Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homemade Solutions for Attentional Difficulties

You can go a long way towards improving a child's ability to cope by eliminating toxins from his environment, making sure he gets the nutritional support he needs, and gets plenty of sleep and exercise.

1.  Take your child to the playground for a quick workout before school starts and make sure that he gets daily vigorous exercise.  If your child is not getting outside to play every single day, this could account for at least part of the problem if he is having a hard time sitting still.  

Children need to move, to work on coordinating their minds and bodies, to use their hands, and to solve problems.  Sitting passively in front of a television or video game is not an appropriate way for the child to spend more than an hour or two, at the very most. If your child is inside due to weather problems, have other options available besides the TV or computer.  Play board games or cards, cook together, make a craft project, or build a fort out of sofa cushions.  And put away your cell phone or Ipad  -- no texting or surfing the web while you're playing with him.  Give him all of your attention when you're together.

2.  Make sure your child has a regular bedtime, and that he is getting ten or eleven hours of sleep at night.  A bath with Epsom salts, which draws out toxins, can help with the transition for a child who has trouble falling asleep.  So can eliminating computer time right before bed.  Call a halt to all computer use at least two hours before bedtime.

See that the child's room is well ventilated, and that he is not wearing synthetic pajamas or sleeping on synthetic bedding.  Keep the visual stimulation in the place where he sleeps to a minimum.  No TV or video games in the bedroom.  The less electronic equipment in there, the better.  Keep radios and alarm clocks on the other side of the room, away from the the child's head.  Turn the lights out.

3. There is such a profound link between nutrition {or lack of it} and behavior.  Eliminate or minimize junk food.  Reduce your dependence on prepared foods, take out, and frozen food. Cook from scratch.   If you don't know how to cook, get someone to show you how to do a few basic things.  {An opportunity for a little mother/daughter-in-law bonding, perhaps?}  You may find that you enjoy it  -- cooking is creative and life giving!

Try reducing, or eliminating altogether, gluten and white foods like white flour and dairy, which can cause allergic reactions, and salt and sugar, which rob the body of essential nutrients and interfere with brain function.  Incorporate grains into your diet that don't contain gluten and have a high protein content, like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat.  Make sure your child's diet has an abundance of good fats {from fish, avocado, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds} and reduce or eliminate transfats, which also interfere with brain function.  Try to provision organic food when possible.  Give the child small, frequent snacks that are rich in lean protein and complex carbohydrates.

4.  Reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in the child's environment.  Use only natural substances to clean your home.  You can clean just about anything with vinegar and baking soda.

5. Have your child evaluated by a neurobehavioral optometrist to check for eye coordination problems.  If you can't see what you're doing, especially for close work, it's very hard to sustain attention.

6. Reduce or eliminate things that excite the nervous system:  sugar, caffeine, {in many sodas and in chocolate}  MSG, {in many packaged foods}artificial colors and sweeteners.  Avoid foods that contain artificial sweeteners and colorings.  Especially avoid aspartame.  Check labels  -- lots of foods contain it these days, including things that aren't necessarily sugar free.

Better yet, try not to feed your child food that has labels! 

7.  Help the child learn to deal with stress by using breathing exercises {I am a big proponent of bubbles, blow toys, and whistles, which require sustained exhalation, improving respiratory capacity in a playful, functional way} and simple yoga postures.   Many special needs children are not great breathers, so any work you do on the breath is helpful.  Shallow breathing makes it hard for a child to pay attention by starving his brain of oxygen and putting him in a chronic fight or flight mode.

8.  Make sure the child drinks plenty of water.

9.  Consult with a nutritionist who works with special needs children about eliminating foods that aggravate behavioral issues, and ask for recommendations for supplements that supply trace minerals or other essential fatty acids or vitamins that your child's diet does not currently supply.  If your child is a super picky eater, chances are good that he is nutritionally compromised, which will definitely impair his ability to function.  Some children may have leaky gut syndrome that interferes with learning and behavior.  This is a possibility to consider if your child has chronic digestive or bowel related issues.

10.  Work on improving the way the nervous system functions by participating in brain/body coordination activities like Brain Gym, yoga, martial arts, and sensory integration therapy.  If your child is sensory defensive, ask his OT for ways to reduce overly sensitive vision, hearing and skin.  If your child seeks out sensory experiences, like spinning, crashing, or jumping, instead of constantly restraining him, make sure he gets plenty of whatever it is he needs by supplying him with a safe alternative.  Talk to his occupational therapist about setting up a sensory diet at home and at school.  Sound therapy can be very effective in reducing noise sensitivity and helping the brain learn to attend better.

11.  If there is an osteopathic practitioner in your community who specializes in manual therapy techniques, particularly cranial osteopathy, I strongly recommend an evaluation and a course of treatment, especially if your child had a traumatic or a Csection birth.  A traumatic birth can set up physical problems in the body which interfere with, among other things, breathing, balance, vision, immune functioning, and self regulation.  I send many of the children I treat to an osteopathic practitioner here in New York.   Sensory integration and manual therapy together can be an extremely powerful way to bring about rapid improvements.

12.  There is a great possibility that your child has some issues with delays in the integration of primitive reflexes.  Check out  this website for a wonderful explanation of how primitive reflexes that are still present in the system and dominate the child's neurological functioning can interfere with learning and behavior.  Ask your child's OT about exercises to integrate the reflexes.

13.  At school, make sure that the child is not sitting with his back exposed.  A corner, where he can be niched, is best.  At circle time, he should be seated near the teacher with a support for his back, either in a chair  or with his back against a wall.  He should have an inflatable cushion, like a DiscoSit, available. A piece of theraband tied around the legs of his chair will also give him something to help keep him sitting still while providing deep input.  He should have movement breaks, things to chew on, water, and discreet fidget toys available when he is having a hard time keeping his arousal levels up.  If it's difficult for him to eat his lunch in a noisy, chaotic cafeteria, would it be possible to have the school arrange for him {and the other children with similar noise sensitivities} to eat in a quiet classroom?

1 comment:

Amy Waldhauer said...

I especially like your point #1. When my son was in third grade his teacher would punish the kids for misbehaving and fidgeting by not letting them have recess. The class's behavior (predictably) became worse, so that they were not allowed to have recess the next day either. This became a pattern, and in the end they went 8 weeks without recess.

Third grade was his worst year in terms of behavior problems -- it was the only year when he actually got in trouble on a regular basis.