ADHD series part IX: Raising an ADHD generation
In a minute, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes and go through a short imagery exercise with me.
First, I’m going to make a prediction. I’m predicting that your brain is picking up hundreds of subtle images, sounds, and smells each day. Your brain stores these items away and most of the time you’re not even aware of it.
Second, review the following instructions and questions before you get started.
Picture yourself getting in your car and driving your most common driving route. This could be your drive to work, to school, to your parents home etc.
Picture the drive from start to finish and make it as realistic as possible by engaging each of the 5 senses along the way.
Pay attention to the following
Sight: What are you looking for? What do you see along the way? How do the lawns in your neighborhood look?
Sound: Which sounds are the loudest? Which sounds are the most repetitive? Are you listening to the radio, your spouse, the clanking sound in the engine?
Smell: What smells are the strongest?
Touch: Is the steering wheel hot or cold? Is the car a comfortable temperature? How are the seats?
Taste: Do you eat or drink something regularly on this drive? What is the consistency? Hot,cold, smooth, or crunchy?
Okay-with those questions in mind- time to get started.
Take 5-7 minutes, engage your senses and in 3, 2, 1….close your eyes.
You’re finished! Let’s review
What did you notice? Was my prediction accurate? If so, which small things popped out that you weren’t expecting?
I did this with a client a few weeks ago and he recognized that one of his neighbor’s sprinklers was stuck in the “on position”. He wasn’t sure but thought his neighbor might be wasting a lot of water and was going to have to pay an outrageous water bill. Sure enough, he drove by his neighbor’s home found the sprinkler in the stuck position and informed his neighbor.
I went through this exercise myself several months ago and was annoyed by the several texts, phone calls, and alerts from my phone. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something ☺
I had so many interruptions in my “pretend” drive to work, that I kept getting side tracked and had a hard time focusing. I was surprised how vividly I remembered each bill board on my drive and how easily they came in the correct order. I did not consciously memorize them, but still my brain logged their order, stored them and I recalled them with little effort.
Now what does this have to do with our society raising ADHD you might ask?
When a child’s senses are engaged, synaptic bonds are created through sensory integration. The more senses that are engaged, the stronger the likelihood of improved focus, memory and retention. This sounds great, what’s the catch? At times, it’s too much and sensory integration becomes sensory overload.
Each one of the dozens of small stored memories on your way to work can act as a major distraction to an ADHD brain. Children with ADHD are easily distracted by exaggerated sights, sounds, smells, tastes and physical touch.
In today’s society, everything must be extreme and exaggerated in order to sell and get our attention.
Society often elicits ADHD-like behaviors
Music is louder, lights are brighter and more colorful, and foods come in flavors like “Extreme Sour and Liquid Fire”-the list goes on and on. Most of the time, a normal brain can take all of this information in and then simply discard what isn’t useful. An ADHD brain however is wired different. Loud noise needs to be investigated, strong smells must be found, and flashing lights will be stared at and even followed.
Often times our surroundings or living environment makes focus and learning nearly impossible and our home and school environments aren’t always helpful. Think about the symptoms of ADHD-inability to focus, inability to sit still, inability to wait your turn etc.
Now take those symptoms and place them in a typical a school classroom. 25+ children in one room, class bells going off, intercoms coming on, children making faces, smells of crayons, glue, new text books, children talking, laughing, and fighting over the glue and scissors.. No wonder our children are wired and bounce off the walls when they come home.
Junk foods elicit ADHD like behaviors
If our environments were not difficult and challenging enough to the ADHD brain, our consumption of junk food makes things much more complicated. Have you seen the popular fast food billboard of the large, juicy, sliced apple? Me neither. What about the TV commercial on the kids cartoon channel that talks about portion control and the harmful affects of childhood obesity? Nope- doesn’t exist.
Food companies spend billions of dollars marketing and advertising food to our children that has little or no nutritional content. In fairness, what these foods lack in nutrition they make up in taste.
But sadly,often times children are being diagnosed with ADHD, when the symptoms are just a result of what the child is eating.
Several studies suggest that children with ADHD respond negatively to large amounts of sugar. One study conducted by Yale University concluded that the more sugar hyperactive children consumed, the more destructive, inattentive and restless they became.
