To Be or Not to Be…Medicated Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I’m not 100% comfortable with medication as a solution for attention problems.

I can’t deny the efficacy of certain prescriptions—last week, our son had his FIRST PERFECT WEEK at school.

Granted, we only had two days in class due to snow but this is still a first. Two days, back-to-back, with only green marks (given for helping, staying on task, getting behavioral compliments from teachers in supplementary classes, etc.)? Never happened before.

The potential for success is incredible.

Possibility of side effects, now or in the future, concerns me.

I can say, in good conscience, that we tried EVERYthing before turning to medication. Still, nagging guilt plagues me, an oppressive feeling we “gave in” to the road more traveled.

Some of my friends say things like

Drug companies are the devil

and

Pharmaceutical conglomerates care about making money, not about making kids healthy

and although I’m not sure they’re correct on the first count, I acquiesce on the second. Companies are formed and sustained for one purpose: to make money for someone.

Knowing this, why do we—as a nation—fall in line for the daily dose?

The unfortunate truth is this: other alternatives require more time and sometimes bring less direct results. In the world of mental health—mental health of children, in particular—we search for expedient outcomes.  Medication is fast, and in some cases, immediate.

Research for alternatives led me to an option so easy it’s laughable. MOVEMENT. Activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. In other words, exercise.

One of the article links cracked me up: “exercise-seems-to-be-beneficial-to-children.” No. Really?

According to several studies (see the links throughout this post), exercise can be just as beneficial as medication. Some claim prescriptions may be eliminated by implementing a consistent workout routine.

Why don’t we hear more about exercise as an alternative to drugs? 

This article by Yasmin Tayag is blatant in accusation. There’s no money to be made; physical activity is, well, free.

To be fair, our doctor did recommend exercise—not to replace, but to supplement the medication. After I explained our involvement in Karate twice a week, Scouts, family chores (yes, cleaning up counts as exercise) and treks through the woods, she agreed that no one could call our family sedentary.

CalorieLab even has a cool page for learning how many calories you burned vacuuming or doing other chores, if you’re interested. 

She also recommended limiting screen time. Our kids watch about four hours of TV. Not per day. PER WEEK. Much lower than the national average, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics article. Where these kids find time to spend 7 hours a day (A DAY!?) entertained by screens is beyond me.

I have to agree with Yasmin; money seems the root of the problem; drug companies court pediatricians and other doctors constantly. I saw three reps during our 30-minute stay in the waiting area.

Why exercise?

If you don’t know the answer to this question after years of watching Richard Simmons Sweat to the Oldies, I can’t offer you help. I mean, really.

Stop pretending you’re not overcome by memories. You know you loved it.

Okay, let’s get serious. Shake off your nostalgia.

This article in The Atlantic shows pictures of brain function with and without exercise. Due to the wording, I can’t determine whether the pictures are a representation of the study or genuine, actual slides. Either way, the visual difference is staggering. The article references children sitting in class with “blue heads” for nine months. Lost learning potential could be significant. An excerpt:

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do.

Nutshell:

Exercise makes you feel good.

No small accomplishment for a child who tends toward a negative self-image. Many kids with ADHD feel “less.” Less able to do the work, less likely to succeed, less likable (due to their sporadic behavior) than their more focused classmates. Exercise can improve self-image in many ways—not just physical.

Exercise reduces “learned helplessness.”

ADHD kids are likely to quit before they start because they feel they won’t succeed regardless of what they do. ADDitude mag editors also quote John Ratey as a resident expert, but are more conservative. This article describes exercise as a supplement rather than replacement for medication.

I see “learned helplessness” in our children, both of whom struggle with attention (although our guy has a much more difficult time). Our daughter, in particular, would rather not try if she sees potential for failure.

Simple math problems take FOR-EVVVV-ERRRR because, instead of relying on her bank of memorized facts, she counts on her fingers before answering. This backfires, as she is often distracted while counting and ends up with an incorrect answer. This reinforces her idea that she won’t get it right. We’ve worked very hard with her, encouraging her to use the first answer that “pops into” her mind.

Exercise jump-starts your brain

Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.

-John Ratey, M.D.

Working memory is the key for many ADHD individuals. Our son scored very high on psych evaluations in almost every area except this. Without working memory, we can’t perform two tasks at once—at least, not easily.

How much, how often?

