How we cured our son’s ADHD

Jan 20, 2010 by

My son, left, in first grade, dressed to recite his sonnet at the Shakespeare Festival.

Much of what I have to say about feeding children comes from my experience with my son, which I haven’t said much about here at “Sacred Appetite.”

Almost from birth, my son had symptoms: of what, we didn’t know. I later came to blame it all on him being put on antibiotics at birth and the hospital failing to give him the breast milk I was pumping faithfully while he couldn’t nurse because of the IV stuck in his head. I also wonder what role the immunizations he got as a tiny infant (who stayed home with his mom, risking no illnesses) might have played.

Starting early and continuing, he had asthma, insomnia, enuresis (a fancy word for bed-wetting), digestion-related ills, crusty eyes, ears and scalp, and occasional temporary tics. He was hyperactive and had other behavioral problems like temper tantrums and purposely bothering people or just being socially clueless. He was often belligerent, peevish and oppositional.

He was eventually diagnosed with candida overgrowth, allergies, ADHD and Asperger’s. Looking for cures, we took him to traditional doctors, alternative doctors, allergists, chiropractors and psychiatrists.

He was subjected to shots and medications including Ritalin and Nystatin, and various diets. Dozens of supplements and vitamins were prescribed by different specialists. We tried acupressure. We took him to speech therapy. We signed him up for karate. We took him to art and music camps and made him play soccer. We bought a Rainbow vacuum, an air purifier, and armloads of blue-green algae and Mannatech Phytobears, powder and pills. We spent thousands of dollars.

We read books on allergies and parenting and sleep problems and difficult children. We worked to correct our parenting errors. We took him to church. We read to him. We spanked him. We reasoned with him. We learned how to listen so he would talk and talk so he would listen.

I learned a lot about optimally healthy eating in general. We improved and restricted our diet, radically. We ate organic. We ate only whole foods and whole grains. We went vegetarian for a while. I learned to cook all kinds of stuff I’d never heard of before. We ate no junk food or sugar whatsoever for quite a while.  I remember telling someone that my kids hadn’t had a grain of sugar in six months. Food seemed to be the one thing I could control, and boy, did I. I never had any trouble getting him to eat what I wanted him to eat, at least.

But we never got clear results. Sometimes he was better, sometimes he was worse, but we could never really trace effect to cause.

On top of all this, by the end of kindergarten, he had grown bored and disillusioned with school.

Ready to play the soothsayer in Julius Caesar, fourth grade.

So I looked for a private school that would reclaim his lost love of learning, turn him on to school again and maybe deal more successfully with his misbehavior.

I discovered a little church school called Parkview Christian School. It had classes of 12 students and half-days in the younger grades (that was actually a bit of a drawback for me, to face dealing with him myself half of the day again, I must confess).

Before we could even apply to the school, we had to read a book called For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. It was all about the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the early 20th century.  As I read it, it was clear to me that this kind of education was just what my son needed. This approach aimed to present children with a broad and varied feast of the best materials possible: real stories and books, not dry textbooks filled with dull facts to be memorized and regurgitated. Real music, art and objects, and, above all, ideas: to engage children’s minds, stimulate their appetites and lead them to want to know more. It also prescribes lots of outdoor time and free play, thus the half-days in younger grades.

The purpose is to foster the child’s innate appetite and natural affinity for knowledge and learning rather than intellectual force feeding of boring materials by use of entertainment, games, trickery, distraction, manipulation and external motivators (such as grades or rewards). It all made perfect sense to me. I’d been presenting food, art, music and literature to my children with generally that approach all their lives.

So my son started first grade at Parkview. Within a few weeks I knew that we had finally managed to hit upon something that made a clearly positive and significant difference for him. He got to be at home playing all afternoon after mornings at school. He loved school and came to be interested in more and more good things as the years went by. He still gave his teachers and parents fits at times, but the improvement we saw in his attitude and behavior was remarkable. I like to say Charlotte Mason education cured his ADHD.

As Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, eighth grade.

Charlotte Mason’s central metaphor for education is feeding. The more I learned about her ideas on education, the more full of sense and meaning I found them to be, both about educating children and feeding them. Her approach expanded upon what I already knew about getting kids to eat the right foods without battles or manipulation. It pinpointed what was going wrong with so many parents I had observed trying to get their kids to eat as well as what had gone wrong for my son in his previous school.

Charlotte Mason’s approach to education helped my son with school and with his eating habits. I’m sure he was better off for eating the super-healthy diet I fed him than he would have been otherwise. If I had tried to “make” him eat what I wanted him to eat using the standard methods of rewards or punishments, I’m sure I would have had a major mess on my hands.

The title “Sacred Appetite” refers to respecting and encouraging a child’s natural hunger for all good things by way of the best possible real food, rather than trickery or distraction.  My goal is to teach children to enjoy what’s good for them, not just get them to eat it. It’s not disguised or sugar-coated food, or food entertainment we need, but fresh, flavorful, natural and varied food, and never as a means to getting a reward, but as a reward in itself.

A couple of many posts about feeding children Charlotte Mason-style:

Feeding children made easy

How to get kids to the dinner table

Or see the category “Masterly Inactivity”

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 20 January 2010 / All rights reserved

This post was featured in the Charlotte Mason blog carnival at Wholistic Homeschooler on March 5, 2010: