Helping a child with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) can be enormously difficult for parents. Children with these conditions may struggle with difficulty sustaining attention, impulsive behavior, low self-esteem, troubled relationships and poor performance in school.
On top of that, the definitions of these conditions are debated, and there is no clear line between the disorders and being "just a kid."
"There is no perfect test for ADD/ADHD, but there are approaches that can bring health to kids who are struggling," says Katherine Raymer, MD, ND, a psychiatrist and core faculty member at Bastyr University.
She says natural medicine can offer a helpful perspective on behavioral disorders, along with alternatives — or additions — to conventional medical care.
Reaching the Roots of Disease
As with all diseases, naturopathic treatment of ADD/ADHD starts with a holistic understanding of health. That means looking at all dimensions of a patient's life, including nutrition, exercise/activity, sleep, emotions and spirituality.
"Spiritual life is not limited to religious orientation, but is where the individual finds meaning in life, where they find joy," says Dr. Raymer, who also supervises student clinicians in the ADHD Wellness Care program at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the University's Seattle teaching clinic.
By taking time getting to know patients, clinicians at Bastyr Center may uncover physiological problems that affect behavior. Those may include gastrointestinal issues (such as an enzyme deficiency), nutrient deficiencies (such as vitamin B6), inflammation or thyroid dysfunction. Doctors can perform tests or teach patients to use elimination diets (such as avoiding gluten, soy or dairy for a period) to discover the roots of disease.
These approaches reveal the interconnected nature of health, Dr. Raymer says.
Shifting the Focus
Families can visit Dr. Raymer's ADHD Wellness Care program on Thursday evenings at Bastyr Center and also receive care throughout the week. They meet with upper-level student clinicians from Bastyr University's naturopathic medicine program, who work under the supervision of licensed faculty members such as Dr. Raymer.
Some families visiting Bastyr Center use only natural treatments, while others combine them with stimulant prescriptions such as Ritalin. Some families speak openly of ADHD, while others avoid the term to teach their children not to focus on labels.
After training in both conventional (MD) and naturopathic medicine, Dr. Raymer has learned to shift the emphasis from diagnostic labels to helping improve their lives. That offers a way to sidestep arguments over definitions and focus on patients instead, she says.
"We're not treating a diagnosis, we're treating a person," she says. "That's where naturopathic medicine is different."