National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Finding the Right Mix
By Christina Griffin
My daughter Abbi was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 12. I had a hard time believing that was really the reason for my daughter’s well developed social skills. Sure she loved to talk, all the time. I chalked that up to just being a social butterfly. But her grades were slipping and she could not concentrate on her school work longer than a few minutes at a time. As time went on her concentration levels got worse and I had a hard time finding ways to keep her attention long enough to get work done. It was exhausting.
When Abbi turned 13, her school strongly encouraged trying ADHD medication. Reluctantly, Abbi and I decided to try it. The first two medications were stimulants, which caused problems with her heart that were remedied by simply changing the medication. After that, we tried two non-stimulant medications that did not help Abbi’s concentration and impulse control. Patience was wearing thin at home and at school. I was at a loss as to how to help my daughter get through middle and high school.
At age 14, Abbi and I went to a doctor who specializes in treating ADHD with a more natural approach. It came as a relief to me to learn that her diet could be making her symptoms worse. It made sense since my daughter already had an allergy to tree nuts. We were advised to cut out wheat and give her more iron. Her concentration improved slightly but not enough to help with her grades. At home, I was able to get her attention easier but not long enough to get homework done in one sitting. Her middle school expressed concern that she was not medicated and staff did not seem open to more natural treatment approaches. In my opinion, medication is a band-aid and does not work for everyone, including my daughter.
We struggled through her first and second year of high school with failing grades and teachers who just seemed to give up on her. She had a 504 plan, which did not help because teachers did not always follow it. They would get frustrated and send her to the office to do her work. That was the last straw for me.
I researched programs in our school district and neighboring districts that would support her 504 plan and effectively accommodate the ADHD so that she could be successful. In our district I found an alternative high school program that organized classes so that students could attend school for just three hours a day. This included either attending a session in the morning or a session at midday. Abbi chose the midday session to allow her to get enough sleep and to focus better. The school work is structured to give students plenty of time to finish and the rules are clear about homework and progression in each class. If students are struggling, a structure is set up to catch problems early and to intervene so that students can be successful. The small class size helps my daughter focus on her work and feel confident enough to ask questions.
Abbi, is now happy at school and is currently earning A and B grades. She just received her driver’s license and may graduate on time. Her focus is incredible, even at home. She completes her homework and can sit for hours working on one homework project. I am amazed that she does so well now without medication. Some simple diet and school changes helped her to succeed. It is possible to find alternative help for ADHD, you just have to find the resources and have the patience.