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ADD/ADHD and Oriental Medicine – Your Child Is Not A Diagnosis!
BY: Dwight Franklin, AP
One of the most unfortunate phenomenon’s that I have seen in the last decade is how we as a society have allowed modern medicine to reduce us to medical conditions and not treat us as the individuals that we are. Despite the fact that there are amazing medical doctors out there, all too often I see patients that have a particular medical problem and they choose to take doctor prescribed medications without asking any questions of how they may improve upon that diagnosis with lifestyle changes. This is particularly disheartening when the patient is an innocent child who has no say in their treatment protocol.
The Center for Disease control says that as of 2007 5.4 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD. That is nearly 10% of the child population and each year a higher percentage of children are being diagnosed than the year before. Although many people take an issue with the diagnosis of ADHD itself, my concern is not with the diagnosis but the lack of an individualized treatment plan for each child. Each child has his or her own personality and life circumstances to take into account when helping them conquer their problems focusing. Too often each child is given the same medication (and only medication) as many others without any thought to these differences.
Oriental Medicine takes a different approach in addressing these problems of an inability to focus. We do something so radically different that it could change the way ADHD is looked at in this world! We look at the child as an individual! That’s right folks, Little Johnny, the one with the aggressive behavior that keeps running around the classroom pulling every girls’ hair is not the same as Little Billy, the kid that is overall a really nice kid but can’t seem to stop talking to his friends in the middle of class. It is very easily seen even with the untrained eye that these two kids are not the same but unfortunately modern medicine more than likely would have given these kids identical medications. So let’s take a look at how Oriental Medicine classifies and then goes about correcting ADD/ADHD.
Dr. Stephen Scott Cowan a pediatrician and author of the book “Fire child, Water Child” describes in his book how he went from treating children with ADD/ADHD with a modern medicine approach of prescribing medications to a Oriental Medicine approach and the use of The Five Elements Philosophy. During the first 15 years of Dr. Cowan’s career he treated ADD/ADHD the same as his colleagues, with medication. He became very unsatisfied with the long term success of his patients. Many children might get moderately better initially but he felt as though what he was doing was suppressing symptoms that in reality was a child’s “cry for help”. He believed that using such a “quick fix” with medications could keep the child from developing the individual personality that they were born with and also cause long term side effects with increased medication usage. Dr. Cowan dramatically changed his treatment philosophy when he became friends with two Acupuncture Physicians, Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold. They were both using a thousand year old philosophical system of the “The Five Elements” to treat children suffering from ADD/ADHD safely and effectively.
The Five Elements in its essence is a way of describing who we are at our very core nature and how we relate to nature as a whole. These five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each element has its own characteristics and personality and can relate differently to the other elements.
· The “Wood Child” is a child who has to be hands on. Sitting in a classroom for 8 hours with little physical interaction will make a wood child act out, many times in an aggressive way. Wood children, just like the magnificently strong tree in the forest, are very fit and athletic and typically do well in sports. They are also born leaders due to their strong stature and firm demeanor.
· The “Fire Child” is the child who just wants to have fun and just like the flame, they shine very brightly and love the spotlight. They are generally the class clown and love to laugh. Just like the Wood Child, being cooped up in a classroom does not fit a fire child’s personality but for different reasons. The Fire Child needs stimulation and excitement. Focusing on one thing for too long can become boring and causes the child to act out, usually by making jokes and distracting other classmates.
· The “Earth Child” needs close interpersonal relationships and that is where they thrive. They are a chameleon of sorts by matching their personality with whoever they are close to at the time. Just as it is said that Mother Earth takes care of all of us by giving us what we need to live, an earth child does the same for his or her friends. They genuinely care about others around them. However, it is this love for personal relationships that can cause them to act out in class by talking obsessively to friends. Unlike the fire child who is talking out of need for excitement and the spotlight, the earth child simply wants to relate verbally to his or her friends. Many times these personal relationships that are valued so deeply can interfere with that child’s school work.
· The “Metal Child”, just like a piece of metal, does not bend easily. They are usually very structured kids who like a routine. They may even have a love for music as music is rhythmic and a metal child values anything that is rhythmic. The metal child can however be cold and unwilling to bend their ideas and opinions on particular subjects. When they are acting out they can become very self righteous. The Metal Child tunes out in class not because they need more stimuli or because they are excessive talkers but because they have found a flaw in the teacher and no longer values that teacher’s knowledge. The flaw can be something big or something very small, it doesn’t always matter to a Metal Child. They can take this same self righteous behavior with parents and therapists as well.
· The “Water Child” has a deep and strong imagination as big as the ocean itself. They are the dreamers of the world and are often caught day dreaming. They see the bigger picture that many of us aren’t willing to look at. While the rest of us are caught up in daily routines, the water child is concerned more with society as a whole. They are usually very artistic and are great with the written word and painting. However it is this same desire to understand the world as a whole that can also make things difficult for a water child. Because they feel “too deep” to relate to others around them they often become loners and very depressed. They typically are diagnosed as ADD or without the hyperactive component.
Now I know many of you reading this have already put an element to your child or a child you know but I am sure you all have the same questions: Ok I know who this kid is now and I know what makes him or her tick but what do I do with it? How can I change their behavior? The answer is simple but it takes a lot of work and desire to help the child. You have to tailor your individual element to help meet their needs and better understand them while also helping them to develop other elements that will balance them in their daily lives. The wood child really needs physical exercise and hands on activities above all else. Getting that child in sports or showing them how certain things are made and teaching them how to do it themselves is critical for these types of kids. They also need to be developing the other element personalities as well. High functioning adults are rarely just one element. They have developed many of the elements throughout life by learning what works and what doesn’t. Children have not had the opportunity to balance themselves out at an early age, which is why it is so critical for us to help teach them. Bringing the water element energy of calmness to a wood child will help that child become calmer and less aggressive. Being able to speak to the child with a calm voice while not allowing oneself to get angry is what a wood child needs. If you are aggressive with them they will only match your aggression with more aggression. A wood child also benefits from the fire element. By giving your child an outlet to release all the energy and many times aggression that they have through simply having fun and letting go they are more apt to be more focused when the time and environment calls for it. I have used a wood element child as the example here but any child with any element personality can be helped through the five element philosophy if you take the time to understand it. These principles are also effective in simply relating to your child better and helping them to relate to others, with or without any kind of diagnosis.
As you can see there is a lot more too ADD/ADHD than simply a distracted child who does not listen at home or in school. There are many reasons why that child may be acting out or not acting at all and it is up to us to find out what makes the child feel more comfortable in their environment and it is ultimately up to the child to have the willingness to keep trying new ideas and activities to help the situation. Dr. Cowan has used these principles of the Five Elements along with Acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas, and Food Therapy to treat thousands of children safely with success and without medications. I have incorporated these ideas into my own practice with wonderful results as well. It is truly inspiring to see problems turn around for young people primarily because someone was willing to work with their personality and not against it. This article gives a synopsis of Five Element Philosophy and treatment principles but speaking to an Acupuncture Physician who has a background in working with children and five element philosophies is the best way to get ideas of how to put this knowledge to use.