Studies published in The Lancet, Pediatrics, and The Journal of Pediatrics suggest that children with ADHD are adversely affected by food additives. A recent study indicates that artificial food coloring and flavors make even non-ADHD kids hyperactive.Give your child a chance, give them food to eat that is not junk food.
So if our current sensory overloaded society is breeding ADHD, which environments reduce ADHD like symptoms?
“To grandmother’s house we go”
Growing up my grandmother lived in a small town nestled up next to the Rocky Mountains and just like the children’s Christmas song states-“over the river and through the woods” to Grandmother’s house we went.
Visiting her home was like stepping back in time. The home was easily a hundred years old, the furnishings were way outdated, and instead of cable TV and video games, she had building blocks, smelly sheep and annoying chickens.
I remember walking through the front gate, passing the half-buried wagon wheel in her yard, and walking up to the front door. I was welcomed by soft lighting and incredible smells coming from the oven. Each time I visited, I was given a warm piece of home made bread with a soft spread of butter.
Grandma always entered the room and embraced me. I felt her soft arms around me and she often smelled like flour. I picture my Grandpa’s old wooden hat rack and smell the oil lamps burning in the living room.
I remember the deep, thick brown carpet, scratchy couch cushions and the wood popping in the wood burning stove. We joked as kids that for every item that Grandma put in the oven, Grandpa had to put 2 logs in the fire place. They were true “putterers”, or so it seemed.
I could have spent years there and as calm as it was, there was never a dull moment.
What was the sensory difference between visiting Grandma’s house and this mornings drive to work?
At Grandma’s home the 5 senses were engaged but not overloaded, active but not overwhelmed.
Tips to Reducing ADHD-like symptoms
1. Make a connection
Often when children are struggling with attention – they are living in the moment, enjoying each second and letting their energy control and drive their impulses and reactions. Making a connection with your child is imperative.
This quote that was sent to me last week regarding parenting children during the holidays.
“We cannot replace our presence with presents.”
Make eye contact with your child often, give them a hug and break down the “the inattentive force” controlling their little minds.
2. Increase proteins and omega 3’s
The following food groups and vitamins have been proven to improve attention.
Foods rich in protein can have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms. Protein-rich foods like eggs, lean beef jerky and chicken are used by the body to make neurotransmitters (which are the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other).
Protein also reduces spikes in blood sugar. These spikes in blood sugar feel like a rush of energy to the body and brain, which increases hyperactivity. Small protein snacks throughout the day will help stabilize blood sugar,energy and hyperactive swings.
Laura Stevens, M.S. and a nutritionist at Purdue University stated “Because the body makes brain-awakening neurotransmitters when you eat protein, start your day with a breakfast that has protein in it. Don’t stop there. Look for ways to slip in lean protein during the day as well.”
Other healthy, protein rich snacks include lean beef jerky, cheese, Greek yogurt, and green smoothies.
Green, leafy vegetables have more protein than most parents think.
Increase Omega 3’s
Dr. Sven Ostlund from Goteberg University in Sweden performed a study where a group of children with ADHD were given fish oil each day for 6 months. Results indicated a huge impact on brain and nerve cell function including over 50% reduction in ADHD symptoms in 25% of the students.
3. Increase attention span
Help them slow-down their linear thoughts by teaching them how to increase the length of their attention span.
Extending their attention span should be a priority for a few minutes each afternoon. Be creative and fun as you challenge them with puzzles, riddles, books and games. Start with 5 minute intervals and challenge them to lengthen their attention span each week. Explain that their job is to focus on the activity for as long as possible without giving in to distractions i.e. getting up, talking about something unrelated, or day dreaming. Tracking day dreaming is challenging, but ask them to be open and honest about their thought processes.
Start with where they currently are. Otherwise, they feel punished, less-intelligent and frustrated.
If possible, pay attention to the possible distractions in the room and when and where your child seems to focus best. Is music playing? Who is in the room? Have they had a snack? Is the TV on?
Once your child starts to plateau, it’s okay! They may have reached their limit, or they may just need to stay at that interval for a week or two.
To give you some perspective, the average attention span for working adults is between 30-40 minutes.
Give these ideas a try and let us know what you think!