Parents are under a lot of pressure to make sure their kids perform according to the rules in schools. Teachers are under a lot of pressure to make sure the kids in their classes perform well on standardized tests. School administrators are under a lot of pressure to make sure the school is properly funded. And kids? Kids receive the brunt of all this pressure.
So what’s the solution to this problem? It’s a big, complex problem so the answers are likely to be similarly big and complex. While there are plenty of people who would like to solve it, few of these people are in a position to make changes that will truly make an impact on the big picture. But one powerful force in U.S. culture that has a band-aid for everything is Big Pharma and the school systems are no exception. Enter Ritalin, a central nervous system stimulant that makes kids more docile and obedient.
I have trouble with the idea of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I’ll admit that. I’ve worked with kids in classroom settings and I can tell you that I’ve been glad that some of them were “medicated” with Ritalin before they showed up for class. Their behaviors were truly disruptive and they stole attention from the kids were better able to pay attention to the instructor. I’m aware of the issues that some kids have in classroom settings and I don’t blame teachers for reaching their wit’s end. But while I see the problem and the proposed solution (Ritalin), I’m just not satisfied with the equation. It doesn’t add up. Did I mention how tiny, thin, and weak the kids were who’d been diagnosed with ADHD and medicated with Ritalin? Did I mention the far-off look in their eyes when I’d kneel down to talk to them directly and how they looked like little zombies?
The problem, as I mentioned above, is complex and the solution will also likely be complex. By this I mean that I doubt it will come packaged as simply as a pill. Indeed, in my experience, Ritalin can cause serious mental health issues for kids later in life. So parents who are told that their kids need Ritalin may exchange one set of problems for a different, more serious set of problems that their kids could carry into adulthood.
The biggest problem I have with ADHD is that the symptoms describe the behaviors of most normal kids:
- Trouble paying attention
- Trouble sitting still
Kids who are medicated with Ritalin rather than learning how to control their behaviors never learn to control their behavior. There’s no way for a kid to learn how to pay attention other than to practice paying attention, or better yet, to learn how to notice what gets his or her attention. In most cases, impulsivity wanes with time as kids gain more experience the world. And some kids never enjoy sitting still. These kids are likely to grow into adults who take jobs that involve work outdoors or with their hands.
But for a lot of parents, that doesn’t change the fact that the school system wants their kid on Ritalin. So what do you do if this is the case and you don’t want to put your kid on Ritalin?
The Link Between Ritalin and Schizophrenia: Statistics
Well, first of all, in 2017 the FDA recognized that there’s an increased risk of schizophrenia and cardiovascular problems in kids who are exposed to Ritalin. So if you don’t want to put your kid on Ritalin, this is an excellent argument for choosing a different treatment strategy. The literature about the increased risk of schizophrenia downplay the situation in my opinion. There’s a 1 in 1,000 risk that your kid will develop schizophrenia because he or she took Ritalin. That seems like a big risk, in my opinion. Only 1 out of every 100,000 people die skydiving which is a pretty risky thing to do, right? But most parents wouldn’t dream of pushing their kid out of an airplane. I realize that schizophrenia isn’t death, but it’s a life-changing disease for the entire family so I feel like parents need to be better informed about the risks before they give their kids these drugs.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) disagree about how many U.S. kids have ADHD. The APA estimates that 5% of the population of 4 to 17 year olds has it while the CDC says the number is closer to 11%. There are 74.2 million kids in the United States at the time of this writing and if all these kids (according to the CDC’s estimates) were treated with Ritalin that would add up to 8.162 million kids on drugs. If 1 out of 1,000 of these kids developed schizophrenia as a result of the Ritalin treatment, that would equal 8,162 kids. Each of these kids belongs to a family that would have to manage the various challenges associated with caring for a person with schizophrenia. How many U.S. families have the financial resources to get the best care possible for a child with schizophrenia? Fewer and fewer every year.
Alternative Treatment Options for ADHD
Parents of ADHD kids have used a number of alternative treatment strategies to get their child’s behavior under control.
Diet seems to be a big contributor to childhood behavior. Eliminating refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, artificial food colorants, and other chemicals from a child’s diet can make a big difference in their behavior. Behavior changes in response to a change in diet can be extreme. Food allergies and nutritional deficiencies can both contribute to childhood behavior. Some doctors recommend the Feingold Diet for kids with ADHD. Personally, for the sake of simplicity, I would follow a diet made up exclusively of fruits, vegetables, rice, sea salt, honey, and olive oil. Parents who follow a strict diet with their child that excludes everything except these basics can watch their child for a month to see if he or she is able to control their ADHD symptoms. If the behaviors lessen or stop, parents can continue with the diet, slowly adding new ingredients into the menu to see if the child has a negative reaction to any of the foods.
Parents of kids who are overweight or obese should also be aware that ADHD and obesity seem to go together with suggests an underlying nutritional component to the disorder. About 40% of kids who suffer from ADHD are obese.
