Alternative and controversial treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Pediatr Clin North Am. 1999 Oct;46(5):977-92. doi: 10.1016/s0031-3955(05)70167-x.


ADHD is a syndrome that can be treated effectively, safely, and economically with stimulant medications. There is no equal alternative to these agents in short-term treatment of ADHD symptoms. However, many families seek alternatives to stimulants and other drug treatments for a variety of reasons. Alternative approaches reflect the complexity and heterogeneity of the disorder by being equally manifold, complex, and often obscure in their modus operandi. Scientific evidence suggests that individualized dietary management may be effective in some children. Trace element supplementation also may be beneficial when specific deficiencies are present. At this point, nootropics, herbs, and homeopathy are being seriously researched regarding their role in neurologic functioning, but evidence to support their role in the specific treatment of ADHD is inconsistent or lacking. Self-regulatory techniques such as hypnotherapy and biofeedback do not alter the core symptoms of ADHD but may be helpful in controlling secondary symptoms. These methods are unique in ADHD treatment because children can become active agents of their own coping strategies. There is no scientific evidence to support the validity of vision therapy, oculovestibular treatment, or sound training (Tomatis method) as treatment modalities for ADHD. However, auditory stimulation with individualized music may help to improve situational performance in cognitive tasks. Regardless of the treatment approach, the diagnosis of ADHD and other comorbidities first must be established through a standard medical evaluation. The standard treatment options always should be presented and discussed carefully. If alternative approaches are sought, the merits of available options should be reiterated. If the primary care provider is not comfortable or knowledgeable about an acceptable method, referral to capable and responsible practitioners in the community who are experienced in these areas should be considered. The primary care provider, the alternative "specialist," and the family all should be willing to engage in "collaborative research," applying the same standards for treatment evaluation that one would apply in mainstream methods. Communication among all parties involved in a treatment strategy is the key to demystifying alternative approaches, creating strong therapeutic relationships, and optimizing management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Humans