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ADD/ADHD: Medications  or Other Strategies?

Studies show that adopted children are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than other students (36% vs 11%). There are many ways to manage this condition in order to live a happy, productive life.

Medications are effective for about 80% of children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. They work by addressing the deficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain, dopamine for shutting out distracting external stimuli, and and norepinephrine for improving the signal you are trying to focus on.  But most of these medications also have side effects – lack of appetite, difficulty falling asleep, depression or “loss of joy.” Proper calibration of dosages can help minimize some of these side effects.

There are many alternative therapies that can be tried in addition to, or in place of medications. Unfortunately, there are no good studies on the efficacy of these therapies and most evidence is anecdotal. Here are some therapies some adoptive families have tried:

Behavior Therapy – structured strategy and reward based approach to reinforce desired behaviors (such as completing homework) and reduce undesired behaviors (such as losing possessions).

Nutrition – increase Omega-3 fatty acids, protein and high fiber foods, and reduce processed sugars and carbohydrates. Zinc supplements are also suggested.  See Nutritional Supplements.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy – works to reduce the negative internal dialogue people with ADHD have with themselves, which can often undermine their confidence and feelings of self worth.

Executive Function Coaches – he/she can help a child learn better executive functioning skills, including time management,  planning strategies, organizing, etc. They are not just subject matter tutors.  

Neurofeedback – biofeedback for the brain.  Biofeedback works by using an immediate feedback loop to control bodily functions, such as reactions to stress. Research has found that people with ADHD exhibit different brain wave patterns than others.  In this type of therapy, a child wears a cap equipped with sensors on their head and plays games, which help train his brain waves to improve focus and attention. Anecdotal evidence indicates the neurofeedback is effective for treating ADHD; clinical trials are not as yet conclusive.

Exercise – physical exercise elevates mood and increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine which increases focus and attention.

Brain training programs – software programs such as Cogmed or activity-based programs such as Interactive Metronome help exercise parts of the brain that are not working optimally. Anecdotal evidence indicates brain training programs are effective for treating ADHD; there are as yet no definitive clinical studies.

Mindfulness and Meditation – training to calm the mind and stay in the moment. These techniques have been shown to improve attention and encourage positive emotions.


  1. “Ways to Manage ADHD That Aren’t Drugs” (webmd.com)
  2. “ADD Medication and Treatment Reviews” (additudemag.com)


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