My First Grader Can’t Sit Still – How We Are Making it Work

I haven’t talked about my son’s health and related school issues in a long time.  I have some great updates to share.

A few weeks ago we attended a meeting at his school along with the school counselor, nurse, social worker, psychologist, his teacher, the special education teacher, and the occupational therapist.  The goal was to discuss his attention and behavior progress and whether or not he will need an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.  The slightly arrogant psychologist began the discussion by letting us know that she had observed our son and said he was unable to pay attention longer than three seconds.  She immediately lost all credibility with me, as I found that unrealistic and slightly offensive.  My son has a great attention span when it is something he is interested in.  Thankfully the rest of the school staff was much better at assessing our son’s behavior and learning abilities.  His teacher expressed that she does not feel he has a learning disability, but definitely has trouble sitting still and focusing.  This matched what I have observed at home.  During our homework time he will fidget, rub his eyes and face repeatedly, yawn, look around the room and fall off his chair attempting to distract himself from whatever school work I am asking him to focus on.  I have been able to help him focus and complete work, and so I know wholeheartedly the “three-second” school psychologist is not correct in her assessment.

After we all agreed that my son needed a more tailored approach to his education, the school staff dropped the bomb that he will need a diagnosis to qualify for an IEP.  I have been avoiding having my son diagnosed with ADD or ADHD because I do not want any labels following him through life like a stigma.  Honestly, I feel that ADD and ADHD are over diagnosed.  I also do not feel that my son’s lack of attention on reading or writing qualifies as a disease.  Children are in a full day of school at 5 years-old and are learning to read, write and do basic math.  When I was in kindergarten 27 years ago, it was mainly focused on building social skills with some basic language and math skills worked in.  I can’t imagine how difficult it is for a 5 year-old to sit still at a desk and listen attentively for so many hours a day.  Kids should be filled with energy and imagination.  They should be dreamers and creators.  Of the other moms I talk to from my son’s school, many of their children have been diagnosed with ADHD, usually boys.  A lot of them.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  Maybe instead of trying to force these kids into a system which doesn’t work, they should instead design a system which works better for these little energetic dreamers.  Which brings me back to the IEP.

While I really do not want a “diagnosis”, I know that they can call him whatever they want, I will never tell my son he is anything but perfect.  So I begrudgingly agreed to let them all meet with him one-on-one in the coming weeks to determine his “diagnosis.”  We are now set to meet again in a few weeks to discuss their findings and what changes we can make to help him do better in school.

Even though we have not yet implemented an IEP, my son has actually been doing a lot better lately in school.  He is still behind, but we are nonetheless thrilled and relieved to see progress in his behavior and attentiveness.  I think a lot of it is him growing and maturing, but I have been doing some things at home to help him feel balanced.

#1 – Address Gut Issues / Food Intolerances

A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview with Pam Machemehl Helmly, CN, entitled “A Balanced Brain Makes for a Balanced Child.”  It was part of the Children & Teen’s Health Summit and unfortunately can no longer be accessed for free.  It was a very interesting interview regarding treatment of AD/HD in children.  Pam stated that between 70 and 80% of the individuals diagnosed with AD/HD were dealing with gastrointestinal issues.  In the interview, Pam shared that many important neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, such as serotonin and around 40 others.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals which send information throughout the brain and the body.  If a person is lacking adequate neurotransmitters due to gut dysbiosis, the brain cannot function properly.  This means that the gut is largely a cause of AD/HD in children.  If your child has food allergies or digestive issues, you will want to pay special attention to this factor.

My son has allergies to gluten and soy.  It is so easy to let him have a little gluten here and there, or go out to eat and know he’s eating soy in some form.  (It’s hidden in everything.)  I have noticed again and again that his attention and overall state declines when I get lazy with his diet restrictions.  Lately I have been making a huge effort to make sure his food is free of any ingredients which will make him feel unwell.

It is also important to give kids a real food diet with as little preservatives, artificial coloring, overly processed sugar and other franken-ingredients as possible, otherwise they will not be operating at their best.  According to the Neurogistics website:

Individuals diagnosed with AD/HD share similarities among behavioral symptoms. However, the underlying causes may be heterogeneous due to a combination of several, biological, psychological and social factors.

