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ADHD Natural Treatment: Cognitive Therapy

Do I medicate my child or not? This is a tough decision every parent must make when their child gets diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by a conventional medical doctor, and this decision gets tougher when you consider the controversy surrounding Ritalin and other ADHD drugs.  Although medication does help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, studies show that it does not improve peer relations, grades, or behavior in the long run.

Further research on the ADHD brain shows that a neurotransmitter deficiency is not the only biological cause of the disorder.  A child with ADHD also has cognitive problems, particularly in working memory, the ability to retain information on appropriate behavior.  The cognitive deficit manifests itself through behavioral problems like hyperactivity and poor academic performance.  These studies not only question the value of medicating children with ADHD; they also broaden the definition of the condition and pave the way for more meaningful, drug-free treatments like cognitive therapy.

Cognitive therapy rehabilitates thoughts and thought processes so that the child can regain control over his or her impulses, emotions, and behavior.  Unlike taking medication, which simply keeps symptoms in check for a few hours, cognitive therapy teaches the child to become the master of his or her disorder.    In cognitive therapy, children learn to identify patterns of thought, learn problem-solving skills, and learn how to manage their own behavior through:

  • Learning and practicing a set of instructions that will guide them when responding to a social situation or completing a task.  These help the hyperactive and impulsive child slow down and consider all options and consequences before displaying the problematic behavior.  Additionally, these skill sets also improve school performance and peer relationships, and reduce the need for adult supervision.
  • Calming techniques and self-control strategies that can help the child reduce anger and frustration, and clear his or her mind in difficult situations.  This training results in reduced conflict with parents, teachers, siblings, and friends.
  • Utilizing structured feedback from the child's parents or teacher to correct, reward, and monitor appropriate classroom and social behaviors.
  • Teaching independent study skills to improve school performance and organizational skills.  

Children with ADHD respond well to cognitive therapy, especially if every therapy session is designed around the specific needs and problems of the child. Results from the largest American long-term study on ADHD treatment in children--called the Multimodal Treatment study--showed that after two years, children who received only behavioral therapy had as many benefits as children who received high-dose medications.   In another study, 60% of 20 unmedicated children with ADHD no longer met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder after just five weeks of intensive cognitive therapy!

Unfortunately, these facts are not well known; unlike the medical approach, cognitive therapy does not have a multimillion-dollar industry supporting and promoting it. Cognitive therapy will also require more time, effort, and involvement than taking a pill.  But with diligence and patience from parents and therapists, a child can overcome ADHD and regain control over his or her thoughts, emotions, and actions without the use of drugs.