“Is My Child Hyperactive?”
From “Awake!” correspondent in Australia
“FROM birth she slept only a few hours, and very lightly; had bad nightmares, screaming in her sleep, banging her head on the wall. She couldn’t stand still or be held or cuddled. She would scream and kick for hours during the night. The doctor gave her sleeping mixtures, but they had no effect.” So laments the mother of Deanne, a child diagnosed as hyperactive.*
She continues: “It was obvious she was different from others, but when she started school, children and teachers complained. She was disruptive and very aggressive, always panicked if some little thing went wrong, touched everything as she walked past, ripping another child’s drawing, breaking something, scratching or pinching. Teachers complained that she couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes. When she was in a bad state, it seemed as though something inside was driving her mad, as she would scratch and pull at herself.”
The words in italics are some of the behavioral patterns that are associated with the syndrome of hyperactivity, MBD (Minimal Brain Dysfunction), H-LD (Hyperkinesis-Learning Disability), SLD (Specific Learning Disability), ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Hyperkinesia comes from New Latin and Greek, hyper, meaning “over” or “extra,” and kinesis, meaning “movement” or “motion.” About 5 percent of the school-age population is said to be afflicted, with estimates as high as 35 percent in some areas. Hence, many concerned parents wonder, Is MY child hyperactive?
What Are the Symptoms?
In assessing whether your child has this problem you may be helped by noting some of the typical symptoms of hyperactivity. (See box.) Consider: Is your child continually restless, one who rocks or bangs his head or can’t keep still? Is he usually frustrated, impulsive or exceptionally clumsy, having no sense of danger, or constantly disrupting other children for no apparent reason? Does he have trouble sleeping, showing affection or completing work assignments? Is he unable to concentrate for more than a few minutes? Does he have specific learning problems? Does he have above average intelligence, yet poor results at school?
If one or more of these symptoms apply to your child, then possibly he or she is hyperactive. Remember, though, that each child is different. There are also varying degrees of hyperactivity—some hardly noticeable, while others are severe and clearly discernible.
Hyperactive? Or Lack of Discipline?
A word of caution before labeling your child hyperactive: Parents should examine to see if their child’s naughty or delinquent behavior is due to negligence on their own part in administering discipline in a consistent, firm and yet loving way. Many children will become frustrated, irritable, stubborn and disruptive when they can’t get their own way. One of the world’s greatest authorities on human behavior said: “Children just naturally do silly, careless things, but a good spanking will teach them how to behave.”—Proverbs 22:15, Today’s English Version.
However, with a hyperactive child a spanking may not be a solution and may in fact provoke a worse tantrum, because, as one doctor stated: “Their behaviour is beyond their control.” Thus the reaction to discipline can be another clue as to a child’s condition. The mother of such a child explains: “Other people came to me saying, ‘Your son did this,’ ‘Your son did that.’ The main consensus amongst our friends was that he needed a good hiding. What a laugh! The poor little mite, he had so many of them it’s a wonder he survived.”
It appears that hyperactive children don’t respond to discipline as other children do, whether that discipline be in the form of reasoning, depriving or a spanking. They will do the same thing immediately after discipline. This is easily detected if a parent has several children and administers the same discipline to all. So discipline is not necessarily the answer for a hyperactive child.
A suggestion that may help those with only one child to determine if their child is hyperactive or just needs discipline is this: Leave your child for a day with a friend, perhaps the mother of several children herself, and ask her honest comments afterward. Sometimes children who are trialsome at home with Mum show amazing cooperation and obedience when placed with a firm but loving friend. If this is the case, it would seem that your child may not be hyperactive. It may be that he just needs firm but loving discipline instead.
Can Diet Change Matters?
If after an honest appraisal in the matter of discipline you still feel that your child could be hyperkinetic, some doctors suggest it may be advantageous to change his diet. This diet change, devised by the late Dr. Ben Feingold, is based on the theory that hyperactivity is the result of eating certain substances—some natural, some artificial—that are presumed to affect about 50 percent of hyperactive people. In essence, these substances are toxic to some individuals and disturb certain brain functions that affect behavior.
According to Dr. Feingold’s investigations, the culprits are found in certain fruits and vegetables in their natural state and are also present more seriously in artificially colored and flavored foods. Thus the recommended diet for hyperactive people is designed to eliminate potentially harmful compounds that might be responsible for producing hyperactive behavior. Reports indicate that some parents have had good results with this method. However Dr. Feingold only claims that about 50 percent of his hyperactive patients are helped by a diet change.
The opening account, regarding Deanne, is a case where the diet method was applied. After telling of a doctor’s diagnosis of Deanne’s hyperactive condition, her mother continues: “About four years ago we were told of the Feingold diet. We found it hard to control, but we did see a difference. During the last year she has made a big change. She’s much calmer, can sit and read or work for an hour or so. She can also play well with other children, can concentrate and won’t react badly to some upset. She’s more patient.”
Does Sugar Have an Effect?
In connection with diet, it has been found that children who show signs of hyperactivity, such as lassitude, tension, nervousness, fatigue, irritability, emotional imbalance and uncontrollable behavior, could be suffering, even slightly, from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.* Glucose deficiency is usually attributed to an excess of insulin, which removes glucose from the blood at a faster rate than it can be replaced. The brain function depends on a constant supply of glucose from the blood. Hypoglycemia impairs the efficiency of the brain and hence behavioral disorders result. A craving for starchy, sweet things may indicate low blood sugar.
