According to the CDC, 6.1 million children in the US are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I find the terms “disorder” and “deficit” somewhat misleading when discussing ADHD. When we see children with ADHD, what is more often found is a brain and central nervous system that has, as another pediatric Chiropractor coined, a Ferrari engine but bicycle brakes. What he means by that is that the child is stuck in a state of sympathetic dominance.

How Does ADHD Affect the Your Nervous System?

I don’t want to get too technical here but let’s try to explain how your nervous system works. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has two distinct sides, sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The sympathetic side of our CNS is the fight/flight side, where hyperactivity, fidgeting, anxiety, and other such things live. Now you have to understand that this sympathetic side is an old and needed emergency response system that is critical for survival. It is meant to be activated for short periods of time when needed, and not meant to be active for long periods of time. We call the sympathetic branch of the (Autonomic Nervous System) ANS the “gas pedal”.

The Parasympathetic side of this system is responsible for growth, relaxation, digestion, and development.  We call the parasympathetic branch of the ANS the “brake pedal”. So as you can see the two branches of the ANS balance each other out.

What Does That Mean For Kids?

We find children are chronically stuck in that fight or flight stage, their “gas pedal” is stuck on. We can see this clearly when we scan kids in our office with state-of-the-art technology looking at the nervous system function. When we see a lot of activity in the sympathetic part of the scan, it is the most common thing we see with ADHD. This excessive activity is called sympathetic dominance. We know that this kiddo most likely suffers from hyper energy, impulse, and behavior issues.

An often overlooked component of ADHD is when a child can’t process what is going on in the environment around him or her. This presents as issues with attention, confusion, or disorganization meaning that these children’s nervous systems are poorly organized and are not talking to each other properly. Somewhere along the line the way they sense their environment and use that information got off track.  The technical term for this is poor sensory processing and integration.

The issue with both excessive sympathetic dominance and poor processing and integration is the child goes through most of their development in “overdrive”. Basically, the nervous system is spinning so fast that when developmental milestones come along and try to integrate, those milestones can’t fully process and integrate. It reminds me of one of those merry go rounds that used to be at a lot of playgrounds (before safety was an issue) when that equipment is spinning really fast it is hard to stay on or get on. You can sum this component of ADHD up as a poorly organized nervous system.

When addressing ADHD with any type of treatment or therapy, you need to build off the foundation of taking care of sympathetic dominance and poorly organized nervous system. If you don’t calm and balance out the ANS then every other form of therapy from nutritional to behavioral to psychological will be fighting an immense uphill battle. However, once that is slowed down and balanced, EVERYTHING becomes so much easier to improve with that child!

How does chiropractic fit into this equation?

Many people believe chiropractic as only neck or back pain care, however, few people (even 95% of medical doctors) fail to realize the connection between the spine and function/health of the brain and CNS. It is much more accurate in reality to think of the spine as not just a collection of bones, muscles, and ligaments, but instead as an entire neurological “organ” that is the key communication component between brain and body. Later on, you too will see that proper alignment and movement of the spine, especially the upper neck, is absolutely an essential “nutrient” that drives and powers the brain, or “charges” it.