Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often viewed as a challenging and debilitating condition that negatively affects millions of kids and adults worldwide. The disorder is characterized by symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty paying attention.
However, some experts and individuals with ADHD argue that the condition should be viewed as a positive trait rather than a deficit and disorder, which are two rather heavy words dripping with negative connotations.
There is no doubt that ADHD leads to all sorts of daily problems for kids and adults struggling with it. I personally have lived my entire life with ADHD and with the drug-free strategies that I’ll cover in this article, and most especially, the “secret weapon” I finally found at age 20. I can assure you that you’ll not only have a changed perspective on your child’s ADHD (and maybe yours, too) after reading this article… but you’ll also have a strategic action plan to put in place to help your child turn the struggles commonly associated with ADHD into true superpowers.
WHAT IS ADHD?
ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that results in trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, and being overly active.
As a result, a child struggling with ADHD often experiences the most difficulty in the most traditional, structured settings, such as school and academics. They may also struggle with social interactions and maintaining friendships.
Outside of school, children with ADHD may have problems following routines, completing chores, and participating in extracurricular activities. They may also experience frequent impulsivity, leading to risky behavior and difficulty regulating their emotions.
Because they have a hard time paying attention and staying focused, many kids with ADHD struggle with responding appropriately to directions and discipline, making learning both in school and at home more difficult. Therefore many kids struggling with ADHD are seen as immature and not able to “act their age” at appropriate times.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ADHD
While it is quite common for many people to have bouts of hyperactivity or impulsiveness, and troubles paying attention and focusing, kids and adults struggling with ADHD have symptoms and problems associated with their ADHD that are more severe, occur more often, and frequently interfere with their functions and performance at school, work, and with other daily activities.
While we’ll discuss the three (3) main types of ADHD next, keeping all the struggles of ADHD together, here is a list of common signs and symptoms of ADHD:
- Disorganization and problems prioritizing
- Poor time management skills
- Problems focusing on a task
- Trouble multitasking
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Poor planning
- Low frustration tolerance
- Frequent mood swings
- Problems following through and completing tasks
- Hot temper
- Trouble coping with stress
As Pediatric Chiropractors, we dive far deeper into the day-to-day struggles with our patients than standard doctors, and we also look way deeper into the causative factors. As a result of doing that, it’s important to share another subset of signs and symptoms we commonly see associated with ADHD patients and their daily challenges:
- Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking feeling rested and energized
- Poor digestion and frequent bouts of either constipation or diarrhea
- Weakened respiratory and immune health, frequently being short of breath and getting sick easily and often
This last set of signs and symptoms starts to link us further into the neurophysiological mechanism and triggers of ADHD, which stem from an out-of-balance and overstressed nervous system.
TYPES OF ADHD
While most kids and adults struggling with ADHD have a “mix” of both inattentive and hyperactivity symptoms, nearly everyone has either a predominantly inattentive presentation or a predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type. And again, most kids have a combined presentation.
To make this far easier to understand for parents many years ago, we coined the following terms to help describe both the outward expression of the two (2) main types of ADHD, as well as what’s causing and triggering the challenges within their central nervous system.
PREDOMINANTLY HYPERACTIVE PRESENTATION AKA “RAGING BULL”
A “Raging Bull” type ADHD is a child who is constantly in motion, constantly talking or tapping their foot, has difficulty calming down and paying attention, is wildly impulsive, and thus often gets in trouble and has massive tantrums or meltdowns. You can also frequently “see” the Raging Bull child in that they have high amounts of neuromuscular tension in their neck and shoulders, and their motor patterns are often stiff, rigid, and jumpy.
PREDOMINANTLY INATTENTIVE PRESENTATION AKA “DRUNKEN BULL”
In contrast, a “Drunken Bull” case is a child who does not struggle with hyperactivity or impulsivity, but is constantly worn out, exhausted, emotional, lacks focus, can’t remember their assignments or daily tasks, and has poor posture and motor coordination.
COMBINED PRESENTATION AKA “RAGING DRUNKEN BULL”
And finally, the most common type of ADHD (and SPD) case we see in the office is a combined and mixed type, the Raging Drunken Bull.
