Hyperactivity

Many children are overactive, particularly boys between the ages of two and five, but very few are truly hyperactive. Hyperactive children are totally uncontrollable and destructive and do not appear to respond to normal discipline. They are also more often at the extremes of intelligence. Very intelligent children may be bored by the activities available to them, and misbehave to obtain further stimulation. Children with underdeveloped intelligence may be confused and not understand what is expected of them.

In all cases, a detailed assessment of the child's capabilities by a psychologist is necessary, together with a thorough examination by a doctor to exclude any physical or mental diseases that may be responsible for the child's hyperactivity. Parents and teachers will need to be counseled with regard to the results of these tests.

Consistent, appropriate, non-violent discipline is essential. The child must learn that certain consequences will always result from behavior that is not appropriate. The 'time-out' concept of isolating the child for a short time is often effective. Conversely, appropriate rewards must be instituted for correct behavior. These rewards may only need to be a word of encouragement or a cuddle, and not necessarily a gift. Bribes are never appropriate, nor are threats. 'If you do this I'll buy you that' and 'Wait till your father gets home' are phrases that should never be used. A reward after spontaneous correct behavior is far more effective, as is punishment at the time rather than later. The child can learn to dread the father's return home, which only worsens his/her insecurity.

Behavior modification under the guidance of an experienced and well-trained psychologist is the next step in a treatment program, and if still no success is achieved, a psychiatrist may undertake psychotherapy, with or without the assistance of medication. These treatments take many months, and overnight success should not be expected.

A number of medications have been found to be successful in controlling hyperactive children, but their long-term use is not recommended, and they should be used only in combination with psychotherapy, or as an additional form of control in a subnormal and mentally disturbed child.

There is no evidence that special diets or vitamins themselves are responsible for any improvement in an individual child's behavior. It is likely though that the additional attention directed towards a child when on a special diet is sufficient for him/her to respond more appropriately to the wishes of the parents and improve his/ her behavior.

The long-term results are usually good, particularly in intelligent children. There are remarkably few hyperactive adults in society.

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