By Caren Chaffee
Developing individualized strategic interventions to manage the everyday symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often overwhelming for all members of a child’s treatment team. As a parent of an ADHD youth and a professional in the behavioral health field, I have read and am compelled by the numerous studies hailing the benefits of medication to treat ADHD symptoms. I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of medication. I’ve seen it help youth better manage their ADHD symptoms, allowing them more opportunity to utilize the tools offered to them to overcome the challenges with which they are presented.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood, with 3 to 7 percent of school-aged children having an ADHD diagnosis.1
Those diagnosed include 2.1 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 (7.6%) and 3 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 (12.2%).2
The incidence of ADHD diagnoses increased an average of 3 percent annually between 1997 and 2006.3
At the same time, prescriptions for medication to treat the presenting symptoms of ADHD have risen exponentially, increasing by 46 percent from 2002 to 2010, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.4
The CDC affirms that the causes and risk factors for ADHD are unknown. Therefore, there is currently no cure for ADHD and therefore, no single remedy that, when applied, gives a child with ADHD the ability to suddenly and wholly focus, sit still, control his or her impulses and become organized. In fact, just identifying an appropriate medication is often accomplished through trial and error. On a personal level, I learned quickly that my son did not respond as expected to the traditional category of ADHD medications. As a result, he now takes a less commonly known prescription, which provides some alleviation of his symptoms. This experience solidified, in a very personal way, what experts in the field have already noted: ADHD manifests itself in a wide variety of ways, and as such, requires very individualized treatment.
Often, this treatment is expanded to include more than medication. Concurrent treatment modalities, such as psychotherapy, behavior management and social skills development can all play roles in addressing the symptoms of ADHD in youth with this diagnosis. In addition to the medication trials, my son began seeing a therapist who specializes in working with children and youth (which was coordinated with his pediatrician), and he was tested for gluten sensitivity (at the suggestion of his school social worker). Modifications to his behavior management plan are ongoing and continual.
However, as a parent on a quest to provide my son with as many opportunities for growth as possible, my research continued. Approximately eight months after his initial diagnosis, I began to read about the potential benefits of chiropractic care for youth with ADHD. The theory behind the pursuit of chiropractic care for ADHD youth is centered on the conviction that a healthy, well-functioning spine, which encases the spinal cord (the primary communication pathway between the brain and the rest of the body), is needed for the brain to function at its best.5
When one or more vertebra moves out of position (known as vertebral subluxations), it can interfere with spinal nerves. This, in turn, causes “communication problems” between the brain and the nerves.6
Adjusting the spine through chiropractic care corrects the nerve interference, clearing the message pathways for better communication between the brain and spine and the rest of the body.7
Although a wide body of evidence does not yet exist exalting the benefits of chiropractic care for ADHD youth, “research is revealing that there is a relationship between abnormalities in the spine, the nervous system and the brain,” according to Dr. Pamela-Stone McCoy.8
Some chiropractors also note the relationship between an increase in the clinical diagnoses of ADHD, learning disabilities and behavior disorders and the more sedentary lifestyle of youth. This theory of chiropractic medicine is based on the belief that when youth are less physically active, their spines are not given the opportunity to develop in the same manner as they are in more physically active bodies.9
Several case studies have been published over the past few decades that demonstrate improvements of objective and subjective findings in children with ADHD. Furthermore, an increasing number of chiropractic neurologists are conducting additional research to demonstrate the positive impact of chiropractic care on ADHD symptoms. In 1989, prior to the surge in both ADHD diagnoses and prescription medication usage, Giesen, Center and Leach conducted a study with school-age children with vertebral subluxation complex. Following chiropractic care:
- 71.4 percent showed a reduction in overt behavior activity,
- 57 percent showed improvement in level of autonomic activity and
- 57 percent of parents reported improvement in levels of hyperactivity.10
A 2009 case study described a 3 ½-year-old boy who, after receiving both initial chiropractic care three times a week for three weeks and weekly chiropractic care for eight weeks, showed a significant decrease in ADHD symptoms. Ongoing treatment twice each month ensures continued spinal health.11
Chiropractors will, quickly and rightly, explain that they do not “treat” ADHD, but rather, treat dysfunction of the spine and body. Esteemed members of the chiropractic field point out that the impact of chiropractic care on children with ADHD diagnoses has been noted with increasing frequency, but will also agree “more research exploring the relationship of subluxation correction to brain function is needed.”12
It is not being suggested that chiropractic care replace medication therapy. Instead, chiropractic care, like psychotherapy, behavior management, healthy nutrition and good sleep patterns can serve to enhance the treatment of some youth with ADHD diagnoses, further adding to their toolkit to help them learn to function successfully in society.
Once a youth’s function is improved, his or her true personality, will and personal strengths emerge. He or she may begin to demonstrate growths in all areas of his or her development. As a professional, this is a rewarding result of a well-developed treatment plan. As a parent, there is no greater joy.