Beyond Ritalin

Beyond Ritalin

As more of the nation’s children are being diagnosed with hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorders, some parents are finding that natural alternatives are helping their families cope.

By: Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC

The phone rings and caller ID tells you it’s your child’s school or camp calling. Your heart starts beating more quickly and you take a deep breath before you answer, wondering what it’s going to be this time.  They are calling to tell you that your child, this beautiful creation of yours, has once again wandered away from the group, this time on a field trip where teachers spent 30 minutes searching for him. Or she has impulsively hit another child. Or he is not staying seated in the classroom and can’t seem to focus. Or she is not making significant connections with other kids. You hear this, and that part of you that was hoping this call would be different begins to feel queasy. However, you are not surprised.  This is not the first call, and most likely will not be the last.

If this scenario sounds familiar, chances are you are the parent of a child with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  And you are not alone. The statistics are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder affects millions of children in the United States, an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of all children nationwide, and is considered one of the most common disorders among children. Experts suspect that 50 percent of children with ADHD are never formally diagnosed, and we see significantly higher incidences of ADHD in boys.

Children with this diagnosis often demonstrate, among other things: inattentiveness, irritability, impulsivity, hyperactivity, social/emotional issues, and defiance. Causes of ADHD are thought to be predominantly genetic. However, environmental influences, such as nutrition, stress, poor parenting and excessive use of screens (television/computer/video games) are thought to potentially play a part. Although ADHD can vary in severity, it not only impacts the daily life of the child, but the rest of the family as well.

Popular treatment options include medication, such as stimulants like Ritalin, along with behavior modification plans. All too often when a child is diagnosed with ADHD the parents are given a prescription and sent on their way. Conventional medications absolutely have their place and are appropriate in various cases.  In fact, I have personally seen a child’s world turn around completely as a result of the correct medication. However, there are many alternative treatments for ADHD that can be used in place of, or in conjunction with, these medications.

Because these alternative treatments are relatively new to the general public, many are not backed by the same scientific data found in prescription drug studies. But plenty of professionals, parents, and children say they have seen marked improvements as a result of alternative treatment.  Below you will find alternative treatments to consider for you ADHD child. Some are “mainstream alternative,” while others are more obscure. You, your family, and health care providers can determine which options seem most appropriate.


Proper counseling can assist both parents and children to manage life with an ADHD-diagnosed child.  Quite often the impact of the diagnosed child on the entire family dynamic is pronounced.  Counseling can assist with parenting techniques, managing behavioral approaches, attending to family dynamics, offer emotional support to the parents, and directly support the child with social/emotional issues.  Counselors with certain experience can also act as a bridge between the child’s family and school to ensure the child is receiving the proper accommodations to support academic performance.  In the world of ADHD and mental health diagnostics, it is also common for a parent to have his or her own diagnosis to contend with in addition to the child’s.  Having the professional input from a licensed therapist can offer a great deal in the way of managing an ADHD diagnosis.

Holistic Medicine

By definition, holistic medicine, also called integrative medicine, focuses on any type of ailment or condition through a multi-dimensional approach. The approach is an all-inclusive one that begins with a hair analysis, a special diagnostic tool that provides them with information on what types of toxicities are in the body. This is followed by a full nutritional evaluation, a stress analysis and an environmental examination dealing with any psychological factors influencing the home and family. In addition, the child is introduced to yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques. Finally, homeopathy, the use of natural plants, minerals, and tissues in diluted forms, is used to impact the energetic realm of the child.  There are specific types of elements that a holistic doctor might examine that perhaps would be overlooked through traditional Western medicine.  I highly recommend a combination of both in the hopes of finding the best solution for the particular child’s needs.


Neurofeedback is a process through which the brain is trained to improve regulation of bodily functions. This technique can aid ADHD children by training their brains to better organize, encode, recall and apply information. The process in non-invasive, completely painless and does not produce side effects caused by medication. In a typical session, sensors are connected to the head to monitor brain-wave activity. The child sits in from of a monitor, much like a computer game, and is asked to make the dame operate with his or her brain. Their thoughts literally make the game work. As the child plays, the sensors exchange information with the computer while targeting the specific area of improvement-for example, decreasing hyperactivity or increasing impulse control. Gradually the brain responds to this new cueing and new brain-wave patterns are created. Again, I have personally seen great success with Neurofeedback used with children. To learn more about neurofeedback visit or find your local provider.


Given that our bodies are essentially organic machines, it makes sense that what we use for fuel will greatly impact the body’s operations. According to Marcia Zimmerman, C.N., in her book The ADD Nutrition Solution, people who suffer from ADHD, particularly children, have tendency to be highly sensitive and require special dietary considerations. For example, our diets are often deficient in certain essential nutrients, such as omega-3, which impact many parts of our brain processes, including neurotransmitters (important in cellular communications), focus and much more. A study at Purdue University found that boys diagnosed with ADHD had lower levels of the omega-3 essential fatty acid DHA (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71). Other similar studies have demonstrated that children with ADHD have a tendency to have deficient levels of magnesium, and zinc, as well.  Supplementing diet with therapeutic doses of omega-3 is an easy and effective way to support a child’s immune system.  One word of caution:  be certain that whatever supplement you choose is “USP Certified” to avoid any unwanted toxins found within the oils.  To determine the appropriate dosage for your child, contact your pediatrician, nutritionist, or holistic health provider.

Pilates, Martial Arts, Yoga

It is well known that exercise is essential for well-balanced, healthy living. Exercises that specifically require the participant to integrate both the mind and the body through use of controlled movement and special breathing techniques are very effective in helping the ADHD child learn to channel excess energy and follow fun and exciting instruction.  Unlike the classroom that requires kids to sit, participating in exercise classes allow a child to engage intellectually and socially while at the same time being able to move.

Effectively managing and treating ADHD in a child is often complex and demanding on all types of resources including time, money, and energy.  It can be highly effective to build a team of professionals around your child that involve both traditional and non-traditional approaches.  Regardless of which approach you choose, most important is to provide the child with the greatest level of support during the formative years of childhood.  This consistent and early intervention can pave the way to a more successful adolescent and adult life experience.

Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and educator with a private practice in Beverly Hills, California.  Mia is licensed in both California and Illinois and she can be reached through her website, e-mail at, office 310-464-5226, or followed on Twitter @MiaAdlerOzair.


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