Born to Explore!   The Other Side of ADD

What is ADD?
Discussion Board

About BTE

stars-5-0.gif (240 bytes)

Books I recommend:


The Edison Trait: Saving the Spirit of Your Nonconforming Child (Dynamos, Discoverers and Dreamers)


BEYOND.GIF (8227 bytes)

Beyond ADD: Hunting for Reasons in the Past & the Present by Thom Hartmann


The Minds of Boys:
Saving our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life

The ADD Nutrition Solution

More   books...



Alternative Treatments for ADD

I have been hesitant to do this page, but I've heard from so many people with both positive and negative experiences, and people asking about specific treatments, that I've decided to go ahead.  This page describes MY OPINIONS about various forms of alternative treatments for attention deficit disorder.    My opinions are subject to change if and when I find out more information.   If you have any positive or negative experiences about anything listed here, or think I should add something else, please send me an email.

Stuff I like:

bookNutritional supplements   (Vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and antioxidents) and a healthy diet: Poor nutrition has been linked to ADD, learning disorders, memory problems, reduced IQ, behavior problems and depression.  The vast majority of the U.S. population is deficient in at least one of the vitamins, minerals or essential fatty acids that impact behavior and mood.  Modern foods do NOT contain all the nutrients you need due to modern farming techniques, processing, and extended shelf lives. Therefore, it makes sense to supplement your diet with the nutrients that you are missing.  Especially important with neurological problems are essential fatty acids (Effalex, flax oil, fish oil, and primrose oil are variations) and I've heard from several people who said they were significantly helped by taking fatty acid supplements.  (March 4: I've just ordered the book "Your Miracle Brain" which discusses new studies pertaining to how nutrition and herbal supplements affect the brain and was just released in March 2000. Based on the review and an article I read in the paper this may be a very good book for people with ADD. I plan to add an overview page on nutrition soon, which will probably include info from this book.) For more information see my pages: and, and for children

Check for allergies/sensitivities: Allergies can reportedly cause serious hyperactivity, poor handwriting, hostile behavior, general poor health, and inability to concentrate.  There are two general groupings of food allergies.  First there are general food allergies (milk, eggs, etc.). Then there are food additives (especially colors) and salicylates, substances the Feingold diet eliminates. The most likely food allergy is the food that is always craved. This subject is usually overlooked by adults who are ADD.  For more information see my page

MBTI Temperament Theory: I strongly endorse the use of MBTI temperament theory with people who are labeled ADD (and the people around them!)  The modern medical profession no longer seems to believe in temperament diversity.  MBTI theorists do, and they can tell you what is "normal" for certain temperament types. (Impulsivity, daydreaming, high activity levels, bossiness, and talkativeness are all normal for certain temperament types.   Getting fired from 4 jobs in one year, failing to pay your taxes, having temper tantrums, or having a complete inability to ever complete a simple task is NOT.)  For more info read

Exercise:  Lots of studies show exercise helps mental health and increases the ability to concentrate and remember.   It's hard to go wrong here.

Alternative Forms of Discipline:  For highly active, oppositional kids.  I have personally seen incredibly dramatic results from things like "Abuse It - Lose It" and "Choice."  See borntoexplore.htm/discipline.htm.

Alternative Education: For kids who are bright, bored or who have a different learning style.  I've spoken with lots of people who tell me their child's ADD seemed to vanish when they began homeschooling. And bright kids who are falling behind in school often pass their peers when taken out of the traditional school setting. For more information read

Meditation: An increasing number of studies are showing that meditation has real, tangible effects on the body, such as increased concentration and reduced stress. For more info, see

Bright Lights: For people who become tired and depressed in the winter and who don't get exposure to strong sunlight each morning.   Light units are now sold that are effective in combating this type of depression.   I include it in my list because people diagnosed with ADD are more likely to be depressed, and depression can cause serious problems with concentration, memory and the ability to deal with ADD traits.  It may also be useful for "night-owls" because it may reset your biological clock when used first thing in the morning so that you are ready to go to sleep at bedtime (of course, if you can just go outside for a while in the morning that would be even better).

Attitude adjustment: For ADDers who feel bad about themselves.  This is especially common for people who have recently been diagnosed and have been bombarded by all kinds of really negative information from doctors, family, CHADD, books, most of the websites, and other sources.  Certain temperment types also have a high tendency to fault themselves (often perfectionists). A depressive attitude can rob you of your ability to deal with your quirks and enjoy life. Don't let other people make you feel bad (I'm assuming you're not a child molester or anything like that). Read Positive Quotes and Different Perceptions and take a look at some of the positive books I've listed.  You're also likely to get a positive boost by figuring our your temperament type (see above).

