If you’re a parent of one of the six million children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, chances are you’ve been very frustrated lately due to the recent shortage of Adderall. Meanwhile, Ritalin and Concerta, two alternative medications, have also been in short supply since May, creating what PBS Newshour calls a “perfect storm” of factors throwing off the supply and demand for these critical medications.
Suppose you cannot get medication to control ADHD symptoms. In that case, Dr. Sandy Newmark, the head of the Pediatric Integrative Neurodevelopmental Program at Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and author of ADHD Without Drugs: A Guide to Natural Care of Children with ADHD, recommends several ways to manage the disease without medication.
“Treating kids with ADHD is about treating the whole person in all aspects of their life: personal, family, community, school, and so on,” he says. “When I see kids with ADHD, I look at all those factors. And often, I don’t have to use medication if we treat those things well.”
We’ll look at some of these treatments below, in case they help to reduce the need for meds—but always be sure to consult with your child’s doctor before taking them off any medication.
Consider their diet
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There has been speculation that certain food colorings and preservatives increase hyperactivity in some children. Newmark says consuming less processed foods, sugar, and artificial colors and flavors can decrease symptoms, as does taking iron, zinc, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. He also offers one more recommendation.
“Start with a good breakfast,” he says. “Research indicates that children who eat good non-processed breakfast food have better attention in a couple of hours.”
Make sure they get a good night’s sleep
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children between 6 and 12 get around nine to 12 hours of sleep. Teenagers ages 13 to 18 should get about eight to 10 hours. Newmark notes that lack of sleep and increased screen time can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, especially if kids take their gadgets to bed, so do a device check before the lights go out.
Take them outside
Nature has a calming effect on nearly everyone, and in one study, it was shown to manage symptoms of ADHD. During the experiment, 17 children between the ages of 7 and 12 diagnosed with ADHD went on a guided 20-minute walk through three settings—one was a park. Of the three areas, the park elevated the subjects’ attention performance. To add, Newmark says that regular exercise is “hugely important” for those diagnosed with ADHD.
Try meditation and yoga
It’s hard for anyone to sit still for any amount of time. Yet, with regular practice, meditation can train people, even those with ADHD, to focus. One only needs a minute to feel the positive effects, and you can meditate anytime, morning or night, and there are plenty of apps to choose from. Newmark also noted studies showing regular yoga training in children diagnosed with moderate to severe ADHD improves symptoms.
Talk to someone
The AAP states that behavior therapy should be the first line of treatment for ADHD, particularly in younger children. However, Newmark notes that even a change in your parenting style can be helpful. A parental therapist can show you some tools and techniques to help your child work around their symptoms.
Try EEG biofeedback
There has been promising research showing that electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback is a promising treatment. It measures brainwaves, and according to Newmark, children with ADHD have unusual patterns of brain activity. Children and doctors use this evidence to teach new ways to focus. For example, according to this Healthline article, a patient might play a video game where they are required to keep a plane flying. If they become distracted, the aircraft will go down, so they must find a way to keep it flying.
While studies show some hope, reports state there is little agreement on when a patient can see results. And since most insurance plans do not cover it, it has a hefty price tag. It can be worth a try if your pocketbook and patience can hold out.
Get a 504 plan
The Rehabilitation and Americans With Disabilities Act bans unjust treatment against anyone with physical, mental, and learning disabilities, including those with ADHD. Through a 504 plan, your child’s school can make certain accommodations, such as extra assignment times or an adjusted schedule, for children diagnosed with ADHD so they can learn in a regular classroom. You can work with your school so they can evaluate them for eligibility.
“Everybody with ADHD qualifies for a 504 plan,” Newmark says. “Most classrooms have it, but what you find is that it doesn’t get applied. People forget about it, and it gets lost.”