  • WebMD suggests 150 minutes of exercise per week in an article about adult ADHD
  • According to an article in Inverse, some schools have implemented three 20-minute exercise sessions or use “time-in” instead of time-out: if a child acts out, he or she spends the “time-in” on an exercise/ machine

Exercises to try

  • Aerobics/Cardio
  • Running/Jogging/Walking
  • Push-ups, squats
  • Yoga
  • Sports/Martial Arts

Not all exercise must be physical, although aerobic exercise is an excellent strategy to focus that brain. You can also try the following:

  • Try focus exercises geared toward ADHD.
  • Train your Brain. The jury is still out regarding brain-training games, but it seems logical. If your brain is a muscle, and you engage in consistent brain workout, I conclude that it will be stronger and better.  NeuroRacer sounds pretty cool, although they now focus on aging adults. I contacted the company to ask if the game is available to the general public. 
  • Learn something new. Khan Academy offers free classes; the site is amazing. Learning a new skill stretches your brain. Remember when you learned to read? C-A-T. Struggling to decode words. Look at ya now—reading is as easy as breathing. Always wanted to learn Chinese? Greek? Spanish? Learn to play an instrument, to cook authentic Italian food, to swim. Now you have a reason.
  • Do math. I’ve seen exponential (see what I did there?) improvement in the kids’ focus as we’ve dedicated time to learning long division and double-digit multiplication.
  • Write. (YAY!) The creative process, research, putting words to a page whether written or typed, editing—all of these contribute to better focus. I’ve never been diagnosed ADHD (except by all my best friends and Hubby), but I do have my suspicions. When I practice faithful writing, everyone can tell.

Now what?

Our new routine started today. 30 minutes of sustained activity each day—that’s the goal. Hubby and I don’t often sit (we like to DIY, and we’ve been remodeling the kitchen for several weeks). The kids, however, would prefer to meld with the carpet, or couch, or whatever.

As I mentioned above, we all take responsibility for chores at home. Daily chores take a legitimate 15 minutes (for the 9 year old) and 25 minutes (for the 11 year old).

I’ve stopped counting their chores toward daily fitness because she, in particular, moves at a very slow pace. She’s admitted a hope that we will give up if she takes forever. So far, no dice. Sorry, honey.

During research for this post, I realized that our kids don’t participate in sustained physical activity every day.  So, today, I instituted the first daily “30 Get Up and Move Minutes” session. 30GUMM for short, because I’m a nerd. If the weather is nice, out they go. If I look out a window,they should be walking, running, playing with the dogs, swinging, etc.

Our first day of bad weather, I plan to break out the Wii. Yes, it’s screen time, but at least they’ll be moving, so I think it counts. Sort of like tricking them into exercise. Bwah ha ha ha.

Do I have to forgo meds?

This post (including Part 1) is not intended to denounce medication as originating in brimstone.

Although I don’t like the thought of possible side effects, school and self-image are my main concerns for the moment. As long as the side effects remain only on the pharmacy document regarding “all the horrible things that will probably happen because now you are looking for signs of them,” they’ll keep popping pills. Responsibly and at the lowest possible dose. If side effects occur, we’ll re-think the plan.

And for the moment, we’ve had no issues.

On the other hand, I plan be more intentional about integrating physical and brain exercise. Getting them in shape, body and mind, can only benefit. If we’re able to phase out the medication, that will be a lovely added bonus.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

How about you?

Are you a medical teetotaler or pill pusher? Is BigPharm the evil villain, or do you think alternative medicine is for hippies? Have you found ways to focus? What’s your strategy?

Of course, if you think freebasing Vicodin is a panacea, I recommend keeping that to yourself…

We’re all interested in what you have to say. Share below!

 

 

About Casey

Adoption = my life. I'll give it to you straight. Success, failure, truth.

Posted on January 31, 2016, in Adoption, DIY, mental health, parenting, self-help and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Survivors Blog Here and commented:
    In depth view on medications or not for problem behavior. I love Casey’s logical process and she leaves it on you to decide. M

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  2. Being closely associated with those who deal in drugs (husband is in pharma and daughter is a medical doctor) I would be hypocritical if I said that all medicines are bad. Of course they are GOOD if taken the right way. And if they give you relief why not? Exercise of course works but takes ever so loooong. It requires a lot of motivation too so if you can get the same effect with less effort – just pop the pill