Coaches:  I admittedly don't know very much about coaches, but they are basically someone who helps you learn coping strategies in a practical way. They can also act as a cheering section and a friendly reminder.  If you've got money to burn and like that sort of attention, it may be of help.

Professional Organizer: This is someone you hired to set up an organizational system at your business or even at your home.   Particularly useful for those unorganized entreprenuer types who forgot to go into business with an organized partner.

For parents, I also have a more extended checklist of alternatives. See "Children: Diagnoses, Medications and Alternatives."

Stuff I'm undecided about

BioFeedback:  I've heard some positives about biofeedback, but it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of your time.   People use biofeedback to teach themselves how to focus on something they normally wouldn't.  People going through it that I've talked to usually say they are undecided or they are moderately pleased with the results. I've heard that studies show promising short term results but questionable long term results.  If you've got extra money or your insurance covers it, then it might be worth trying it out.  If not, don't mortgage the house in hopes that this treatment will "cure" you.

Herbs for Adults: Herbs have been used for thousands of years and certainly have medicinal effects.  Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies can't make any money off of them so they have gone mostly untested for safety.  There are growing reports of drug interactions and in one preliminary study Saw Palmetto, Ginkgo Biloba, St. John's Wort and Echinacea were implicated in male infertility. In addition, herbs are not regulated in the U.S. so you never know quite what you're getting.  Are you getting the best part of the herb?  What about filler ingredients? How much are you getting? Therefore, anyone using herbs should do so with the knowlege that they are taking a risk. In my opinion, herbs should NOT be taken by pregnant women and children.    Some people don't seem to realize that most herbs are actually drugs. Also, there is absolutely no correlations between whether something is natural and whether something is safe. (If you doubt this, I dare you to go outside and eat the first wild plant that you see.   You'll probably get sick.)

Herbs used for ADD are:

1. St. John's Wort: An antidepressent that appears to increase dopamine activity in the brain with almost no side effects.   Dopamine is the "feel-good" neurotransmitter responsible for concentration. All the major ADD medications are said to work on dopamine.  St. John's Wort is not a stimulant however, and you are not likely to feel like you're "on something".  To get a significant effect you may have to take two to three times the normally recommended dosage and it takes up to six weeks for it to really start working.  You must also be sure to purchase high-quality product because there is a lot of St. John's Wort on the market that doesn't contain what is claimed on the package.  Kira is the brand that was used in studies showing effectiveness in treating depression. St. John's Wort is probably the most studied of all the herbs and it is actually prescribed quite a bit in Germany for mild depression.  It has not been tested for use in treating ADD.

2. Gingko Biloba: For difficulties with concentration and memory due to blood circulation problems, especially associated with aging.  I haven't heard from anyone that thought it really helped them, but it's a popular herb and a lot of people try it out for ADD.  It's a blood thinning or anti-clotting agent, so there are potential sides effects such as bleeding under the skin or into the eye, and there are possible interactions with other medicines that also thing blood such as aspirin or heart medications.

3. Pine bark extract (or Pycnogenol) and grape seed extract contain proanthocyanidin,a bioflavonoid which has reportedly demonstrated anti-oxidant properties and may be closer to a nutritional supplement than a medication.  Very popular for treating ADD, with some scientific backing.  Click here for more info.

4. Primrose oil, flax oil, fish oil and Effalex are nutritional supplements rather than medicinal herbal supplements because they contain essential fatty acids, something the body MUST have (see my section above on nutritional supplements).

5. Coenzyme Q10 in high doses reportedly stimulates dopamine activity in nerve cells.  Dopamine is the neurotransmittor implicated in ADD.  The National Institute of Health has launched new studies of coQ10 as a treatment for Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.  

For specific information on herbs and other medications go to the website Rx List - The Internet Drug Index.   They have bulletin boards for St. John's Wort, Gingko Biloba and Ritalin. 

Vision Therapy:  The idea here is that some people have trouble visually processing things close up because human evolution did not including hours and hours of reading, Game Boys, TV and computer games.  I've heard from one person who said vision therapy helped their grades significantly.  On the other hand, I know someone who put their son through it and wasn't helped at all.    According to the OEP Website these are the signs of vision problems:

