As parents, we all want the best for our children. From the time they are born, we hope to see them grow and develop properly, flourish, build their personality, benefit from vibrant health, succeed in their social and romantic relationships, academic endeavours or career paths. We aspire to see them express the best of who they are and to see them prepare to enter the world of adulthood so that they, in turn, can become fulfilled parents too.
For many, the miracle of life blossoms and the circle of life are completed without too many challenges or incidents. But for others, the dream soon becomes a nightmare.
According to epidemiological research, between 5-20% of our children suffer from one or more neurobehavioral disorders such as attention deficit (ADD), hyperactivity (ADHD), learning disorders, behavioural disorders, developmental delay disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s syndrome (tics), Asperger’s syndrome or even autism. And this percentage is on the rise.
Those statistics don’t even take into account all the children that do not formerly meet diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder, but who are not functioning at their greatest potential. It doesn’t account either for all those who are not really sick to the point of being hospitalized but whose health is far from ideal: allergies, asthma, skin problems, recurring ear infections, abdominal pains, growing pains, sleep problems, back pain, headaches or migraines and many other symptoms who are usually medically unexplained and who are not taken properly into account by the paediatrician or family doctor.
The parents of those children are looking for real answers and solutions. Some will choose the conventional medical system, following the advice of family physicians or paediatricians. Unfortunately, those practitioners are often poorly trained in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders and have few options to offer beyond prescribing powerful psychotropic medications such as Ritalin. Others will, alone or in combination to drug treatment, chose to follow some form of behavioural therapy with a psychologist or child psychiatrist.
Other parents – more critical or poorly convinced by drug treatments, or who have not found the desired results – turn to alternative and complementary approaches. Many options are then available such as kinesiology and Brain Gym; dietary approaches and diet without food additives, phosphates or Feingold diet; auditory training and Tomatis Method, music therapy, colour therapy, magnet therapy, massage therapy or even Neurofeedback or chiropractic care.
Although all of these approaches – conventional or alternatives – claim their share of success stories or even miraculous cures, many are limited by their one-size-fits-all perspective which only addresses one small piece of the puzzle of the complex pictures that those disorders represent.
In this series of articles, I’d like to explore an integrated and holistic approach to the natural management of neurobehavioral disorders that is heavily founded in breakthrough discoveries made in neurosciences and in the field of functional medicine.
Kevin, a 21 st century boy
When Kevin was born, his parents’ dream was realized beyond their greatest expectations. The happiness was so great that the epidural, the long labour that required drug treatment, and the difficulty that the Obgyn had to pull Kevin out of his mother’s womb (although one of the assistant pushed hard on his mother’s tummy) were soon long forgotten. As a baby, and despite some irritability, colicky cries and sleeping problems, Kevin was developing fine. His torticolis (Kevin always had his head turned to the right side) had seemingly disappeared without complication. At least, that’s what the paediatrician had said. The first months were pure delight, although his mother had suffered an episode of “post-natal” blues. The family doctor had said this was “normal” and a few months of antidepressant had helped her feel better.
Kevin was your average child. He received all his vaccines, without any apparent side effects. He developed within the norm. He had not walked on all fours and had walked quite prematurely, but the paediatrician had comforted the mother and said that “this did not matter, that some children preferred to walk rather than crawl first”. And that’s what Kevin had done. From the paediatrician’s point of view Kevin was healthy. He only suffered two or three colds per year, and had some bronchitis here and there. He had some tougher times around 5 years of age where he had 6 ear infections that were all successfully treated with antibiotics. Maybe, he just seemed a bit clumsy (he would bump easily into things and fall easily). Kevin was quite a character. He would easily throw temper tantrums and would tend to stay by himself (at least, that’s what the lady in charge of day-care said – both parents work).
We meet Kevin again in primary school, during physical education class. He was playing dodge ball. Kevin was able to pick up the ball which was on the ground near him. Other children would run by him, scoffing at him, knowing they wouldn’t be hit. They knew perfectly well that Kevin “isn’t that good at catching and throwing” and that there is no risk in getting hit. Kevin knows it also. In team sports he is always the last one to be picked to be on a team.
And what was supposed to happen, happened. Kevin clumsily threw the ball at a classmate. He caught it and threw it back at Kevin who was hit and eliminated.
In class, Kevin isn’t more comfortable either. He has difficulties. The teacher is always calling on him about his bad behaviour and poor handwriting skills. Since he cannot impress others with any kind of special talent, Kevin acts out to attract attention. He often interrupts the class or bothers his classmates, which inevitably leads to the teacher making comments. His behaviour affects the whole class which does not progress as fast as it could.
During recess, Kevin often has problem socializing. Others do not spontaneously integrate him in their games. He has problems relating to others because he has a hard time understanding social cues, he always takes jokes too seriously and constantly thinks others are pulling his leg or making fun of him. Therefore, he prefers to be alone or gets involved in a fight just to attract some attention. His poor behaviour does not only affect his class. At home, his constant tantrums and oppositional behaviour are creating a lot of tensions in the family. His mom and dad do not have any time for themselves any more because they always need to police him. His little sister suffers because it seems that “it is always about Kevin”. Kevin often talks back to his parents; he does one stupid thing after another, never becoming aware of the consequences of his actions. Moreover, he has poor self-esteem and is often alone. He only really connects with younger children, but does not really have any close friends. At night, during homework, the war begins and it takes hours to get them done. Despite all the efforts invested by his parents and the teacher, Kevin is failing and he might have to repeat a grade. What is more frustrating is that everyone recognizes that Kevin is a bright boy. But he does not seem to understand how to effectively use his intelligence.
The last time his mom went to the doctor to refill her antidepressant prescription; she shared her concerns with the doctor. He told her that it looked like Kevin had ADHD and suggested they tried a therapeutic trial of Ritalin to see if that would help. Although mom was reluctant at first, she knew things were out of control and that she would go into burnout if nothing was done, so she ended up trusting the doctor. Since he has been taking his daily pill, Kevin is calmer and behaves better. In fact, even the teacher commented on how much better he is following instructions. It seems things between mommy and daddy are getting better also.
Kevin is only one example amongst many others of a growing number of children of both sexes who are suffering from and are being diagnosed with such disorders as hyperactivity (ADHD), attention deficit (ADD), behavioural problems and learning disabilities. All of these children are like Kevin to some degree. Kevin could have as well been suffering from dyslexia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even autism.
All those disorders have devastating consequences on the lives of those they affect and their direct family. If those disorders are not properly managed, the child is at risk of failing school (or at the very least of not fulfilling his academic potential), to injure himself or to develop self-esteem and socialization problems. Later on, during adolescent years, he is at greater risk to suffer other mental disorders such as depression, substance abuse, to cause road accidents or even to violate the law.
So what is causing all those disorders?
To get a proper answer, we first need to review of few basic facts about how the brain works. We’ll have a look at that in the next article.