A child who has been wound up and stressed out for many years eventually runs “out of gas” and grows tired, exhausted, and emotional… leading to the Drunken Bull type symptoms. And conversely, over time, the Drunken Bull child gets so frustrated by their inability to succeed in school, sports, and social life… and, therefore, often becomes mad, angry, anxious, and wound up (raging bull).
DIAGNOSING ADHD IN CHILDREN
Even though medical doctors and the majority of the traditional scientific community still tell parents that mental and emotional disorders such as ADHD are the result of a “chemical imbalance” in neurotransmitters and genetic bad luck, no actual physiological tests or measurements are made during the diagnostic process.
Instead, medical doctors diagnose ADHD merely by observing symptoms and gathering reports from individuals who care for and are around the child, such as teachers, parents/guardians, caretakers, etc., and then match those up with what’s listed in the DSM-V.
This is where parents end up experiencing the most frustration. Outside of the outdated models of genetic predeterminism and the chemical imbalance theories, traditional doctors struggle to explain to parents why their children experience ADHD-like symptoms and problems in school, social settings, and with their behavior or emotions, but then can have full focus and concentration when playing video games or other types of activities.
Parents today want answers that go beyond simply putting a bunch of symptoms together and labeling (diagnosing) their child with ADHD. They want to know what’s really causing it and what options they have for drug-free care and management of their child’s ADHD to help them thrive and function at their best.
CAUSES OF ADHD
To really go through all of the contributing and causative factors of ADHD, we’d need an entire book. In nearly every case history we take of kids struggling with ADHD, we see a multitude of “Perfect Storm” set of “ingredients” and triggers that they were exposed to early in life, and then stacked up and led to the problems associated with ADHD later on in childhood and life.
The most common “perfect storm” factors we see associated with ADHD are:
- Fertility challenges and interventions such as medications, IUI, and IVF
- High amounts of stress, anxiety, emotions, or medications during pregnancy
- Birth interventions and trauma such as forceps, vacuum assistance, induction, and C-section during labor and delivery
- Infantile colic, difficulty latching and breastfeeding, reflux, and constipation
- Frequent ear and other respiratory infections, along with frequent use of antibiotics
- Delayed motor milestones and challenges with motor tone and coordination
- Frequent challenges with sensory processing and integration, leading to challenges with transitions, sleeping, tantrums, and frequent meltdowns or behavior issues in the toddler and preschool stages of development
Putting it all together, kids struggling with ADHD most commonly have a significantly imbalanced and dysfunctional nervous system. This condition is known as dysautonomia, and the most common presentation of this is an overactive and excessive response within the sympathetic (fight or flight) “gas pedal” nervous system… and, thus, an underactive and understimulated parasympathetic “brake pedal” side of the brain and nervous system.
I often describe this to parents as if their child has a “Ferrari” gas pedal and engine but 1978 Ford Focus brakes. They get going super fast, really easily and really often, but struggle to then slow down, focus, and maintain control when the road conditions change (transitions, homework, going to sleep, etc.).
The #1 trigger of this imbalanced nervous system is something called subluxation, which simply means the nervous system is stuck in a repeated pattern of stress and tension. This altered state of neurological function can negatively affect everything from digestion and immune function to focus and behavior, like commonly seen in ADHD.
This is honestly a super simple way to understand the science behind ADHD, and it also better explains the “chemical imbalance” theory mentioned above. The chemicals that medical doctors speak of (but still don’t actually test for) are neurotransmitters. This means they literally transmit messages for the nervous system.
So if the nervous system is overstressed, dysfunctional, and imbalanced, the chemicals that transmit messages throughout the body for it will also become imbalanced.
Since kids with ADHD tend to have an overactive and excessively stimulated sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the neurotransmitters that are associated with this SNS response would be norepinephrine (noradrenaline), epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine.
In summary, as PX Docs, we put the full scientific picture together in order to get down the true root cause and not just stop at the assortment of symptoms or chemical imbalance theory.
ADHD is a complex neurological disorder that never has just one causative factor or trigger to it, which is why it’s so important to have a doctor on your side that truly understands the full picture and the role that central nervous system dysfunction plays as the foundation of all the challenges and problems that kids struggling with ADHD face on a daily basis.
