Hyperactivity is a syndrome covering a fairly large number of component parts rather than being one single entity. Symptoms include excessive movements, a short attention span, an impulsive nature and being easily distracted. Put all these together and you have the typical “hyperactive” child. It is this combination that will lead to a visit to the doctor’s. Many now believe that the disorder of attention or the inability to concentrate is perhaps the most important aspect from the child’s point of view.
There is quite a spate of terminology, and parents may come across words such as “learning disability,” and “MBD,” short for minimal brain dysfunction. The term hyperactivity is the term commonly used in Australia. Educators and overseas commentators use the others.
The figure is said to be between 4 and 10 per cent of primary school children, and boys are affected much more often than girls – the figure is said to be nine boys to one girl.
Causes of hyperactivity are still undecided, but many ideas have been put forward. Some claim it is a genetically determined disorder. Others believe it’s psychogenic. There may have been a poor interpersonal relationship between child and parent in early life, or early separations. Others stick to the fact that the child’s brain has been minimally damaged. This may have taken place before birth. They point to the fact that brain tracings called EEGs are abnormal in about 50 per cent of these children.
Any child with a possible diagnosis of hyperactivity must be under very specialized care and attention. This will have included the diagnostic process, as well as following the treatment.
The score is based on the views of Dr Ben Feingold, who claims that certain foodstuffs, such as additives, artificial colorings and flavorings may cause the condition. By eliminating these items from the diet, the child, it is claimed, may revert to a normal temperament.
Many parents have followed this diet and gained extremely satisfactory results. Also, with experimentation, they have found the foods, or additives, or forms of medication that simply do not agree. Then by elimination, the same benefits are gained. A great deal of work has been published for several years, and the evidence seems to be productive.
Some doctors prescribe a drug called methylphenidate. (“Ritalin” is the name written on the prescription.) In many cases, this seems to normalize the child’s behavior. Many parents have found it totally changes the child’s attitude, makes them calm and controllable. In a family of several children, a hyperactive one can create havoc. Medication often has this beneficial effect. It must be given under strict medical supervision, for the drug is available in this country for limited uses only.
Ideally, medication is teamed in with the other suggestions already given. Once more, your own doctor will give further guidance. I think it’s important to be associated with a doctor who believes in this disorder and is familiar with current methods of treatment. As we said earlier, many doctors still do not believe the condition exists! But I assure you, parents of affected children certainly know it is a very real issue.
It’s now possible to know the ingredients in the food you purchase as a numerical system of “Food Additives” has been worked out by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
This can help parents in selecting the correct food for their children who may have certain allergies, or who appear to react adversely to certain food chemicals or other ingredients. It can also help parents with children who are hyperactive in selecting foods that appear to assist rather than aggravate the symptoms.