INDEPENDENCE -- The ability to focus and tune out distraction can be challenging for anyone. But for children and adults with ADHD, it is a daily, frustrating battle.
Medication and behavioral therapy are traditional methods of treatment. Now, an alternative form of medicine with ancient roots is being used to ease the symptoms of ADHD.
A recent study by the Mayo Clinic finds that seven and a half percent of all school-age children are affected by ADHD. And symptoms vary from child to child.
Some may struggle with focus, distractibility, impulsivity, hyperactivity, or a combination of them.
"Western medicine looks at ADHD as a brain dysfunction, a brain chemistry dysfunction," says licensed acupuncturist Allison Bower.
"Eastern medicine looks at ADHD as the organ functions are malfunctioning, then causing the brain function to be off."
Licensed for more than 20 years, Bower sees both children and adults with ADHD, and says for them acupuncture is a complimentary form of medicine.
It works well in addition to other treatments, such as behavioral therapy and nutritional plans. Acupuncture is based on the theory that the body's energy or "qi" flows freely when you are well. But, it can become blocked or weakened.
Inserting hair-thin needles into the skin at specific points helps to restore that positive energy flow.
"So if we can balance the energy, or the qi, of the organ systems in the body, then the brain chemistry can adjust," Bower explains.
Acupuncture can help calm the disruptive nature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and it can also help to ease the side effects of the medications used to treat ADHD.
Gabrielle Belli was diagnosed with ADHD at age 11.
"Distractibility has always been sort of an issue," she admits. Impulsivity is also a problem, in addition to social anxiety. That's not uncommon.
ADHD is often coupled with other disorders ranging from social anxiety to depression, or facial tics.
"ADHD often does not fly solo. It flies along with some anxiety or some depression. So we know that if acupuncture speaks to those conditions, it will most certainly speak to ADHD," according to Jill Zupon, Founder and Executive Director of The Attention Center, the Independence facility devoted solely to the care of children and adults with ADHD and ADD.
In addition to testing, therapy, nutritional services and coaching Zupon saw the benefits of acupuncture and brought Bower on board.
"We are not a center that provides homeopathic medicine. But we knew that it would be a good alternative to those who didn't want to be medicated," Zupon explains.
Belli tried medication, but found it didn't work for her. She came to The Attention Center for help managing her ADHD. When she heard they also offered acupuncture, Belli decided to give it a try.
"I felt more like myself than I had probably in a whole year. So it was just the biggest relief," Belli claims.
We went with Gabrielle on a day she visited Bower. Home from Ohio University, she hadn't received acupuncture in about two months. She had lost two sets of keys in recent weeks, and says she struggled with her organization and thought processes.
For Gabrielle, the benefits of acupuncture she says are almost immediate.
"I can really tell. I speak different, my attitude is different," she tells us.
As the session begins, Allison and Gabrielle are seated at a table. Allison asks Gabrielle a series of questions first, are pertaining to her health, physical and emotional well-being. Once finished, Gabrielle lies down on the table, while Allison takes a series of six different pulses in each of her hands.
Using information gained there, Allison places four needles in each of Gabrielle's ears. Then, as needed she also places needles in points on Gabrielle's arms, hands, legs and feet. Once in place, Gabrielle rests quietly, and undisturbed for about 20 minutes.
"I am centered. I am thinking clearly. I am organized," she says.
Auricular (ear) acupuncture is often used either alone or in combination with body acupuncture. Since the ear is stimulated through a non invasive procedure, it is preferred in children.
Acupuncture can help to calm the impulses that make it hard to stay still. It can also work to improve concentration and bolster the immune system and energy of the patient which can address both the sluggishness commonly associated with ADD patients and hyperactivity commonly seen in patients with ADHD.
Zupon believes a transformation takes place from the time that a client walks into Allison's office, to the moment they walk out.
"We get to see someone go in one way and come out another way. It's wonderful," Zupon said.
Acupuncture in the management of ADHD is still relatively new. Currently, there is no scientific proof to support its benefits. But patients like Gabrielle believe it has made a difference in their lives.
As we mentioned, she does not take medicine. But patients who do, say that the acupuncture can help alleviate common negative side effects of the drugs such as appetite supression, sleeplessness and dry mouth.
In a perfect world, Gabrielle says she would like to get treatment every other week. But she must work it around her visits home from school. Treatment is different for each person. Some people need it every week, others go every other week, or every few months.
And most insurance plans don't cover it. An initial visit typically costs a bit more, but regular visits are roughly $65 to $75.