As foster carers we often look after children who have been diagnosed with ADHD or exhibit the symptoms of this condition.
The symptoms of ADHD include:
- poor concentration, easily distracted
- difficulty keeping still or quiet, excessive talking
- disorganised, forgetful
- always ‘on the go’
- interrupting and shouting
- acting impulsively
- not following instructions
- easily over-stimulated
Millions of children (and adults) worldwide take medication to counter the effects of ADHD, with the most commonly prescribed drug being Ritalin. But while medication has been hailed as a saviour by some, a significant proportion of those taking it have found that the side effects outweighed the benefit, or that the drug actually worsened rather than improved their condition. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that medicating children does not help them long term but merely masked their problems, and that behavioural management is the way forward.
As foster carers we often only have a limited say as to whether a child diagnosed with ADHD should be medicated. I’ve never asked for any child I’ve fostered with ADHD symptoms or who had been diagnosed with ADHD to be medicated. For those children who arrive already taking medicine, I always ask for a review of their medication and suggest we try a period without it. Sometimes all those involved, including the doctor, social worker and parents, agree and we stop the medicine, sometimes they do not agree and I have to continue giving the child the drug. For the 20 or so children whose medicine I was allowed to stop, none were re-medicated while in my care. Instead I focused on clear and consistent boundaries, avoided over-stimulation – for example by excessive use of computer games – and paid particular attention to diet.
One nine-year-old boy I fostered for two-week periods every couple of months, to give his parents a break, had been medicated in the past but couldn’t tolerate the medicine, so was no longer taking it. He used to arrive on my doorstep at the start of his stay like a free radical, charging around and yelling continuously at the top of his voice, completely out of control. By the time he left two weeks later he was a different child: talking normally, listening to what others said and able to sit still and concentrate in order to complete a task. However, within 48 hours of returning home he was back to his old uncontrollable self.
This went on for the best part of six months, with his mother joking that I must be a witch. But it was no witchcraft. During the weeks he was with me I changed his diet, replacing the processed foods and fizzy drinks he had at home with fresh and mainly additive-free food, and put in place clear and consistent boundaries for good behaviour. Eventually the parents were so impressed that rather than burning me at the stake, they agreed to try my formula. It was so successful that a month later they felt confident enough to manager their son without further respite.
How many other children with ADHD would benefit from some simple changes to their diet and lifestyle instead of being medicated, I wonder? We won’t know unless we try. I feel as foster carers we have a duty to children with ADHD not to medicate unless it is the very last resort and then for as little time as possible. What are your experiences?
Cathy x (www.cathyglass.co.uk)