ADHD? 5 other things it could be

ADHD? 5 other things it could be

Just because your child is ‘different’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ADHD.

Your child has come home from school with a letter from the teacher suggesting that he’s ‘hyperactive’, and should be
prescribed Ritalin. You know he’s impulsive and impatient, and uses the family couch as a jungle gym, but you’re hesitant to drug your child into submissive obedience just because the teacher says you must.

Teachers are finding it hard to cope with big classes where children are energetic, undisciplined and even obnoxious. On the other hand, the family structure has changed and some children are having a hard time learning to fit in. We hurry them through babyhood with brain-boosting paraphernalia, and then pack them into classrooms where their peers are a collection of personalities from a multitude of backgrounds. Children are expected to sit still, pay attention, and cooperate with an education system that caters for ‘one-size-fits-all’.


Children who are ‘different’ are quickly categorised. Here are a few examples:

HYPERACTIVE – super-busy child with disruptive behaviour.
ADHD (ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER) – a child who has difficulty paying attention, with impulsive behaviour.
DYSPRAXIA – a neurological disorder that affects motor skills development.
DYSLEXIA – difficulty learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols.
AUTISTIC – children who have difficulty communicating, with alternating intellectual abilities, ie not able to undertake
simple tasks yet often able to resolve/understand academic challenges beyond their expected age of intelligence. They also have difficulty with speech, fine and gross motor skills.
ASPERGER’S SYNDROME – a developmental disorder characterised by difficulty communicating socially,
with repetitive patterns of behaviour and interest.
TOURETTE’S SYNDROME – a neuropsychiatric disorder characterised by repetitive and persistent tics.

5 Non-hyperactive reasons why children are restless and can’t concentrate.

Children who come to school hungry, cold, upset or angry will find it difficult to cooperate and settle down to learn. The reason behind their lack of concentration could be related to:

1. Overstimulation 

‘We live in an extremely overstimulated society,’ writes Dr Sydney Walker in his book The Hyperactivity Hoax. Movies, even animated children’s comedies, are speedier, scarier and more violent, and they hype children up. Kids become sleep deprived when they’re allowed to go to bed when they want to, leaving them irritable and unable to concentrate at school.

2. Environmental toxins 

Alice Walton, a New Yorker who specialises in biopsychology and behavioural neuroscience, calls the growing list of brain-alternating pollutants ‘a silent global pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity that’s linked to developmental disorders in children. They can struggle with reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance.’

Children don’t have to live in an industrial area to be affected by environmental chemicals. They’re everywhere. Petrol fumes, insecticides, leaking gas heaters, tobacco smoke, asbestos classrooms, mosquito repellents– even air fresheners, household cleaning agents and chemicals used in beauty salons are toxic.

3. Medical problems 

Walker writes that ‘huge numbers of sick children are taking Ritalin to cover up the symptoms of undiagnosed and
untreated medical problems’.

  • Fluctuating blood sugar levels caused by the early start of diabetes makes children cranky and restless.
  • Oxygen deprivation caused by a heart murmur, sleep apnoea or anaemia makes children tired, listless and unable to concentrate.
  • Worms, allergies, digestive problems, viral or yeast infections are not always diagnosed and can become chronic (ongoing) so that the body simply adapts and learns to live with these, but with some difficulty.
  • Undiagnosed, mild brain anomalies such as petit-mal seizures (a type of epilepsy) temporal lobe seizures,
    pregnancy related issues such as mild foetal alcohol syndrome, smoking during pregnancy and hypoxia
    (not enough oxygen to the brain) caused by traumatic births can affect behaviour patterns.

When medical conditions are undiagnosed, unwell children simply become unwell adults with underlying symptoms that are masked by prescription meds.


4. Eating habits 

Parents soon give up on reading labels for additives, colourants and preservatives, and how do you stop your
child from eating red suckers, jelly beans and hot dogs? Children on a special diet feel different, isolated and even ostracised when they can’t share lunch with their friends, or have to bring their own cake to a birthday party.

Less expensive bulk food has a long shelf life and is full of preservatives. Convenient ready-made meals are loaded
with calories, salt and sugar. Sugar-spiked breakfast cereals raise blood-sugar levels in the morning, and these are
quickly neutralised by insulin. After a few hours though, the hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) child is agitated and can’t concentrate at school. Overweight children can in fact be malnourished and anaemic.

5. Learning abilities 

Babies are born with survival reflexes. While some, like yawning and stretching, are lifelong, others disappear at varying stages during their first few years. When unnecessary babyhood reflexes are retained, this can interfere with the child’s development. When they are severe, they’re easy to recognise and indicate cerebral anomalies, but when they’re extremely mild, they can go unrecognised and affect the child’s learning abilities.

Usually seen as slow or clumsy, with poor handeye coordination and poor posture, these children may struggle to cope with reading and writing at school. This can make them seem uninterested or disruptive in class. Gifted children are often daydreamers with poor attention spans and a low tolerance for repetitive tasks that, for them, seem to be trivial and irrelevant. These children struggle with authority, like to be kept busy, question rules, customs and traditions, and need less sleep!


Alternative treatments and tips for parents and teachers:

  1. Identify the cause of the child’s disruptive behaviour.
  2. Take your child to a paediatrician to rule out any underlying medical problems.
  3. Finding the right treatment plan to help your child will test your patience (and pocket), and it may take a while before you find the right medical practitioner who can help you.

Keep in mind that Jim Carrey, Michael Phelps and Adam Levine were diagnosed with ADHD; Albert Einstein may have excelled in maths, but he had a hard time remembering the simplest things; and Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg and Jamie Oliver are dyslexic.


The brain needs oxygen, glucose and nutrients. Without these, grey brain matter shrinks. When a child’s brain is undernourished, he can’t think clearly and behaves badly. Oxygen is carried by red blood cells and iron helps to replace these cells when they’re worn out. Iron is found in grains, vegetables and meat. Glucose comes from
carbohydrates and fruits. Essential nutrients are found in grains, vegetables, fruits, meat/fish and dairy.

Focus on eating healthy

And finally – children are children! They should be allowed to romp and play, explore and have fun. They need ‘time out’ to simply enjoy their childhood. Don’t expect them to be mini adults. After all, the human brain is only fully mature by age 25!

Behaviour modification

An occupational therapist, psychologist, or neuro-physiological psychologist can help to identify emotional, psychological or neurophysiological difficulties. Specially trained, these therapists know which brain-stimulating exercises can help to boost the child’s natural skills, raise their confidence levels and discover talents that otherwise may have been hidden by unconventional behaviour.

Parents also need to understand that children need discipline with rules and rewards rather than harsh corporal
punishment. Lenient parents put the responsibility of discipline on the child’s shoulders – a burden they’re not ready
to carry. Children will misbehave when they know they’ll get away with it.

Establish routine

Children feel secure where there’s routine. It gives them a sense that here’s a regular, dependable quality
to the world in which they live. Give them age-appropriate responsibilities – it makes them feel important.
Routine reinforces the child’s trust and dependability on his parents.


Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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