THE VAGUS NERVE, ADHD, AND BIRTH TRAUMA
One thing we write about and talk about a lot within our PX Docs network is the vagus nerve, which is by far and away the most expansive and important nerve within the autonomic nervous system.
One study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children with ADHD had lower vagal tone, which is an indicator of the strength of the vagus nerve’s activity. The lower vagal tone has been associated with a range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
Another study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that vagal tone was associated with ADHD symptoms, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity, in children with ADHD.
The final link that needs to be explored here is the role that birth trauma plays in damaging the vagus nerve and thus leading to subluxation, dysautonomia, and lowered HRV (an important measurement of adaptability and overall neurological function) in kids.
One study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children who experienced birth trauma had lower HRV and reduced vagal tone, which is an indicator of the strength of the vagus nerve’s activity. The study suggested that birth trauma may have long-lasting effects on the development of the autonomic nervous system, including the vagus nerve, which could affect emotional and behavioral functioning in children.
Another study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that children who experienced traumatic events, including birth trauma, had lower HRV and reduced vagal tone compared to children who did not experience trauma. The study suggested that trauma may disrupt the development of the autonomic nervous system, leading to difficulties in emotional regulation and behavioral functioning.
Putting this all together as a parent is nearly impossible, because by the time the symptoms and daily problems associated with ADHD show up for your child, it’s undoubtedly been many, many years since their birth and those first weeks to months of life.
So if this is the first time that it’s all making sense and the “dots” are being connected, please know there are drug-free, neurologically-focused options available for your child that we’re going to discuss next!
TREATMENT AND CARE FOR CHILDREN WITH ADHD
When I first got into practice 15 years ago, about 80% of the patients coming into our practice were already medicated with a class of drugs known as stimulants.
But as a new generation of parents started their families in the same time frame that we all began to benefit from access to far more information via the internet, the tide began to shift (and continues to do so in a big way) towards parents wanting to try every single natural and drug-free option possible to help manage their child’s ADHD challenges.
While it’s absolutely true that our current stressful and toxic “Perfect Storm” environment our kids are growing up in is contributing to the massive rise of things like ADHD and anxiety, the good news is that one of the things that cause us stress (the internet and social media) also helps us parents find access to drug-free options like ADHD counseling and coaching, diet changes and supplementation, exercise and meditation, and neurologically-focused chiropractic care.
The best part about natural and neurological options like chiropractic is that they understand there is no cure for ADHD and don’t seek to treat the condition or simply manage the symptoms. Instead, they shift their perspective on both reducing the stress and tension stuck on the child’s nervous system and maximizing their potential by activating and stimulating the parasympathetic side of the nervous system.
Circling back to our analogy from above, this allows the child to keep their incredible “Ferrari” brain and now have a “handing + braking” system that matches it, allowing them to handle transitions and changes more calmly and efficiently than ever before.
When it comes to stimulant medications, parents today are understandably majorly concerned about the litany of side effects, both short and long-term that come with these drugs. They are seeking to find and put into play every natural and drug-free option first, saving medications as an absolute last resort.
That’s why so many parents are turning to neurologically-focused chiropractic care earlier and more often than ever before, and in the next section, we’ll provide a quick and easy explanation of how it works!
FINDING MY “SECRET WEAPON” FOR ADHD – CHIROPRACTIC CARE
Everything changed for me the day I got my first chiropractic adjustment as a junior in college after 20 years of dealing with ADHD and horrendous sleep.
Even with all the words this in-depth article affords me, it’s hard to truly describe how good that adjustment felt. But not the physical sort of feeling that most people associate with adjustments.
It was as if, for the very first time, my brain actually cleared out all the noise and calmed down. It was absolutely amazing. I honestly remember my nervous system making such an instant change, it was super emotional.
I was a 20-year-old college dude at the time, so the last thing I wanted to do was bust out in tears, but I did anyway! Full on happy tears that I had no way of holding back and no way of explaining back then. Now I know it was my vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system kicking on for perhaps the first time that fully, helping release 20 years of pent-up sympathetic “gas pedal” stress that had been running the show that whole time.
