A case of attention deficit disorder: The boy who couldn’t focus –
April 2003 by Stephen Messer, ND, DHANP
(from the website of The National Center of Homeopathy)
Treating children with psychiatric problems can be a very rewarding part of homeopathic practice, especially when we are able to help them without the use of toxic drugs. It can be particularly poignant when, prior to treatment, the child wants very much to behave differently but can’t seem to do that no matter how hard he tries. Such was the case of an 11-year-old boy, Michael, who came to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine’s student-teaching clinic (Southwest Naturopathic Medical Center) in Scottsdale, Arizona, last May 2002.
Michael’s mom brought him to the clinic in an attempt to avoid having to use Ritalin to treat his Attention Deficit Disorder. Michael was quite aware of his problems and we learned much of what we needed directly from him. This is what we discovered:
Spacing out at school
Michael’s main problem is an inability to focus his attention. While trying to do homework he stares off into space and can’t pay attention. He needs to be physically doing something else like playing with erasers, or especially cutting paper into little pieces. This keeps him from doing his homework, which he frequently hands in late or not at all, resulting in poor grades. He says that he tries to talk to himself when he finds himself distracted. If he tries really hard, he can focus his attention for about a half-hour: “My main goal lately is to be more focused. I know that eventually I’ll get there if I keep trying real hard!”
He wants to get things done, but it is difficult, he says. He also wants to impress his friends that he can do it. He says that when he is spacing out, his friends often put their hands up in front of his face and say “Hello!” in order to bring him back to reality. He wants to be able to do this for himself so his friends don’t have to worry about him so much.
Most of his problems occur at school because of so much external stimuli. It’s not a problem of comprehension. “I know all this stuff, I just don’t get it done,” he says. He is receiving mostly failing grades and his mom says the school is considering holding him back from middle school or requiring that he attend summer school. He can do OK on tests but is terrible with his homework. Even if his parents sit with him and make him complete his homework and put it in his backpack, he will almost always forget to hand it in. “Happens 90% of the time,” he reports.
He says his poor school performance affects his self-esteem. He feels better about himself when he plays with his friends. When he’s with his friends, he says his self-esteem could be rated a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, but at school it goes down to about a 4. As he tells us this, he is restlessly playing with his fingers.
A people person
After learning about his presenting problem of an inability to focus, we inquired about other symptoms in his case. We found out that he is always hungry; he eats five snacks a day plus three meals. He has never lost his baby teeth so he had to have orthodontia (he has an expander in his mouth now). He hasn’t grown much in the last year and is concerned: “I want to be as tall as my friends.”
His mother reports that she hasn’t been able to be around much the last year and a half because of a really hectic work life, and that she was away in the Middle East during the Gulf War when Michael was learning to walk. She wonders if this has played some part in his problems.
Michael is a social person and is really happy when he is getting attention from his friends. But he can be picked on, and this bothers him. He seems to be intuitive and to know what other people are thinking or feeling. He also has a great memory for things that happened years ago.
Physical and general symptoms In doing a review of his bodily systems we learned the following information: He gets frequent nosebleeds. His ears are waxy. His lips are often dry. He has dry but healthy skin. He perspires easily and profusely especially on his head and forehead. He frequently gets a barking, croupy, cough and, once, it turned into a pneumonia-like syndrome. His joints are hyper-flexible.
Surveying his general symptoms we learned the following: He loves the hot Arizona sun and can stay out in it all day. He gets restless in tight clothing. He tends to be chilly. He talks in his sleep and sometimes snores. He sleeps mostly on his belly. He loves pickles.
He has anxiety about once a week and can be concerned about his friends’ well-being. He is very concerned about his reputation so that he can be popular. He can be very generous with his friends.
A daily dose
Based on these symptoms, we prescribed Veratrum album 6C once a day until we saw him again. We made an appointment to see him one month later, but he didn’t come back for two months.
An immediate change
This is what we learned at the follow-up visit in July 2003: Michael noticed immediate results after beginning Veratrum album. His teacher sent a letter home after the first week saying that Michael had never had a better week: he was following directions, handed in his homework on time, and was not fidgeting anymore. His dad noticed that Michael seemed stronger emotionally; Michael did not sulk or pout when reprimanded. Michael said that he couldn’t be happier with who he was now.
Reviewing each of his previous symptoms, we found noticeable changes. Michael felt stronger and had more physical endurance. He was able to pay attention better and was getting things done more quickly and efficiently. His ability to focus in school increased substantially. He was less restless, and he’d stopped tearing up paper. His appetite had moderated. His cough was better, and he hadn’t had a nosebleed. He had done so well in school at the end of the year that he did not need to go to summer school and was allowed to move on to middle school after all.