  • Holding a book very close (only 7 or 8 inches away).
  • Child holds head at an extreme angle to the book when reading.
  • Child covers one eye when reading.
  • Child squints when doing near vision work.
  • Constant poor posture when working close.
  • The child moves his or her head back and forth while reading instead of moving only eyes.
  • Poor attention span, drowsiness after prolonged work less than arm's length away.
  • Homework requiring reading takes longer than it should.
  • Child occasionally or persistently reports seeing blurring or double while reading or writing.
  • Child reports blurring or doubling only when work is hard.
  • Loses place when moving gaze from desk work to chalkboard, or when copying from text to notebook.
  • Child must use a marker to keep their place when reading.
  • Writing up down hill, irregular letter or word spacing.
  • Child reverses letters (b for D) or words (saw for was).
  • Repeatedly omits "small" words.
  • Rereads or skips words or lines unknowingly.
  • Fails to recognize the same word in the next sentence.
  • Misaligns digits in columns of numbers.
  • Headaches after reading or near work.
  • Burning or itching eyes after doing near vision work.
  • Child blinks excessively when doing near work, but not otherwise.
  • Rubs eyes during or after short periods of reading.
  • Comprehension declines as reading continues.
  • Child fails to visualize (can't describe what they have been reading about).

Stuff I don't like so far (until someone can persuade me otherwise with personal experience, scientific studies or a logical basis as to why these options are worthwhile)

"Behavior Modification":   This isn't an alternative, really, it's what the ADD professionals usually tell parents to do.  The idea is to change the child's behavior by constantly being right there in the child's face, either praising or correcting the child.  Elaborate systems of charts and stickers are used.  This is extremely controlling and very annoying to the child, and a lot of work for the parent.  You may as well just suck the life out of the child.  It works to the extent the child's behavior changes for awhile.  But the child doesn't learn SELF CONTROL.  He or she only learns to act the way you want when you are right there on top of them.  Studies have shown that the behavior of kids handled this way regresses very rapidly once the tight restrictions have been lifted.  Eventually the child will leave home, and what will keep them acting appropriately then?  Bribing kids with rewards teaches them not to behave unless they get a reward.  As a result they will always expect a reward.  Many people have told me "We tried behavior mod and it didn't work, so medication must be used."  No, it simply shows that behavior modification doesn't work that well ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE A GIFTED CHILD. Gifted children require more independence than other children and may go completely bonkers if you try this on them. 

Instead, use the discipline techniques I outline on my discipline page.  These techniques allow the child to CHOOSE to learn SELF DISCIPLINE.  Life is much easier.

Example: Child has trouble getting ready for school.   Behavior mod technique: Use stickers/rewards if the child accomplish one specific task, like brushing teeth, and a brief timeout or a mark on a chart if the child fails.   Practice this for several days, then try adding another task, like putting on shoes.  Gradually build up the number of tasks over time, carefully listed on a chart.  Each day the child marks off the tasks as they are completed.  Good behavior is rewarded with stars, and a certain number of stars "buys" a reward. Bad behavior is rewarded with a mark, and multiple marks typically lose stars.   Assumption is basically that the child simply can't do anything for himself unless you hound over him every minute and change his or her habits.

My technique (for Ryan, age 7, EXTREMELY distractable and the slowest person on the planet to get ready for anything and an extreme rule-tester): If Ryan is not ready by 8:00 am he goes to bed an hour early on the grounds that he's probably tired, AND/OR he will not be allowed to watch TV in the morning before school because he obviously needs more time to get ready.  This is called 'logical consequences' or 'abuse it - lose it' and it works quite well. He is expected to do everything pretty much by himself.  No list or charts. I may or may not give him a warning if he's moving slowly (a certain amount of unpredictability is actually good).   He understands the rules and realizes that HE CHOOSES whether to get ready for school on time or not.  The omnipresent threat of consequences is what gives his brain the focus he needs to get ready. Note that on mornings my husband is in charge Ryan has all kinds of trouble getting ready, being distracted, forgetting things, ignoring his father, taking too long, basically all the things a child labeled ADHD would do.   When I'm in charge he magically does everything quickly without being asked.   The difference?  Ryan knows I will very quickly enact the consequences while his father will not. 

For behavior problems in school there is a very simple and effective technique called "Abuse It - Lose It" that is just about guaranteed to work as long as you really follow it.  See my discipline page for more info. 