That night I went home, fell asleep at 8 PM, and slept until 10 AM the next day. It was absolutely glorious! It’s like I woke up with a new brain that was working the way it was supposed to the whole time.
Then for the next couple of months, I continued to get adjusted 3x per week by this incredible chiropractor, and my neurological healing and restoration hit all sorts of new levels! I slept soundly every single night, meaning I could finally get up on time to make it to class. And even better, when in class, I could pay attention, make sense of everything, and start turning in assignments early instead of late!
My grades soared to straight A’s, from the B’s and C’s they had sunk to as my classes got harder, and my entire life got back on track. I started making better diet and lifestyle choices and never looked back!
I immediately enrolled in chiropractic school myself and couldn’t wait to help people with this incredible “secret weapon” called chiropractic that I had sadly lived my first 20 years without. This one thing turned my ADHD upside down, going from struggle to superpower in a matter of a few months.
Now today, my area of expertise and focus (pun intended) is neurological conditions such as ADHD, SPD, ASD, Anxiety, Epilepsy, and so forth… and helping kids and families find drug-free results and options through neurologically-focused chiropractic!
HOW DOES PEDIATRIC CHIROPRACTIC CARE FOR ADHD WORK?
Our work as Pediatric Chiropractors focuses on addressing the subluxation and dysautonomia challenges directly, getting the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) “unstuck” and, in turn, activating and stimulating the parasympathetic “brake pedal” side of the nervous system with each and every adjustment.
While each individual adjustment is able to stimulate and activate the nervous system in a certain way, it really takes time and repetition to make long-lasting changes within the brain and autonomic nervous system.
Most parents and caregivers begin to report positive changes in the first few weeks for younger children and over a matter of a few months for older children. And many others experience almost instantaneous change, just as I did personally.
The term for this change via time and repetition is neuroplasticity, and it’s a natural and normal part of brain development in kids and also extremely important in the recovery from traumatic birth and brain injuries.
We start first by taking an in-depth, personalized case history on each child, and then the most exciting aspect of our work is that we can directly measure a child’s subluxation patterns and dysautonomia via an incredible piece of technology called the INSiGHT Scans!
This is the most essential step in helping a child with ADHD find drug-free care options, as it allows us to down to the foundational root cause elements discussed throughout this entire article.
One of the first changes parents of children with ADHD always report as their child begins getting adjusted is vast improvements in sleep. Once those first couple of adjustments begin to release the pent-up stress and tension on the sympathetic nervous system, the first thing the brain and body want to do and know to do is get more sleep. It’s almost a “catching up” and healing phase, an important first step in neurological restoration.
Other changes parents report are stronger digestive function, gut health, and a stronger immune system. This is huge because so many parents have done a lot of work on their child’s diet and added hundreds of dollars in supplements hoping to improve their “gut-brain” connection and ADHD, and once their child starts getting neurologically-focused adjustments, all of that good stuff can finally kick in and work far better.
And finally, as care progresses, parents and teachers begin to report that the child can better focus, pay attention, get homework done and assignments turned in, stay calmer and less impulsive, regulate their emotions and behavior, and so forth.
So often, the healing happens in phases, with sleep and releasing the tension built up in the brain and body being the first essential step our Neuro-Tonal chiropractic adjustments seek to put in play first.
While everyone else is focused on simply labeling and treating the symptoms of ADHD, our PX Docs Network gets right to the root cause and develops a personalized, customized care plan for each and every patient that factors in the elements of neuroplasticity discussed above.
We can’t wait to hear your child’s story (or perhaps even your own) of turning ADHD from a deficit and disorder into a massive superpower! Please stay in touch with us at PX Docs, and remember we are always here for continued Hope, Answers, and Help!
- Beauchaine, T. P., Gatzke-Kopp, L., & Mead, H. K. (2007). Polyvagal theory and developmental psychopathology: emotion dysregulation and conduct problems from preschool to adolescence. Biological Psychology, 74(2), 174-184.
- Porges, S. W., Doussard-Roosevelt, J. A., Portales, A. L., & Greenspan, S. I. (1996). Infant regulation of the vagal “brake” predicts child behavior problems: A psychobiological model of social behavior. Developmental Psychobiology, 29(8), 697-712.