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  3. Yes a definite GASP at getting older 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this about exercise! My girls don’t have a problem as much getting that in the summer, but winter, yes! We hope to start karate for them next month. I will admit, I should get more exercise than I do also. My hubby is the only one in our family who is dedicated to daily exercise. Good luck with the exercise routine you have started at home, am eager to hear if you see it helping your boy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll definitely keep you updated! I’ve been trying to work a few minutes in at a time (for myself), like doing push-ups on the steps when I go upstairs or squats while I wait for water to boil…trying to keep some muscle tone. I hear that gets even more important as we (gasp, choke) get older. 😉 I figure every little bit is more than doing nothing and it all adds up.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I absolutely believe in alternative medical. I went along with dr. Putting me on more and more pills that caused more side effects and they did not care as they are taught to give meds. I continue to research and take my health into my hands I really cannot do worse than someone who is blinded by their education and need or greed for money. Pharmaceutical companies are about money. Science can be good not against it as good things have happened but natural remedies are sometimes better. One controversiAl one is cannabis oil for pain and cancer which is better than Percocet and morphine but thats another story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great stuff, Casey! I think it is so sad that with all of our modern “save-you-time-and-energy” gadgets we have become some of the most sedentary people in history. Then, in order to rectify our propensity for inactivity, we trundle off to the gym to engage in exercise for the sake of exercise. Paying money to engage in physical activity. Seems strange.

    Somehow it is also all wrapped up in our putting “self” in the centre — thinking about “me” first and “my comfort.” Self-centred laziness. (Okay — I am getting down off of this soap box now because I am making myself VERY uncomfortable!)

    Thanks for the perspective and links. I have a few clever, hyperactive kids in my classroom this year! 🙂 I say, let’s put all that energy to good use!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Do you currently institute exercise in any of the classrooms? It might be an interesting experiment to try tracking behaviour patterns with and without a morning and/or afternoon workout. I remember reading a book years ago (maybe something by Laura Ingalls Wilder) about an early 1900s pioneer school and they had “calisthenics” in the morning. Hadn’t thought about it in a long time. I asked the school to give our boy exercises on “off” days but we have weird “corporal punishment” rules so even if a parent requests it, they can’t do it (public school).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Really? That sounds funny. I always thought of corporal punishment in terms of striking the child, not exercise. We have several students who run track before they come into class. They love it. In fact quite s number of other students have joined them. And it does help!
        I just have my whole class do exercises every 40 – 60 minutes. You can tell when they need a break. But sometimes the activities have enough movement to keep them going.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s really cool. They have a running club that meets before school but up until recently I couldn’t see requiring them to spend additional time at the school. Now I think we might try it. Sounds like you’re already ahead of the game! 🙂

          Yep, I thought of spanking, too, but evidently making them do physical activity that can be seen as punishment counts.

          Liked by 1 person

          • What sort of punishment do they have? Call the parent and make the parent administer punishment? We started the running out of desperation, thinking to get the excess energy out of the system. It is not a punishment. In fact, two of the kids made the track team. One was also put on a low dose of Ritalin, which has made a huge difference to him. He went from completing 30%-40% of his work to finishing 90%-100%. He is so proud of himself! I am firmly in the anti-drug camp, but for him it has made all the difference I the world. ❤️

            Liked by 1 person

            • Pretty much. They have “overnight suspension” which means in order for the child to return to school in the morning the parent(s) have to meet with the principal first, normal suspension, after school suspension (detention) —hubby said the acronym is A.S.S. because you get there by acting like one, ha ha…and in after school suspension they have to do schoolwork but then if the child is not cooperative, it’s basically up to the parent to make them do it at home. Americans are too afraid of lawsuits, as I see it. As far as I’m concerned, the principal can pull out the “board of education” and apply it to the “seat of learning” but they, of course, no longer spank in public school.

              We have made it clear to both the kids and the school officials that we stand behind whatever consequence is handed out. They’ve actually been very lenient with us and supportive of our situation. There have been times that our guy probably should have been suspended but they understand that missing school is a reward for him, so they’ve worked it out in other ways. He’s doing much better this year, though, so I’m hopeful. I ran into the Assistant Principal the other day and he said in mock sorrow, “I never see you anymore! I miss our long chats!!” Ha ha, very funny.

              Liked by 1 person

              • 😊 I think positivity is important. Once you get going on that downhill negative spiral it is difficult to come back! Each kid has their own set of important things they’ll work for. Glad your guys are in a special place! ❤️

                Liked by 1 person

                • I agree. We finally found his. Books (as in, non-fiction, encyclopedia-type) about World War II and black and white documentaries about wars. Not even kidding. He’s 9.

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