About 25-50% of parents of ADHD kids say that their children have sleep problems which has prompted research into the link between sleep and ADHD. And there does seem to be a link. According to parent reports, kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD are 2-3 times more likely to suffer sleep problems than kids who haven’t been diagnosed with this disorder.
But why are kids having trouble sleeping? Is it the ADHD that causes sleeping problems or do the sleeping problems cause the ADHD? In some cases, a pinworm infection may be the cause of ADHD. In others, the problem may be that the child’s sleep cycles are disrupted by the school schedule. Most kids have trouble adapting to the early wake schedule required by public and private schools, but some kids may really suffer from it because their circadian rhythms cause them to naturally go to sleep later and wake up later. This sleeping problem can cause hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other behavioral issues in kids. In fact, in scientific studies perfectly normal kids who are sleep deprived will develop ADHD-like symptoms in response to simply being overly-tired.
Another sleep-related issue has to do with how kids breathe while they’re asleep. Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) can include problems like apnea or snoring. Kids who have apneas, snoring, or other breathing issues during sleep can have trouble focusing during the day because their sleep cycles are consistently disrupted. According to research, the frequency of SDB is high in kids with ADHD. While only 3 % of the general population suffers with SDB, about 25-30% of ADHD kids have SDB.
Parents of kids who are overweight or obese should also be aware that weight problems can contribute to sleep problems. Obesity and ADHD are positively correlated after all (as mentioned above). Helping your child release some extra weight and eat healthier can result in better physical and emotional health.
The use of a psychostimulant like Ritalin to treat ADHD can add to the sleep problems. In some kids Ritalin helps kids sleep. In others, it compounds the problem of not getting enough sleep.
In most countries I’ve traveled to outside of the United States, people do annual or bi-annual parasite cleanses because the presence of intestinal parasites is widely accepted. There are a number of herbal parasite cleanses that are used to purge the digestive system of excess parasites in these countries. But in the United States, people completely recoil from the idea of intestinal parasites! The idea of it is so repulsive they automatically resist. But the truth is, without some intestinal parasites, people tend to develop severe, incapacitating allergies to everything. So, if we all have some parasites, then it stands to reason that we could all, at times end up with an overpopulation of these creatures.
Our family had a major intestinal parasite infection several years ago and it was during this time that I did a ton of research into the big three: hookworms, pinworms, and roundworms. By accident, I stumbled across information about pinworms and their possible relationship to ADHD. Pinworms are ubiquitous. Their eggs are tiny and in many environments like school and daycare settings they become airborne. The eggs are inhaled and they pass into the lungs where they then make their way slowly to the intestines. Once in the intestines, they set up shop, coming out of the rectum only at night to take care of other business (like laying more eggs). The irritation from pinworms going in and out of the rectum can keep kids awake at night. An overpopulation of pinworms (an infection) can also cause digestive and nutritional problems.
Most American parents don’t realize how easy it is to do a parasite cleanse because we’ve all been taught that intestinal worms are dirty and that our clean, American society is free of such awfulness. Even the CDC Yellowbook talks about intestinal parasites like the likelihood of having an infection with these things is next to impossible for Americans. But that has not been my experience and there are some compelling political and profit-driven reasons why.
In Mexico, where I currently live, there are anti-parasitics for both adults and children sitting right next to the ibuprophen in all pharmacies. De-worming is something that people do often here. Is that because they have more intestinal worms in Mexico? No! Intestinal worms are ubiquitous! In fact, they’re part of a healthy digestive system. But if we don’t de-worm ourselves once or twice a year, it’s easy to end up with too many worms. Hookworms can cause anemia. Pinworms can cause digestive upsets, sleep problems, and urinary tract issues. Roundworms can cause nutritional issues. Most of us have a combination of all 3 of these creatures in our intestinal tracts. Kids who are in institutional settings are exposed to more opportunities for infections with intestinal worms. Does your kid have ADHD or is it maybe a parasite infection?
It’s important to know that diagnosing an “infection” with intestinal parasites is challenging and most American doctors don’t realize the shortcomings of the diagnostic tools currently available. Rather than going through the issue of diagnosing an infection, it might easier to give your child a dose of pyrantel pamoate and then watch their stools for signs of worms. The dosing information is on the back of the bottle.
Many parents today believe that children should be raised without boundaries and limits. In families that don’t discipline their children or that discipline their children inconsistently, chaos can ensue. When the kids feel like they’re in charge of the family dynamic, they actually feel unsafe. When parents take charge of the family, kids are able to focus more easily on controlling themselves (rather than the whole group). It makes sense, but parents who have never tried taking charge might struggle with it. There are clinics in the U.S. that can help parents regain control over their household to avoid having to put their kids on Ritalin.
The Cure for ADHD: A Complex, But Solveable Problem
ADHD is a diagnosis that ultimately blames the child, his psychological or physical make-up for a social problem that’s related to food, sleep, family dynamics, and even parasites. Parents who are committed to keeping their kids off Ritalin can often find a cure for ADHD by changing their lifestyle. Making lifestyle changes is always more complex than taking a pill, but parents who choose this route can avoid other, bigger problems (like schizophrenia or cardiovascular problems) later in life.