Kids – What's the Alternative? by Dr M. Samanta-Laughton, Cazzie Dare and Jon Ralls. This article first appeared in ABC magazine, Sussex.
One afternoon during my general practice training, I attended an afternoon seminar by the local community paediatrician. She was teaching on Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and handed us the minutes of a meeting she had just attended with other local paediatricians on this subject.
Apparently they had been told that they were not prescribing enough Ritalin – a type of amphetamine used with children with ADHD. Compared with prescribing rates in the United States, where 10% of all school-age children are on the drug, the fear was that the U.K. was under-diagnosing ADHD, and that children who might be helped by pharmaceutical interventions were possibly being missed.. The meeting discussed how to increase diagnosis of ADHD, and therefore bring Ritalin prescribing in line with the U.S.A.
Those attending did not question whether doctors in the U.S.A. were getting it right! Nor did they discuss the growing number of professionals questioning the scientific validity of the use of Ritalin. This ‘real life’ meeting of health professionals also did not explore alternative strategies to drugs.
I am not arguing that such interventions are not beneficial; there is evidence that they often are. However, there are many non-invasive strategies that could be explored which look promising, even though they do not have masses of trial data. Importantly they offer parents hope of an alternative to drugs for their kids.
The complete refusal of many doctors to consider interventions outside of the medical profession, combined with the kind of prescribing objectives described above, does not help those parents who want real help and understanding. When it comes to children, there is a particularly high demand for information on alternatives to medication.
Although we are far from an evidence-based list of interventions that 'work' with children diagnosed with ADHD and other issues, there are many non-invasive interventions for which much anecdotal evidence has accumulated. (It was, after all, the observation of ‘anecdotes’ that led to medical breakthroughs such as quinine for heart problems or realising the link between rubella in pregnancy and foetal problems).
Far from being the 'New Age alternatives’ that many doctors feel lie outside the boundaries of their own profession, some of these therapies have a sound basis in the same neuroscience that doctors use themselves. In fact the level of understanding of some aspects of neurological pathways is extremely detailed.
Crucially, many of these interventions are 'holistic', in the sense of being tailored to the whole individual. This can make a randomised controlled trial (RCT –, needed to provide the type of evidence demanded by the medical profession), difficult to perform. To put this into perspective, the British Medical Journal reported in 2002 that as little as 10% of current surgical interventions have RCT evidence.
Brighton-based therapist and workshop facilitator, Cazzie Dare specialises in working with young people and families. She says:
"More and more of today's children are finding life in general, and the education system in particular, frustrating. They present with what is perceived as challenging behaviour, which can spill over into family life. Such behaviour can be difficult for parents and professionals to cope with – it can be a challenge to understand the child's world and the source of their frustration. Such ‘rebellious’ behaviour can be a symptom of not being heard, listened to and recognised as the incredibly bright, creative and independent individuals that they are. While most parents are extremely loving and supportive, media and politicians can be quick to blame them, and it can be hard for parents to know how to ‘do the right thing’ for themselves and their child."
What follows is a brief list of some promising, non-invasive interventions which have a track record of improving the lives of children and everyone around them. The list is not meant to be a medical recommendation, but a starting point for parents to investigate so they can make up their own minds. None of the therapies listed involve taking oral medication or other invasive treatments.
Emotional Freedom technique – This technique is as invasive as gently tapping your face! It can be used to clear a whole number of emotional issues - often when all else has failed. Top American holistic psychiatrist, Daniel Benor MD is an advocate of this technique.
Neuro Linguistic Programming – Is your child being taught in a way that suits them best? NLP can help determine their learning style as well as with emotional issues such as bullying. www.new-oceans.co.uk.
Heart Math – a non-profit organisation using cutting-edge science to provide a variety of tools to help children with improving learning attitudes and behaviours.
EEG Neurofeedback – this amazing technique allows the subject to gain control of their own brain waves through the use of a simple video game. It is helpful in many situations, including ADHD.
Brain Gym – This uses knowledge of neurological pathways to ‘switch on’ the brain - helping with learning.
Dr Manjir Samanta-Laughton MBBS, Dip Bio-energy is an ex-GP, holistic doctor and healer. She lectures and writes on the science of spirituality and complementary therapies.
Copyright Dr Manjir Samanta-Laughton 2004