Attention Deficit Disorder: What Are Possible Causes?

by Kelly Dorfman, M.S., Nutritionist, Co-founder, DDR

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), with or without hyperactivity, is a subjective diagnosis that physicians apply to a standardized cluster of behaviors and symptoms. I view ADD to be on the "less severe" extreme the autistic spectrum, with PDD and autism on the "most severe" end. Doctors sometimes "upgrade" autism or PDD to ADD as sensory and cognitive function improve.

Identifying the causes of ADD assists me in determining effective treatments. Attention deficits result when one or more of the following areas is affected.

1. Biochemical/Nutritional

Nutrition alters brain chemistry. When nutrition is compromised, the body is more likely to absorb toxins, causing further distress. Keeping a record of your child’s nutritional intake over several days can be enlightening. Look for these commonalties:

AD(H)D can be caused by deficiencies, overload or both. Children can consume too few essential nutrients (like magnesium or good fats) or too many chemicals (including sugar, colors and heavy metals). Poor eating often requires supplementation. If your AD(H)D child eats or drinks products containing artificial flavors, sweeteners and coloring, remove all additives. Learn how from Feingold www.feingold.org.

Untreated food reactions can also be the culprit. A biochemical imbalance may cause spaciness, irritability and/or distraction since the immune system talks to the nervous system. If you suspect this problem call York Labs (888-751-3388) for a home IgG food sensitivity test kit and get a $100 discount by mentioning DDR.

2. General Sensory

The nervous system spends most of its time reading and interpreting sensory data. When the sensory system is immature, it misreads information causing many symptoms of distraction. When Jeremy talks too loudly or bumps into people, he may not be interpreting sensory signals accurately.

A sensory "diet" of appropriate touch and movement activities can reset his nervous system to read misinterpreted data more precisely from the inside out. Occupational and physical therapists, chiropractors and some mental health professionals use manipulation and specific exercises for this purpose.

3. Auditory

The ability to follow directions or conversations, make decisions, organize thinking and speak coherently, all depend on good auditory processing skills. Take a three part instruction, for example. Mrs. Green tells her third graders to put their names on top right side of the paper, answer the odd number questions and put the finished work in the red box. Children with auditory processing issues start to write their names but then "forget" which problems they are suppose to do. They are the ones who put the homework on Mrs. Green’s desk, instead of in the red box.

Frequent ear infections at a young age can adversely affect auditory development. Addressing ear infections before they become chronic may prevent later problems with listening. Auditory training therapies also build processing skills.

4. Visual

Most learning is done visually. Reading, spelling, writing, copying and using the computer all depend on healthy visual processing. For kids who cannot scan, interpret and coordinate visual data quickly and accurately, school can be difficult and exhausting. Signs of a stressed out visual system include fidgeting, staring out the window, wiggling, reading comprehension problems, eye blinking or rubbing, headaches, and trouble visualizing.

Behavioral optometrists can design a program to improve visual processing using specific activities designed to allow eyes and body to integrate vision and motor functions. Lenses may be also prescribed therapeutically. To learn more see the "Vision" section on the booklist or website.

5. Emotional

Stress affects attention and concentration. Many children diagnosed with ADD are living with illness or adversity at home, are sleep-deprived or taking illicit drugs. A high school student with ADD I know, sleeps only 4 hours a night at her unstable mother’s and 9 hours per night when at her father’s. Her friends did not view her situation as particularly stressful compared to their own.

Evaluating your own home situation can be difficult and overwhelming, but worthwhile. Is it time to confront emotional dysfunction and to seek professional help? A good therapist could save you a trip to the psychopharmacologist. ADD is the symptom.

Once you discover whether nutritional imbalance, sensory, auditory, visual or emotional problems are underlying causes, you will be able to choose the right therapy.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 9, Number 4 - Summer, 2004]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.


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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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