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I’m Still Looking for a Magic-Bullet Treatment for ADHD — Are You?

I get excited about every new ADHD alternative therapy discovery. Some alternative treatments are great, but it’s important to remember to keep reasonable expectations when evaluating treatment possibilities.

Recently, I read and reviewed a great new book — Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Ellison — for the Winter 2010/11 issue of ADDitude magazine. It’s a funny, interesting read, and I recommend it.

As chronicled in the book, Ellison dedicated a full year to focusing her attention on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in an effort to reconnect with, understand, and help her son Buzz, as well as help herself deal with his condition.

While only one aspect of their story, a significant portion of the book details Ellison’s foray into ADHD treatment and her experience with neurofeedback. I’d read about neurofeedback before reading Buzz but didn’t know much about it. Ellison’s account of the treatment really got me thinking and frankly, got me excited.

[How Do You Measure Whether a Child’s ADHD Has Improved?]

Could Neurofeedback Be the Magic Bullet for ADHD?

Off I went on a mission: to the library for books about neurofeedback, to the Internet to search for neurofeedback practitioners in Iowa, and to e-mail our psychologist to ask if he thought neurofeedback would help my daughter, Natalie, with her ADHD. Neurofeedback became the latest obsession in my ongoing quest for the magic bullet, the treatment that would work miracles and banish all of Natalie’s problems.

Of course, despite my eagerness to learn about alternative therapies, I know better. As I research a seemingly endless supply of books, gadgets, therapies, supplements, and non-drug treatments for ADHD and its common comorbid conditions, I know there are no miracles; there is no cure (even if medication has brought nearly miraculous results). Nevertheless, I continue to hope there are tools, strategies, and therapies that will make a difference for Natalie, that will help take the edge off, give her skills to make life a little easier, and help her reach her goals.

A thoughtful, carefully worded reply came from our psychologist, and I called off this particular mission. But right after that, the next magic bullet whizzed right into my mailbox!

I got a flier in the mail advertising that LearningRx is opening a center just 30 miles away, in Ankeny, Iowa. On their website, I discovered that LearningRx provides cognitive skills training, which looks a lot like the testing and exercises Nat did in occupational therapy. They also handle auditory processing problems —there’s a term that catches my attention. I immediately thought, We have to try this! and I e-mailed a request to schedule a tour.

[ADHD Treatments: Searching for the Magic Bullet]

I know, I know. I’m doing it again. But this approach seems to make so much sense! The problem is, at first glance, they all do.

How to Evaluate Whether to Try an Alternative ADHD Treatment

Is there an actual magic bullet? Not really. After doing this a few times lately, I’ve thought up some ways to (at least theoretically) screen products, programs, and therapies:

1. I check with Natalie’s pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist before investing too much time or energy — or money — in my latest discovery.

2. I remind myself that if it really worked, nearly everyone would be doing it. If it isn’t a first-line treatment option, I need to approach with caution.

3. I carefully weigh the product or program’s cost in money, time and effort (sometimes time and effort trump money) against the potential benefits.

Good luck keeping your expectations realistic. I wish I could.

A version of this post first appeared on the collaborative blog, a mom’s view of ADHD.

[ADDitude Adjustment]