Homeschooling ADHD Naturally
Paul Collins said,
Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.
I would say the same is true of children with ADHD. One of the biggest reasons families pull their children out of the public schools is because they do not want to continue trying to make their differently wired child fit into that standardized hole that is ultimately damaging to them.
We choose to homeschool ADHD without chemical medications for multiple reasons. I am an academic at heart and love to read longterm studies. The problem with that was that when I began searching for long term studies on how ADHD meds affect developing brains, there weren’t any. All the studies referenced when you are told these medications are “safe” are basically self-reported by parents and teachers that the behaviors and attention improved when the medication is administered. Nothing about longterm effects.
The medical studies on longterm effects and medication relate mainly to GABA. Hang with me here, I’ll try to keep my geek-speak to a minimum, but this is important.
GABA –Gamma-Aminobutyric acid – is an amino acid produced by your brain. It’s a neurotransmitter so that means it’s a vehicle on the highways of your brain moving information and signals from one junction or synapse to another. GABA is the Sunday driver (you know, the slow one) who slows down the entire lane. GABA’s purpose is to increase relaxation, lower anxiety, balance your moods, lower your blood pressure, etc. GABA is a very important part of how you function.
The brains of ADHD people do not make as much GABA as their neuro-typical counterparts. If you like studies like I do, then you can read more about one cross-sectional study on these findings here. This is a very important key to understanding why their brains are always in overdrive.
What do prescription stimulant ADHD medications do to developing brains and what are the long term effects? That was my big question. And the only study I found that actually used scans and measurements instead of parent reports gave me an answer that solidified our choice not to medicate.
Stimulants increase GABA, which is good for the moment when you’re dealing with a child who can’t be still, right? Except that this study shows treating developing brains with stimulants reduces the amount of GABA those brains will produce as adults. Now, what does that look like?
Low GABA can cause anxiety, chronic stress, depression, insomnia, memory problems, and low GABA has also been correlated with substance abuse issues. GABA is an important component of immunity, it plays a role in how your endocrine system functions, and it may even contribute to lower inflammation levels and gut health.
In effect, the reduced GABA production will increase ADHD challenges as a child grows into adulthood because of the issues lower GABA amounts cause. How is that helpful longterm?
Y’all, they are still learning so much about the human body and how it works. There are so many medications and treatments that haven’t been studied yet for long term effects or on developing bodies. Why take that chance if you don’t have to?
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I’m not a neuropsychologist, I’m not a nutritionist. I’m simply sharing our experience as a family. This is not to be construed as medical advice. Take that up with your doctor.
ADHD and Nutrition
Our favorite way to treat ADHD naturally is with nutrition. We are blessed to have an wonderful integrative pediatrician. If you’re interested in learning more about treating ADHD naturally, what tests to ask your doctor to run, etc., I highly recommend Healing Without Hurting: Treating ADHD, Apraxia and Autism Spectrum Disorders Naturally and Effectively without Harmful Medications.
Studies show that a high-protein, low-sugar, no-additive diet combined with supplements like fish oil and zinc can help keep ADHD symptoms in check. The brain uses protein rich foods to create neurotransmitters (like GABA). Protein can also help keep blood sugar spikes to a minimum to reduce hyperactivity.
So you want to avoid pop-tarts, fruit juices, waffles with syrup, etc. for breakfast if you want your child to be able to concentrate on studies. Look for complex carbs like gluten-free organic oats, hard boiled eggs with sweet potatoes, and even lunch meats with fresh fruit slices for breakfasts that will fuel your child’s brain without causing a sugar crash later.
Include lots of good Omega 3’s from fish oil. Omega 3’s are called “essential” because we must get them from the foods we eat, our bodies don’t make them. These fatty acids have been shown to improve hyperactivity, concentration, and impulsivity. For most children, this is done the easiest by adding in an Omega supplement. Check with your doctor to see what dosage and which supplement is right for your child. My boys do well on this omega supplement and both (6 and 8) can swallow capsules.
Get their ferritin levels checked! Your child may not be anemic but can still have low ferritin. Iron has a big correlation with ADHD behaviors. If the ferritin levels are low, your child can benefit from supplementation. Never supplement iron without proper testing through your doctor!
Look at supplements like Accentrate. It’s a medical food filled with good fats to help feed the brain. Our children burn through good fats and protein, if you’ve ever wondered why they are “always hungry”.
Find a doctor that will work with you to treat food allergies, food intolerances, leaky gut issues, and nutritional deficiencies. If food textures are a problem, a good SLP can help with feeding therapy.
For us, smoothies are a big part of our plan. We use our Ninja blender system to make everything blend up well. I add half to a whole avocado, 1-2 cups of organic spinach or other greens, 1000 mg of Vitamin C, About Time vegan protein powder, and anti-inflammatory frozen fruits like blueberries and cherries. We mix it all up with unsweetened almond milk and the boys think it’s the best snack ever!
I also incorporate chicken bone broth (made in the Instant Pot) into as many dishes as I can and make soups regularly so they get all that good protein, collagen, and the vitamins and minerals.
It’s important to avoid artificial dyes, artificial flavors, and artificial preservatives as all of those have been indicated as being detrimental to attention and behavior. In Europe, artificial dyes are required to carry a warning label. I wish they would get to that point in the USA, don’t you?
The point here is that nutrition is a key element in treating ADHD naturally. If you help your child develop good food habits now, it will serve them well as they grow and move on into adulthood with ADHD.
Kitchen Tools That Make Life Easier
The Ninja Mega Kitchen System – This is the gadget we use almost daily and often more than once a day. Smoothies, soup bases, power bites, purees to sneak good veggies into sauces, etc. The blender and individual cups are used all the time, the food processor is used probably once a week. It is super important to have an excellent blender system if you’re going to include greens in your children’s smoothies. It makes them less noticeable 😉 and that is preferable for most children.
How to Homeschool a Hyperactive Child: ADHD and Environment
We covered many of our school room and bedroom modifications in this post here. You can read all the details, but here are the key factors for environment:
- Give your children the tools they need to self-regulate, don’t give them rules their bodies simply won’t follow
- Colors are important – color psychology is fun to study and easy to implement. (Hello, Home Depot paint aisle!)
- Don’t crowd the space. Too much visual stimulation is distracting, no matter how cool it looks on Pinterest or Instagram. If your child is easily distracted, your walls should not be covered in stuff.
- Lights, smells, and sounds also affect attention.
- Give your child room to move! Exercise and heavy work are excellent for helping distractible kids get out the wiggles so they can focus.
For now, that’s where we’ll stop but we’ll be back with more Homeschooling ADHD Naturally tips soon including ADHD homeschool curriculum!