Homeopaths or Naturopaths:   These are people who will give you herbal remedies for a fee.  I recently got a letter from a mother who was giving her son "arsenic album, tarantula and a calming herb" for her oppositional son.  She said the herbs worked well and raved about the homeopath.  I had to tell her that she was feeding her child arsenic, spider venum, and some other unknown herb. Arsenic is one of the most toxic heavy metals there is and it causes cancer. It's best known as a poison and pesticide. And this mother was feeding it to her child. I found this unbelievable and had trouble sleeping that night. Homeopaths claim arsenic is diluted to a level that is not toxic, but they don't seem to know that arsenic is a very powerful carcinogen and there's no way to know whether medicinal use of arsenic causes permanent organ damage.  As an environmental scientist with a background in toxicology and experience working with heavy metals, including arsenic, let me tell you that I could not possibly trust any group of people that are playing around with such a dangerous substance.  According to the EPA, the tiny trace amount of arsenic that occurs naturally in western drinking water results in a 1 in 1000 risk of skin cancer, far higher than the normally acceptable risk of 1 in 1,000,000.  So there does not appear to be a "safe" amount of arsenic you can give someone.  If you really want to use herbs, you don't need a Homeopath.   Just try out some good quality St. John's Wort or pine bark extract all on your own. And stay away from the arsenic! 

Update: I've gotten some flack from people about my opinion here, and they always say "If you knew more about it you'd change your mind - these substances are used amounts that are not toxic."  Well I DO know a lot about it. I'm an environmental scientist with a background in toxicology with years spent working in the heavy metal industry.  You cannot take a safe amount of arsenic - the new drinking water limit will soon be 0.005 ppm, and even this is considered too much arsenic. The extreme toxicity of arsenic is well known.  Any homeopath that so much as looked at the EPA's website would know this. I'm really annoyed that these homeopaths take an extremely toxic/carcinogenic substance, use a pretty name to prevent patients from knowing what it really is, and tell people the amount they are getting is safe even though information to the contrary is very easily available.  And how could someone know that twenty years later their bladder cancer was caused by the arsenic a homeopath gave them?

Medicinal Herbs for children:  Herbs or "dietary supplements" made from herbs are drugs.  Untested and not regulated for purity or strength. I'm amazed at how many people think anything called an "herb" must be safe and pretty much the same thing as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  It's not.  Here are some herbal psychotropic drugs: heroin, marijuana, cocaine, opium, and pennyroyal.  How safe are they? Don't make a science experiment out of your child!  If you need a drug for your child then PLEASE use one that has been tested and studied.  (Note that nutritional supplements such as fish oil, primrose oil, flax oil and Effelex are NOT medicinal herbs and are OK.)  One example is Gingko Biloba.  This herb thins the blood and interacts with many medication.  Gingko can cause someone to bleed more than they otherwise would, and in a critical accident or operation this could lead to death.  Gingko is touted mostly for older folks, anyway, and doesn't seem to do much for kids, but parents are trying it as if it was Vitamin C.

Neurodevelopmentalists:  One of the nuttier letters I've received was from someone who called himself a "neurodevelopmentalist."  I don't know what qualifies a person to be one of these, but let me say that this person passed off a lot of half-baked theories as fact, and said quite a few things I know not to be true.  Like the old idea that 97 percent of your brain not being used (not true).  He told me that kids who never crawled as babies have trouble learning to read because their brain doesn't form the proper lateralization.  When I told him that MY son never crawled and is the best reader in his class he responded by saying my son must have gotten over his lateralizaton problems.  Sounds like foofoo to me.  I  asked him for his scientific basis and he didn't give me any, except to say that brain lateralization has been studied for decades (true, but that doesn't mean it supports his theories).  I've never heard from anyone helped by it.  He also argued vehemently that people who are slow at sequential processing are "inefficient thinkers."  Actually, they're inefficient sequencers.   "Thinking" involves a lot more than sequencing.  The human brain is very different from a computer. The book "In the Mind's Eye" does a good job of describing visual thinkers (poor sequencers, great pattern identifiers).  Thinking in pictures is more efficient for some things, like science, art and engineering.  It's far better for recognizing patterns, understanding concepts and coming up with new ideas.  

Sensory Integration: According to this theory, some people don't know where they are in space, and they have trouble with the five senses: hearing, taste, smell, touch, sight, movement/balance and body awareness. Because of this, they are uncoordinated and bump into things. In theory this is due to the senses not becoming integrated like they are supposed to during childhood.  The "sensory integration checklist" of identifying traits I looked at includes a lot of things associated with ADD, dyslexia, overexcitabilities due to giftedness, and visual thinkers.  I don't know of anyone with ADD who was helped by this idea.   A big hospital in my area is planning on making some money with it, though, because they just sent out a flyer in the mail entitled "When it's not ADHD."  The checklist of problems caused by sensory integration was very similar to ADD, and a website address was provided.  At the website was a link to one of the founders of the concept, who stated that sensory integration was useful in specific circumstances but was being overapplied by the industry.








All BTE pages were written by Teresa Gallagher unless otherwise noted and may be photocopied (but not reprinted) without permission.  BTE Web Design now creates websites for small businesses. Perhap "BTE" really means "Born to Entrepreneur..."