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The Summer We’ll Never Forget

What happened when we decided to try a new course of ADHD treatment.

Two young boys with ADHD playing soccer outside in the summer
Two young boys with ADHD playing soccer outside in the summer

This has been a summer we’ll never forget. It was filled with exciting adventures, extensive travel, and most notably, no ADHD medication. It was a very long and challenging summer, but one that taught us many lessons.

We decided to take Holden, our oldest, off his stimulant meds this summer because of some adverse reactions he’d experienced throughout the spring. The side effects began to outweigh the benefit of the medication, which left us wondering if we were really and truly on the right treatment path. While I was prepared for it to be a challenge, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into. I went into it knowing something needed to change, but I was extremely nervous about the “what ifs.”

The first week off ADHD medication went okay. We had many activities planned to keep him busy — extensive hikes, swimming, and heavy activities like chopping wood. By the second, week, however, it was obvious that we needed to change things up. Holden’s behavior had begun to spiral out of control, leaving me feeling like the worst mother on the planet. His constant activity, irritability, and aggression were exhausting. Although it was wearing me down, I was still committed to giving the no-stimulant plan a real shot, as advised by his doctor. I suspected it might take some time for him to even out.

Our first adjustment involved talking to a natural health care provider about nutrition and ADHD. Considering that one of Holden’s main side effects from medication was a lack of appetite, it was no shock to us that he was malnourished. Once he was off the medication, his appetite surged and I now had to make sure he made healthy food choices. Because he was eating a wider variety of foods than ever, we were able to see the effects on his mood and behavior. It turns out he’s quite sensitive to many food additives and dyes — do you know how difficult it is to keep a teenager far, far away from red dye and sugar?

The next step in our natural healing plan called for acupuncture. Because Holden has an inherent fear of doctors, needles, and waiting, I was worried that the acupuncture appointments would be a nightmare. Luckily my fears were unfounded; it proved to be a significantly beneficial treatment. Walking into the appointment, he’d be a virtual ball of nervous energy, but his mood usually changed dramatically afterwards.

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While the natural treatments were helping somewhat, it simply wasn’t enough. There were times I’d look at him and know, with a mother’s insight, that his mind was spinning out of control. Without the stabilizing influence of meds, his behavior became the focal point of our family’s day-to-day life. “Can we do this activity…or will it cause a meltdown?” “If we go to dinner, will Holden be able to sit still, or not?” As we struggled to find solutions, I realized just how lucky I was to have such a supportive and understanding family.

A lot of days I felt absolutely heartsick, worrying that no matter what decision I made — medicate again, or not — I would regret it. Then, after talking to a few different health care professionals, I had a light bulb moment: Why does it have to be either/or? Treating my son’s ADHD doesn’t have to be black or white. Couldn’t we combine the natural treatments and medication?

We’ve seen some excellent benefits to removing food dyes and focusing more on cleaner eating. Just because it wasn’t enough on its own doesn’t mean we should stop. The way I see it, changing our diets and adding in some alternative therapies can’t hurt, so with a change in his stimulant medication, that’s just what we’re doing. Granted, we’re still not off the roller coaster ride. Most days are still quite challenging, but I am certain we’re on a better path than we were before.

Treating ADHD: Next Steps

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