This hypoglycemic diet eliminates not only artificial colorings and flavorings but most sugars, especially cane sugar. Sugar is dangerous to the hypoglycemic person because it causes a sudden rise in blood sugar and that triggers the release of too much insulin to counteract it. Dr. Allan Cott, in an article on “Treatment of Learning Disabilities,” stated in this respect: “It has been the universal observation of those investigators who assess the child’s nutritional status that they eat a diet which is richest in sugar, candy, sweets, and in foods made with sugar. The removal of these foods results in a dramatic decrease in hyperactivity.” Thus some medical authorities counsel that sugar-based foods and drinks are not advisable for hyperactive children.
Take the case of four-year-old Beky—she was impatient, irritable and frustrated, especially toward the end of the day. A sugar-free diet was recommended to her mother, who reports: “It takes more control on the part of the parents than on the part of the child. But it is worth the effort to have a happy, calm daughter. The whole family benefits! Just going off sugar helped my daughter’s behavior.”
Environmental Pollution—Another Cause?
The British medical journal The Lancet states: “It seems reasonable to infer . . . that raised levels of lead (not necessarily in the toxic range) present over a long period could be responsible for the minimal brain damage that may be present in the hyperactive syndrome.” Later findings testify to this also.
Hence, environmental pollution, especially high lead levels released into the atmosphere primarily through the exhausts of heavy motor-vehicle traffic, could possibly be a cause of the increase of hyperactive children in our cities.
Can Prenatal and Birth Experiences Cause Hyperactivity?
There are children who do not respond to dietary measures. A reason other than the ones already discussed must be sought. Ashley Montagu, author of the book Life Before Birth, refers to the crucial molding stage of the individual when he says: “Life begins, not at birth, but at conception. This means that a developing child is alive not only in the sense that he is composed of living tissues, but also in the sense that from the moment of his conception, things happen to him. . . . The events that take place before his birth, and his reactions to them, will influence him for the rest of his life.” During the first three months after conception when major organs are being formed, the emotions of the mother, such as fear or unusual stress and anxiety, can affect the physical development of the child.
The initial birth experience of an infant has also been considered an important factor in hyperactivity. One research investigator wrote: “The hazards confronting the fetus mount to a climax during the hours of labor. Birth is the most endangering experience to which most individuals are ever exposed.” A complicated and hazardous birth process coupled with hypoxia, a deficient oxygen supply, are held responsible for the more subtle neurotic effects that may show up later on in life when the person is subjected to additional stress.
Well, then, in relation to minimal brain damage associated with prenatal stress or oxygen starvation at birth, are drugs the answer? It is true that stimulant drugs are used to control severe cases of hyperactivity. Regarding the use of drug medication in hyperactivity, a U.S. advisory panel of 15 specialists “agreed that the medications did not ‘cure’ the condition, but the child may become more accessible to educational and counseling efforts.” However, they also concluded that “stimulant medications are beneficial in only about one-half to two-thirds of the cases in which use of the drugs is warranted.” On the other hand, psychologist James Swanson cautions that 40 percent of those who have hyperkinesia shouldn’t get drugs at all. Therefore, parents would need to be cautious in accepting drug treatment that in actual fact is not a cure for hyperactivity. One parent whose son had been on drug therapy for six months before being on a restricted diet said: “We realize now, that drugs were no magic wand in improving Richard’s ability to learn. What it required was a personal sacrifice of our time to help him.”
Behavior therapy, with emphasis on encouragement, commendation and reward when reasonable goals are achieved, may be a slower yet more effective and lasting way to aid hyperkinetic children. A conducive family atmosphere and consistency on the part of parents is a must. Just as important is a deep love for the suffering child, for without it any therapy would be doomed to failure.
In conclusion, then, what is the answer? Is your child hyperactive? He may well be. However, first make sure that the supposed hyperactivity is not in fact a lack of discipline. Try firm, consistent discipline in a loving, united home atmosphere. Then make sure your child isn’t existing on a diet of junk food, eating artificially colored, flavored and highly sugared foods. If these methods fail, further medical tests may be needed to determine the exact cause of your child’s hyperactivity.
For a more detailed consideration of hyperactivity and learning disability, see Awake! May 8, 1983, pages 3-13.
For further information on hypoglycemia, see Awake! July 22, 1978, pages 5-8.
[Blurb on page 24]
Is your child hyperactive or does he need discipline?
[Box on page 26]
SOME SYMPTOMS OF HYPERACTIVITY
1) Constant motion and fidgeting; during infancy, crib rocking and head knocking.
2) Unpredictable behavior; easily frustrated; very demanding.
3) Difficulty in falling asleep; light sleeper; bad nightmares.
4) Limited concentration span for any activity.
5) Aggressive and disruptive to others; wants to touch everything and everybody.
6) Obstinate even in activities that harm himself; even after discipline may do the same thing again.
7) Bites nails; picks and tears skin; scratches himself.
8) Antisocial tendencies—lying, stealing, fighting, disobedient, withdrawn, abusive.
9) Unable to control his behavior pattern.
(This guide based on The Feingold Handbook)
[Picture on page 25]
Stresses during pregnancy and childbirth may induce hyperactivity in the child