That you didn't even realize!
There is SO much going on in the brains of kids with ADHD (and other neurobehavioral disorders) that no one takes the time to talk about. I remember when I learned about these. I was Mind. Blown. It all makes so much sense now that I know..but why had I never heard of this?! I went to school for Special Ed and for some reason no one thought to mention the actual brain.
It’s just crazy to me. I’ve explained these concepts to hundreds of parents and everyone has the exact same reactions you’re about to have. The first is: “Holy cow. Duh! This makes a ton of sense.” and the second is: “Why has my doctor never mentioned this before?!” And I think I know why.
ADHD, OCD, ODD, Autism, and all of the diagnoses in-between aren’t actually medical problems. *gasp.* I know. It kind of goes against everything you thought you knew. I felt the same way.
But consider this. If you take your child to the doctor and say “I think my child has strep throat. He’s coughing and complaining of a sore throat. It looks like strep to me. And the teachers think it’s strep throat too.” And your doctor responded with “Yes! Those symptoms do sound like strep throat. Here’s a medication for strep. Try this out and if things don’t get better, come back and let me know and we’ll try something different.” You’d be FURIOUS right?!
We all know there’s a test for strep throat. They swab your throat, find out the cause, and treat it accordingly.
There is no actual test for neurobehavioral disorders other than tests that focus completely on symptoms. Everyone is just taking a stab at what those symptoms sound like and slapping a label on kids. It’s CRAZINESS. But it’s because (whether they admit it or not,) there is no medical test for ADHD. Because it’s not a medical problem.
It’s a functional problem. Certain parts of the brain just aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do.
So we’re going to talk about functions first and symptoms second. It’s important to know what exactly is happening in the brain that’s causing the problems that you’re seeing.
Let’s get right into it. Here are three of the weakest functions in children with ADHD + some of the symptoms they’ll cause:
(Just FYI: The DSM-5 lists as having 3 distinct types. Type I is inattentive, Type II is hyperactive, and Type III is the combination.)
1. Postural Primitive Reflexes
We’re all born with primitive reflexes. Think about what happens when you put your finger in a baby’s palm. They squeeze it! That’s because of something called the palmar (or grasp) reflex. It’s a literal reflex that babies don’t have any control over. There are tons of primitive reflexes like that, and some of them control our posture. For example, the suppression of the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex is how we are (now) able to separate the up & down movement of our heads from the movement of the rest of our bodies. Babies can’t do that.
The same thing is true with the Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex - we can separate the movement of our side-to-side head movement from the rest of the body and babies just can’t yet because of those reflexes. They’re good and important for babies to have, but they have to go away so we can sit up straight and walk and turn our head to talk to someone without needing to turn our entire bodies towards them.
But what if those reflexes are still there? What if your child can’t separate his up & down head movement from the rest of his body? What if..when he looks down to do his homework, his entire body starts to slouch down with him? And then, when he looks back up at the blackboard, his entire body has to adjust. And when someone walks into the classroom unexpectedly, he can’t just turn his head to see who it is, because when he turns his head his whole body has to face that same direction.
And now he’s in trouble for sitting sideways in his seat instead of looking at the board. And now he’s coming home exhausted every day because he has to try to fight off these reflexes all day every day or he’s going to get in trouble. And because he’s so tired and fed-up he snaps at you and just wants to play Fortnite all night instead of hanging out with the family.
Primitive Reflexes are a HUGE deal. And kids with ADHD and other neurobehavioral disorders all have at least some of them still hanging on.
2. Low Proprioception
Your brain is constantly demanding to know exactly where your body is in space. All. The. Time. And people like you and me can just naturally feel where our body is most of the time. Our nervous system is doing what it’s supposed to do. Even the nerves in the very tips of our toes are communicating with our brain quickly and efficiently and the brain never has to wonder where our toes are. That’s called proprioception. It’s your brain’s connection to where your body is in space. And your child very likely has low proprioception.
So what happens when the brain can’t figure out where the toes are (they’re the farthest from the brain) or it can’t even find where the legs are? The brain looks for other ways to get the sensory input it’s looking for and there are two ways it can do that.
The first is through pressure. Some kids (and adults!) with low proprioception NEED pressure. Things like weighted blankets and compression vests are made just for them! Kids will get alllllll up in your personal space, lean on you, hug you, put their feet up on you, and anything else they can think of to give their brain the input that it’s desperate for.
The other is through movement. If your brain can’t detect where a certain body part is, it can activate mechanoreceptors in that area that tell that specific body part to start moving. By getting that part to move around, the brain can get the stimulation it needs to know where our bodies are. This directly translates to your child needing to move around all the time.
Makes sense, right?
Now for the last one.
3. Low Visual Focus
How often do you hear things like “He’s so smart! If he could just focus a little better…” from teachers? What is it in his brain that’s working differently that the kids that don’t have focus problems? It’s simple. The brain can’t control the eyes the way it’s supposed to. To understand this, try to imagine trying to sit and talk to someone and listen to what they have to say while there’s a firework show and a carnival going on behind them.
We would all struggle with that, right? But imagine that same feeling every day. In every situation. All the time. You have no control over you eyes. Imagine that feeling as your sitting in the 4th row of the classroom, and another student to your right has to bend down to pick up his pencil and another kid to your right keeps moving around. And there are colorful posters everywhere. And the student teacher is in the corner helping another student. And everything around you is pulling your attention in 18 different directions. If this sounds like your kiddo, download this exercise I made just for you!
If the brain can’t control the eyes the way it’s supposed to, that’s exactly what’s happening for your child. And that inevitably leads to more frustration and exhaustion by the time the day is over.
There are dozens of other functions to learn about that can affect our kiddos in so many ways.
What are some of the other symptoms your kiddo is dealing with? Leave a comment below so I can write more about what you need!
Download this exercise for better focus! With just one minute/day, you'll start to see some amazing changes!
If this made sense to you, you're going to LOVE our webinar! It's free and it's about 30 minutes long. Register here! There's a bonus that you won't want to miss. (Hint: You'll get to talk directly with me!)