Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects about 5 percent of school-age children in Canada. Although medication is widely prescribed, the good news is that research into other, non-medicinal, interventions is still uncovering new information and unique and useful interventions.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are known—and sometimes not in a good way—for their busy, fidgety behaviour, especially in the classroom or when they’re doing homework. The same kids, though, can often remain absolutely riveted—motionless even—during an episode of their favourite action thriller.
Kids with ADHD need to move
The assumption has often been that these kids are demonstrating a lack of interest or motivation with their chair swivelling or foot tapping when they should be working quietly at their desks. After all, laser-focused and still describes their behaviour when they’re interested and motivated during their favourite movie.
Why the contradiction?
Researchers have been delving into and learning more about this seeming contradiction. It turns out that kids with ADHD are more inclined to fidget when they’re using their brain’s executive functions, especially their working memory. This is the part of the brain that temporarily stores and manages information we need to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension.
Researchers are reporting on studies that confirm this reality and encourage a rethink on the part of parents and educators—away from the notion that kids with ADHD who fidget are unmotivated slackers. They say instead that kids with ADHD should be allowed to squirm to learn.
Omega-3s may help ADHD symptoms
In the search for natural interventions in the treatment of ADHD, much interest has been focused on the use of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Of most interest have been docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), two types of omega-3 fatty acids with important jobs to do in our bodies.
These healthy fats are particularly important for the developing brain, both in the womb and throughout childhood. After discovering, through research, that many of those diagnosed with ADHD also had deficiencies and imbalances of EFAs during their developmental years, researchers turned to the role of EFA supplementation in treating symptoms of ADHD.
A large, multifaceted systematic review of the effect of EFA supplementation on ADHD symptoms was published in late 2017. The review investigated the outcomes of 25 randomized, controlled trials examining the effect of combined EPA and DHA supplementation. They discovered trials that included a longer trial period found the best outcomes in ADHD symptom improvement.
So how can parents increase their children’s intake of EFAs? The main source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are fish oils. Algae-sourced DHA is now available as well, for those who prefer to avoid fish. Supplemental omega-3 fatty acids are available in your local health food store as capsules, chewable soft gels, or bottled liquids.
Zinc and iron are being studied for ADHD
Also being studied for their use in the treatment of ADHD are the minerals zinc and iron. Symptoms of zinc deficiency can include inattention, jitters, and delayed cognitive development, which mimic the symptoms of ADHD.
Studies around zinc and ADHD
Based on studies that suggest children with ADHD may have lower levels of zinc in their body, some scientists are investigating the role of zinc supplementation in treating ADHD symptoms. Lower iron levels have been reported in children with ADHD, leading to some investigational supplementation trials including a small study of children five to eight years old with low iron levels who showed improved ADHD symptoms following 12 weeks of supplementation with iron.
Getting a good night’s sleep is important
Children with ADHD are more likely to have sleep problems than those without ADHD. In fact, scientists are now investigating the possibility that much of ADHD might be a problem associated with a lack of regular circadian sleep.
Following these tips may make it easier for your child to fall asleep—and stay asleep.
- Keep a consistent schedule and bedtime routine.
- Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise during the day.
- Manage your child’s sleep environment by keeping the bedroom cool and removing or reducing possible distractions, such as noise or screens (tablets, smartphones, computers, and TVs).
- Eliminate any caffeinated foods or beverages from your child’s diet.
- If your child is taking conventional medications for ADHD, consult your health care practitioner about changing the timing of these medications, as they may interfere with sleep.
Keep busy kids active
Exercising together creates a healthier mind, body, and family connection. Commit to getting fit as a family and strengthen your family bonds along with your muscles! But, because many children with ADHD have sleep problems, make sure your active fun is not right before bedtime. A quiet soak in the tub is a much better prelude to sleep.
Quick weeknight activities
- play at a playground (indoor or outdoor)
- do burpees
- play catch
- play tag
- go inline skating
- go bike riding
- walk like a crab
- play Ultimate Frisbee
- jump on a trampoline
Longer weekend activities
- explore a maze or labyrinth
- play badminton, tennis, basketball, baseball, or soccer
- go hiking
- go geocaching
- go horseback riding
- run a colour run
- go zip lining
- try skiing
- play baseball (softball or hardball)
- go bowling
- play table tennis or ping pong
“Alphabet Categories” game
Looking for a boredom buster? This game is great for road trips! Or play this as a family the next time you’re out hiking, biking, or playing catch.
1. Decide on a category
- for younger kids: first names or fruits and vegetables
- for older kids: cities or countries
2. Take turns coming up with something in the chosen category that starts with each letter of the alphabet. (For instance, in the fruits and vegetables category: “Apples, Blueberries, Cherries, Dates …”)