Additionally, research has indicated that several biochemical factors may play a role in AD/HD. This includes food allergies and sensitivity to food additives such as flavor enhancers, coloring agents, as well as preservatives. Heavy metal toxicities (aluminum, lead, mercury) and other environmental toxins from air, food and water, vitamin deficiencies (B1, B3, B6), mineral (iron, selenium, zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium) and amino acid (tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine) abnormalities, essential fatty acids (omega-3 series) and phospholipid deficiencies, thyroid disorders as well as genetic predisposition can all play a role in AD/HD.  (Source)

#2 – Vetiver Essential Oil

Dr. Terry Friedman conducted a study, which can be found here.  The study showed that inhaling Vetiver essential oil three times daily resulted in increased beta-theta brain wave ratio.  (Beta waves are in an alert state, theta waves are in a sleep or daydreaming state.)  Researchers concluded Vetiver essential oil was effective in promoting concentration.   I put this oil in my diffuser, which is a difficult task but is the only way I have been able to consistently have him inhale it three times a day.  The oil is very thick and syrupy so it takes a little time and work to get a few drops out, but I feel it is worth the effort.

If you are going to be purchasing essential oils, make sure to research your source and be certain they are 100% pure.  Contact me if you are interested!

#3 – Taking Breaks

It may sound like common sense, but taking breaks during homework time really helps.  Once the fidgeting starts, I let my son take a play break for 5 minutes.  I make sure he understands he will be coming right back to avoid a tantrum.  It gives him a little relief and he comes back a little bit fresher.

Usually when he comes back after a break, we will start working on a different homework page than the one we were working on when he left.  His homework is usually divided into multiple sections per page, and so it helps to switch it up between subjects.

#4 – Exercise

A while back, I listened to this video from Kids In The House which explains that exercise increases dopamine and epinephrine, which are neurotransmitters  which ADD medicines are designed to increase.  The expert in the video, Dr. John Ratey, has several videos explaining how exercise helps the brain learn better, pay better attention and even grow socially.  According to Dr. Ratey,

Kids and adults learn better once they’ve exercised for a multitude of reasons.  Three ways of thinking about it:

One, it makes the learner a better learner, makes them more receptive, more focused, more motivated, more interested, less worried about capturing the material;

Second, it prepares the brain to learn. It actually releases chemicals in our brain that help our brain cells, 100 billion of the, be optimized to grow. That’s the only way we learn anything, is we take in information and our cells grow.

The third reason exercise is helpful is that it stimulates something called neurogenesis or making new brain cells. Everyone wants to hear about this, but it’s probably the newest and most controversial aspect of why exercise helps.  Exercise, more than any other drug or factor that we know of, helps create new brain cells, especially in the area of the brain that is involved with learning.  (Source)

With this information in mind, my husband and I bought this mini-trampoline for our kids this past Christmas.  On some of the homework breaks I explained above, my son will jump on the trampoline.  Its a really useful thing to have on-hand for long winters or rainy days.

Incorporating all of these things has helped make homework less of a struggle and has helped my son pay attention better, at home and in school.

What methods do you use to help your kids pay attention?  Please share in the comments below!

Additional Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25078296

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22688187

https://www.neurogistics.com/TheScience/WhatareNeurotransmi09CE.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serotonin

I Was Shocked – Always Read Your Labels.

Before I had a child with food allergies and sensitivities, I would never read labels on things I would buy.  I thought if it was being sold in a store, it was safe to use or eat.  I trusted manufacturers and also that the government would not allow something bad to be included in food or body products.  I cannot believe how wrong I was!

I started reading labels only in the last few years.  Even for families without food allergies, it is really important.  After recently reading labels on a variety of products, I was pretty surprised at what I found.  Read on and be convinced to check your labels – know what you are consuming!  It really, really matters.

Aloe

Aloe

Just because it is a health food or product, it does not mean it is pure or chemical-free.  I purchased this brand of aloe online without reading the product label.  I bought it with the intention of making a firming eye gel, but now I’m not so comfortable using it for any purpose.  It contains carrageenan, which is added as a thickener.  Although it is extracted from a type of seaweed, it is not healthy.   When ingested, carrageenan causes an immune response which creates inflammation and has been linked to many digestive disorders.  It is found in a lot of organic foods, including baby formula and almond milk.  This is definitely an ingredient you want to avoid.

