembering important information? Is time management your Achilles’ heel? If so, your executive functioning skills might need some attention. Think of executive functioning skills as your brain’s CEO: Without an effective leader, you’ll struggle with self-management, learning, and decision-making tasks.
Just like CEOs hire coaches to hone their leadership skills, ADHD sufferers benefit from consistent and targeted practice to strengthen their executive functioning skills. Learning Efficiency’s Executive Functioning program addresses executive functioning challenges, like time management and organization, as well as underlying processing issues such as working memory and attention. With targeted coaching and improved organizational skills, everything becomes easier to manage.
Without adequate ADHD treatment, you may notice your symptoms are worse at certain times of day than others, such as when blood-sugar levels spike or drop. Nutritional interventions can mitigate many symptoms associated with ADHD, such as hyperactivity, poor concentration, impulsivity, and oppositional behavior. Research shows that an elimination diet — which cuts out sugar, gluten, dairy, eggs, certain meats, and food dyes — improved symptoms in 70 percent of children with ADHD.
Whether part of a broader ADHD treatment plan or not, maintaining a healthy diet is critical. Get plenty of protein, replace simple carbohydrates with more complex ones, and eat more omega-3 fatty acids. Also known as the mediterranean diet, this combination is not only associated with better health outcomes, but also a lower prevalence of ADHD.
4. Cognitive behavior therapy
Although children and adults with ADHD experience emotions similar to those of their peers, they have more difficulty in recognizing, responding to, and managing their emotions. Something as small as a snide comment by a friend might make them feel incapable or anxious. In their moment of stress, they might snap at a peer for something unrelated. And all it takes is a couple instances of this behavior to start a pattern — something an ADHD treatment plan can address.
Although discussing destructive thoughts and behaviors might not seem like an ADHD treatment, CBT has a lot of evidence behind it. A study on adolescent ADHD treatment published in Focus, a psychiatry journal, found that CBT can significantly improve self-efficacy and daily functioning abilities in teens with comorbid anxiety or depression diagnoses.
5. Competitive sports
Numerous studies have shown exercise is one of the best natural treatments for ADHD. In both children and adults with ADHD, researchers at the Journal of Neural Transmission found that exercise improved cognitive, behavioral, and social-emotional functioning. Although both resistance and endurance exercises were effective, researchers noted cardio exercise was the better ADHD treatment for executive functioning and sensorimotor development.
While the benefits of individual exercise are clear, group exercise may be an even more effective ADHD treatment. Dr. Danielle Fisher at Providence Saint John’s Health Center argues that in addition to helping individuals with ADHD learn discipline and sensorimotor skills, team sports help them learn social skills. That added benefit may be a key reason that, contrary to Ohio State University researchers’ expectations, people with ADHD participate in team sports at twice the rate of their peers.
6. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t just feel good; it’s also an effective ADHD treatment. Mind-body therapies — including meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi — were found by a meta study published in Children to be effective pediatric ADHD treatments for symptoms ranging from anxiety to hyperactivity to emotional dysfunction.
Perhaps the best part of meditative ADHD treatment is that it can be practiced anywhere. Although it can be tough to predict when symptoms will flare, set aside time after events, like tests or presentations, that you expect to be overstimulating. Simply listening to yourself breathe or watching traffic for five minutes is a great way to still your mind.
Medication may be the standard ADHD treatment strategy, but it’s not the only one. When evaluating each ADHD treatment option, consider whether it can address the disorder’s underlying causes. Pills may provide temporary relief from symptoms, but they’re not the miracle ADHD treatment they’re often promoted as.