We decided that Michael was certainly reacting positively to the homeopathic medicine. We asked him to continue to take Veratrum album, but for his convenience, we switched him to a 30C potency, once a week. At his next follow-up visit one month later, Michael and his family felt he was continuing to improve. We decided to stop his medicine at this time and have him return in September after a few weeks of school to see how he was doing.
When he came back in September 2002, he was doing well in school. He had been put in all Advanced Placement classes and was getting good grades in them. He did have a superficial skin eruption, Tinnea versicolor, that we advised him about, but overall he was doing just great.Tearing up paper again
WhenI was getting ready to write this case up for Homeopathy Today in early February 2003, I ran into Michael’s mom and asked how he was doing. She reported that he had been doing well but in the last couple of weeks he was doing poorly again. I asked her to bring him back to the clinic. Here is what we found.
He was feeling tired all day. He was sleeping well during the night but it was hard for him to wake up in the morning. His forgetfulness had returned. His bloody noses had returned. He was again getting behind in his schoolwork. He had started tearing paper up into small pieces again when he was stressed.
We decided to restart Veratrum album (he had discontinued it when he finished his last vial in late September 2002). This time we gave a higher potency, 200C, once a day and asked him to return in one week.
When Michael came back to see us the next week, he reported that he had misunderstood our instructions and was taking Veratrum album 200C three times a day instead of once a day.
He was doing much better since starting on the homeopathic medicine again. His grades were improving. He felt he could focus much better. His English class grades had already moved from a high B to a low A. His nosebleeds had stopped since we saw him last. He had much more energy, and it was not difficult to wake up in the morning. His mom reported that his memory for what he had to get done (this had been his main problem) was much better.
We decided that Michael was doing very well with his homeopathic prescription and that he should continue with it. We plan to see him again in a month.
Homeopathy changes a boy’s life
Michael is one of those young people who all the student doctors wanted to work with. He is polite, kind, and helpful. And he had a serious problem that was getting in the way of his functioning up to his potential in school. If he had not been helped, Michael would likely have had this limitation for much of his life.
The way we chose to have Michael take his medicine might be unfamiliar to some and probably deserves a bit of explanation. The classical homeopathic method of treating patients for chronic problems (“constitutional treatment”) is to give a single dose and then observe the patient closely before giving more medicine. The method used in Michael’s case—repeated doses given in a routine manner—is a method that I learned from the late Dr. Francisco Eizayaga of Argentina. Dr. Eizayaga used this method because he believed it avoided the initial “therapeutic aggravation”—the worsening of some symptoms at the start of treatment, before the patient begins to improve. Some homeopaths also have found this method better for patients who are simultaneously taking conventional drugs. I have found that it works well for patients who benefit from the activity of taking something every day; I thought this was the case for Michael and that it would make more sense to him. [Thanks to a generous grant from the Bauervic Foundation, Southwest College was recently able to host a seminar with Dr. Eizayaga’s son (also Francisco Eizayaga, MD). I hope we can bring him back next year and have a public workshop so that others can learn about this effective method of using homeopathic medicines.]
The remedy We chose Veratrum album because of the “characteristic” symptoms—those that stood out and individualized this child’s case of Attention Deficit Disorder from others. Most prominent was Michael’s tendency to cut and tear paper into small pieces when stressed. This is a “keynote” or strongly identifying symptom of Veratrum album. He was also very chilly (even in hot Arizona), he talked in his sleep, and he was sweaty—all symptoms of Veratrum album.
His concern about his social position, although pretty normal for a middle school child, was perhaps a bit stronger than usual, and could be considered a confirmatory symptom for Veratrum album. In Hering’s Guiding Symptoms of Our Materia Medica, the symptom reads as “Despair about his position in society, feels very unlucky.”
Although I didn’t repertorize this case at the time, there is a repertorization below that we might have done using RADAR software and the Synthesis Repertory (Quantum View).
Veratrum album comes up strongly. Another remedy to consider might be Phosphorus.
Helping kids like Michael Whenever I write up a case for publication, in addition to getting permission from the patient to publish the case, I change the name and any identifying information in an attempt to protect the privacy of the patient. When we asked Michael and his mom for permission to publish his case, Michael was very enthusiastic about us doing this. Of course, he thought it was “cool” that we would write about him. But more so, he felt pleased that other kids might get help if they had problems like his. He said it was OK to use his real name, so we did.
It doesn’t get much better than being able to help kids like Michael.
About the author: Stephen Messer, ND, DHANP, is the Dolisos Chair of Homeopathy at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona, as well as the Dean of the NCH Summer School. He has an MS in Science Education and has taught homeopathy at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, International Foundation for Homeopathy, Dr. Eizayaga seminars, Canadian Academy of Homeopathy, Pacific Academy of Homeopathic Medicine, and others. He serves on the NCH Board of Directors and is Past-President of the