Danny can’t sit still in his Kindergarten classroom and while on the carpet he constantly disrupts the other students with fidgeting. He is unable to focus on learning to read and his writing is messy with so many mistakes if it were correct the best deciphering could not make it out.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects three to five percent of school-age children and some surveys put the percentage as high as seventeen percent. Many parents worry about the affects of stimulant medications for their child and therefore search for alternative treatments for attention problems, irritability, distractibility, and hyperactive behaviors. Behavioral strategies are the most common alternatives learned with the help of a mental health professional or therapist/counselor. Learning social skills, problem-solving, and executive function skills encourages the child to slow down, focus and process situations more appropriately.

What if medications and/or counseling do not work as expected or desired?

Other alternatives may be helpful. Many parents are turning to diet changes and supplements.

This is not a new idea! Since the early 1970’s research and physician have studied whether or not food allergies and special diets helped children with ADHD and other behavior problems. ADHD and related food allergies has increased with more parents searching for the cause of attention, and hyperactive behaviors. There have been many several studies that looked at a small number of children and found no significant results to expect that an additive free diet affects behaviors in children with ADHD. It was clear that more studies were needed. Recently, parents are taking it upon themselves to take all additive foods, and other suspect items totally out of their children’s diets. Then re-introduce the foods one at a time to ascertain if there is a difference in their behaviors at school and home.

In 1999, Donna Shalala, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other experts encouraged parents and professionals to modify children’s diets before resorting to drug treatment. While encouraged that there may be a link to diet, some professional asked HHS to undertake new research into the link between diet and behavior and to “consider banning synthetic dyes in foods and other products (such as cupcakes, candies, sugary breakfast cereals, vitamin pills, drugs, and toothpaste) widely consumed by children.” Those experts included Ted Kniker, from University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Joseph Bellanti, from Georgetown University Medical Center.

Do certain foods affect your children’s moods and behaviors? Maybe!

Before doing any type of major change, talk to your child’s pediatrician about what you suspect. Ask for any updated medical information available. One popular book used and known as helpful is called ADD Nutrition Solution. This resource addresses hyperactivity, inattention, and other behaviors that one may not normally think of as ADHD behaviors. A book includes a discussion of the diet options, and how to approach your doctor.

There are local resources including a one local online resource glutenfreelex.org which is a favorite of a local therapist who is a mother of an ADHD child. Gluten-free and additive-free diets are two of the most popular diets used to help children with ADHD. While the jury is still out on if they really work and most parents want what is best for their child. Who can argue with less sugar and fewer additives and dyes in foods.

Finally, it is important to have realistic expectations for your child and his behavior. If you and your family choose an alternative treatment like using a diet and no medication it takes a lot of time even though you may initially see some quick results. Awareness that a change in diet alone may not fix everything behavioral about your child, it may make things better and allow other behavioral strategies to become more useful. Long term change takes time and patience. There is NO magic pill.

Author's Bio: 

Janet Vessels is a mental health practitioner and a licensed professional clinical counselor. As the owner of the Center Child and Family Counseling, PLLC, she has practiced professional counseling for over fifteen years with children, adolescents and families. Her practice specialties are play therapy and a variety of trauma therapies including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).