As far as using it externally, I don’t feel comfortable.  The skin is an organ and I do not want inflamed skin, especially under my eyes.  That is the opposite of what I was hoping for in making a firming eye gel.  Next time I will buy the organic version, which does not contain carrageenan.

This aloe also contains potassium sorbate as a preservative.  Potassium sorbate is listed as a moderate hazard on Ewg.org’s Skin Deep database.  I would prefer not to ingest this or put it on my skin.  I should have read my labels.

Beer Chips – Bloody Mary Chips

chips
My husband bought these chips at Costco.  I probably would not have picked them out and obviously potato chips are not a healthy food choice, but this particular brand made me mad.  As you can see by my yellow arrows above, the package claims there is “No MSG Added.”  I am not sure what they mean by added, but there most definitely is MSG in this product.  Labeled as “autolyzed yeast extract,”  MSG makes its under-cover appearance on the ingredient list.  According to the website Livestrong.com,

“Autolyzed yeast extract is a substance that results when yeast is broken down into its constituent components. It naturally contains free glutamic acid, or monosodium glutamate, and is often used as a less expensive substitute for MSG. As a natural component of autolyzed yeast extract, MSG does not have to be listed separately in the ingredients, so look for the yeast extract on the label if you’re sensitive to MSG.”  (Source)

Interestingly enough, I checked the FDA website to see what their guidelines are in regards to MSG and food packaging.  Here is what I found: (Emphasis is my own.)

“MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses. While FDA requires that these products be listed on the ingredient panel, the agency does not require the label to also specify that they naturally contain MSG. However, foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their packaging.”  (Source)

I must be misunderstanding something, because it looks to me like Beer Chips is breaking the FDA rules…

A brief note on MSG.

MSG is added to food as a flavor enhancer, tricking the brain into thinking the food tastes better than it does and thus causing you to eat more of it.  It is an excitotoxin which causes brain damage by exciting neurons to death.  Consumption of MSG can also result in weight gain by its ability to cause hormone fluctuations.  Small children are affected more than adults, which is very alarming to me.  According to the well-researched article on the website Food Renegade,

Humans are 20 times more sensitive to MSG than monkeys, 5 times more sensitive than rats.  We have glutamate receptors on every major organ, hard-wired into our brains, and even on the tip of our tongue! That means that one fifth the level of MSG used to cause obvious brain damage to a rat will do the same to you.

And what about growing babies? It turns out that MSG is especially harmful to pregnant or nursing mothers because infants and young children are four times more sensitive to MSG than adults!” (Source)

I have noticed MSG hidden in all kinds of things, including soups and a lot of processed packaged foods (especially potato chips – almost ALL of them).  The problem is that it is not listed as MSG.  It will often be listed as hydrolyzed corn, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, etc.  For a comprehensive list of the product names in which MSG is present, check out this chart from TruthinLabeling.org.

Trader Joe’s Almond Butter

mash

I would be fine with the hidden cashews in this product, if my son wasn’t allergic to cashews.  As you can see from the front of the label, there is no mention of the cashews in this almond butter.  On the back, however, you see there is a very small amount of cashews contained.  For a person who experiences an anaphylactic response to cashews (swelling in his throat) even “less than 1%” can be a very big problem.  Fix your labels, Trader Joe’s!

Amy’s Soup (Non-organic only.) The soups which have “organic” in the title are high quality.

amySometimes I don’t feel like making soup from scratch.  Those days, I am super thankful for the Amy’s brand of organic soup.  I stress the word organic because it is my opinion that the non-organic soups are loaded with crap.  I read the label on the “Non Chicken Noodle” and placed it right back on the store shelf.  It contains sources of MSG.  And again, the label states “No Added MSG,” yet the FDA website prohibits products containing yeast extract from printing that claim on their label.  Regardless, this soup contains soy which is a top allergen, is estrogenic and causes inflammation.  It also has two sources of hidden MSG.  No thank you. 

