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ADHD Development Delay in Self-Control | Self-Regulation

According to this theory, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) are the result of developmental delay in self-control or self-regulation, or a developmental problem with a lack of self-control and emotional self-regulation.

This theory is worth considering as one part of the puzzle; as an alternative theory to understand and explain the complexity of what ADHD is, how it is caused and how it is to be treated. It is a valid help as long as it is not considered the main cause, or reason for ADHD. If it is considered as the main idea, then it does more damage than good. To read about what is wrong with this theory, read ADHD is not about self-control.

Everyone experiences difficulties in self-regulation to some degree. We have all experienced problems with concentration because of being bored, tired, hungry or distracted by something. We have all had times when we were excessively restless or overactive, could not sit still and pay attention, became impatient, or were too easily excited and too quick to respond.

With ADHD this inability to self-regulate leads to significant difficulty in one’s ability to function at home, at work, in school, or in social situations.

A Thought about an ADHD Perspective

Something to keep in mind and ask is, from who's perspective is this “inability to self-regulate?”

I am an ADD personality, and am boredom intolerant. The ADHD hyperactive boredom intolerant will act out (be hyperactive) while the ADD person will be active in their mind, thinking on something more interesting than class work, while sitting still, or maybe quietly fidgeting with fingers and toes. A non-ADHD (normal) person is boredom tolerant and so is able to sit still and pay attention in class.

When I was bored in class (many years ago as I am now a retired chemist) I had a good self-regulation. When I was bored I tuned out and had an interesting thought time (self-regulated away boredom). I never had any problem with my ADD. Some of my teachers had though, but I did not. I was focused (not inattentive) and happily hyperactive in my mind, but inattentive as to what the teacher was saying.

One of my daughters had an understanding teacher, who would notice when she had drifted off into her own world. The teacher would mention my daughter's name between sentences, and regain a personal contact with her, bringing her back into class.

This is something about ADHD children. They behave, and are able to concentrate for relatively long periods, when taught in a one-on-one session. The teacher who can connect with the ADD/ADHD child in class, can help the child stay focused in spite of the child finding the school subject boring. The personal touch means a lot.

Self-Regulation and ADHD

The brain is responsible for self-regulation, activating, integrating, managing, organizing, planning, and carrying out complex behavior. These are called “executive functions” of the brain and are operations within the brain that promote and allow for self-regulation or self-control. Other executive functions are nonverbal memory, verbal memory, internal talk, self-motivation, arousal states, problem analyzing and solving, and thought and behavioral sequencing.

According to this delay in self-regulation theory, the developmental delay in the person with ADHD is in the undeveloped internalization of the ability to self regulate his or her behavior. ADHD is a results of a difficulty of behavioral self-control interacting with the executive functions.

If a person’s ability to regulate behavior and attention is not developed or matured, then the person can respond to stress by being either hyperactive and ADHD or by “tuning out” and being ADD. This theory suggests that as ADHD people do not age appropriately, so they do not develop progressively internalized capabilities of self-control.

While this is true of some children, but many children respond to supplements which deal with specific functions of the brain. The relatively quick response to these supplements without any developmental training, shows us that these other children were lacking certain nutrients in their diet. These supplements have been shown to be at least as effective as the stimulant drugs that are usually prescribed. The advantage is that supplements are natural products, without side effects.

Stress, anxiety and depression deplete the body of certain vital nutrients. Suffering these conditions, which is usual with ADHD, requires extra supplements of these nutrients, which in these amounts, we do not get enough of in our normal western diet.

Studies have shown that a combination of Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and B-vitamin help restore normality and calm in children with ADHD, enabling them to focus on school work.

There are other products on the market specially formulated with a range of natural, side-effect free, nutritional supplements to boost specific brain functions. Examples of these which have been scientifically tested and found to work as well or better than stimulant medicines are Attend for attention, Memorin memory aid and Extress, a natural stress remedy.

A Developmental Delay of Self-Regulation

According to this theory, these difficulties in self-regulation are the result of delays in development rather than a stopped development. It is considered that individuals with ADHD get better as they get older, but will continue to remain behind their non-ADHD peers.

There are studies, to support this theory, with brain scans that showed the brains of young teen ADHD children having smaller volume than non-ADHD children, but the differences disappeared as the children became older teens.

These studies did not look at other reasons for the differences and ignored other ways of interpreting the results and ignored other aspects of ADHD which were not reflected in these studies. One point to note is that stress and depression also cause the brain volume to shrink. ADHD children are especially susceptible to experience anxiety, depression and stress, and this could have been one explanation for the brain volumes. Incidentally, the brain volume increases again after the stress, depression or anxiety disappears.

An example of delayed development becoming a problem is in preteen children who show signs of ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). Some children around six or seven years old behave in a hyperactive manner and become unruly and disobedient. Then at about eight or nine years of age this behavior dies off and they become normal children again.

This dysfunctional behavior can be explained by the child being stressed by school before they are ready, as they have not completed their development to the level of their peers. This behavior would then be a type of self defense coping mechanism. When the development phase has been completed the child calms down as s/he can then cope.

Developing Self-Regulation

The young child in its first two years has no internal self-regulating mechanism, and this develops around 18 to 30 months. The child learns self regulation through interaction with parents and carers.

During the following four years the child develops more internalized processes of behavioral self-control, which is supported by externally applied motivation, rules and guidance. After that this development is a maturing process, through the preteen years, puberty and on through adolescence.

By the time the person has become an adult the ability to control one's behavior through one's own internalized self-regulation should be developed. This self-regulation is, in a mature adult, on a subconscious intuitive level and is a part of a normal harmonious life.

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