V-8 V-Fusion Light

V8 comp

I accidentally grabbed a bottle of the V8 V-Fusion Light instead of the regular V-Fusion we buy for school lunches.  I know that juice is loaded with sugar, but my son won’t drink water at lunch anymore so I send juice in his bottle, watered down.  After I got home from the store and realized my mistake, I read the label to see how they made it “light.”  I found artificial sweetener, probably to make up the sweetness after adding a lot of water.  First of all, what a rip off, and second, what a bad trade-off.

These are just a few of the products which I found to contain less than desirable ingredients.  As a mother I want to keep my children’s environment as pure as possible, and diet is a huge part of that.

Have you found any bad ingredients in a product you trusted or loved?  Please share in the comments below.

Sources:

http://www.campbellfoodservice.com/details.aspx?code=1022

http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/carrageenan-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-your-diet

http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm328728.htm

http://www.foodrenegade.com/msg-dangerous-science/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/71755-autolyzed-yeast-extract/

http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/search.php?query=potassium+sorbate&h=Search

Why I Took a Break From Essential Oils

It has taken me a long time to write this post because I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened and most importantly why and how it happened.

Back in September, I was having health problems related to histamine intolerance.  I occasionally get migraines, but around this time they were coming every few days.  This left me in something like brain fog almost all the time.  My skin started itching too, on my neck and face.  I was using Lavender and Frankincense Essential Oils mixed with coconut oil to try to help the itching, yet my skin began to break out in hives and what looked like my son’s eczema.  I became afraid to eat anything because the histamine intolerance is triggered by a long and random list of foods, read more here.  Finally, my husband suggested I stop using all treatments, including the oils and let my skin calm down.  I listened to him, and slowly my skin irritations cleared.  At this point I was not connecting the irritation to the oils, still blaming the histamine intolerance and assuming it was just suddenly increasing in severity, possibly due to recent weight loss and detoxification.

A few weeks later I put Frankincense on my face again, on my 3rd eye point.  I used to like to do this for connection and clarity.   This time it did not go so well.  My skin was red and itching within an hour of application.  I washed it off with carrier oil and the irritation cleared after a few days.  I didn’t understand why all of a sudden my skin was not tolerating the oils, but decided to wait a few weeks and let my body calm down.

Sometime in late fall, I tried a firming eye gel recipe with aloe, witch hazel and Frankincense Oil.  I put it on my poofy eyes right before I was leaving to drop my son off at school.  Immediately, my sensitive under-eye skin became red and was burning.  Thankfully this time I immediately washed it off with olive oil and the irritation cleared within a few hours.  That was a close one!

So I have discovered that I can no longer use essential oils, even the purest, on my face or neck.  I do not understand why.  In the past I applied them neat to my skin frequently and experienced no issues.  Were the oils pulling the excess histamine through my skin in order to detoxify my body?  I have no way to verify that, and honestly find it far-fetched.  Is my body just super sensitive and can’t handle the oils?  Possibly.  This is the reasoning which led me to take three months without applying the oils to my body.

Recently, I really began to miss what the oils add to my being.  I miss the connection to my spirit, the feeling of calmness and clarity, and how centered and grounded the oils make me.  Diffusing the oils works amazing, but sometimes I want the extra kick that applying the oils topically provides.

I mentioned before that I am pregnant, 14 weeks.  This pregnancy has been really different that my prior two, in good ways.  My body is craving yoga movements, vegetarian foods and my essential oils.  (Last time I wanted pizza or Mexican food only, no wonder I felt awful most of the time!)  A few weeks ago, I started using my oils again!  I have noticed that I cannot use the oils on my neck or face, but everywhere else seems okay.  I know the skin on those areas are more sensitive, but I still am not sure why I once could use the oils in those areas and now cannot.  If anyone has a theory on that, please share!  🙂

How I have been using my oils lately.

Diffusing:

  • Peppermint and Lemon together is an amazing combo to energize a room.  I diffuse this in the mornings and afternoons when I need some energy.  It leaves me feeling sharp and clear.  Love, love, love this combo.

Topically:

  • Frankincense – After I shower, I apply this oil along with some thick carrier lotion to my feet.  I love this oil, it is one of my favorites.  I am so glad that my body does not react when applied to less sensitive areas!

So that’s my story!  Have you ever had issues with using essential oils?  Or better, how have you been using your oils lately?  Please share in the comments below!