Recent studies indicate that the ability to think is the evolutionary development of the ability to move. [29] This concept explains the effectiveness of chiropractic neurological treatment with ADHD patients, says Dr. Melillo. “Motor activity-especially development of the postural muscles-is the baseline function of brain activity. Anything affecting postural muscles will consequently influence brain development. If you improve either the movement or the cognitive ability, you will improve the opposite. Musculoskeletal imbalance will create imbalance of brain activity, and one part of the brain will develop faster than the other.”

This theory explains the effects of adjustments that DCs have observed for years. “We have long known that one adjustment can affect many functions,” says Dr. Melillo, “because adjustment changes the brain function- and, depending on the individual, affects different symptoms in the body, for example, the ability to hear. Our hearing is controlled by the brain, not by the ear- so through adjustments, we are affecting the brain’s ability to process auditory information.” 

But the effectiveness of chiropractic with ADHD children needs to be confirmed by research studies, says Dr. Fallon. “From clinical practice, we know that if patients with ADHD- especially the ones with sensory integration issues- do not receive chiropractic care, they miss a big part of the treatment plan. Chiropractic care is consistent with physiology, and adjustments can help greatly. Besides, doctors of chiropractic spend more time with kids, see them in a different context, and may identify those who receive unnecessary medical treatment.” 

The success of chiropractic treatment is not only in the drugless treatment modalities, but in the holistic approach to treatment. “The medical treatment model is based on the diagnosis, i.e., the name that is given to the patient’s condition,” says Julie Bjornson, DC, secretary of the ACA Council on Neurology. “After that, the name is treated, not the patient. But DCs enhance the function of the body by removing the interference to the body’s natural self-healing capabilities expressed through the nervous system.” 

Many neurological conditions, and ADHD in particular, are truly displaying the premise of chiropractic-subluxation. Subluxation can include imbalance of muscle tone that causes nerve irritability, which leads to inefficient nervous system function and agitation. [30] Depending on the severity of any subluxations and on how much the children are shut down sensorially, the children may be ADHD, dyslexic, or autistic, says Bobby Doscher, DC, president and CEO of Oklahaven Children’s Center. “I can see it even in babies. If infants can’t lift the head up, or cry on the stomach and back, there may be head misalignments. I also see if babies can latch on to nurse, suck, swallow, and breathe rhythmically. If 2- to 8-month-old infants can’t turn the head in the direction of the sound they hear, it’s also a problem.”

Chiropractic patient assessment not only aims at subluxation detection, but also identifies patients’ individual symptoms. “Symptomatology must be globally evaluated,” says Dr. Doscher. “Reading problems at the age of 6 or 8 mean disorganization of the body, and a lack of communication between the two body sides. Check the vision and see if there is any divergence. Children may have auditory problems-when they can’t perceive the sounds, localize them, or are hypersensitive to them. Check the child’s tactility-see if he likes to touch and be touched, or not. If a child can’t creep or crawl and has to roll instead, it’s a sign. Is the language clear? Is the child clumsy? Has trouble dressing? Put the child on the belly and see if he can lift the head up, look in both directions, do the army crawl, and lift the opposite arm and leg.” 

In addition to the physical exam, the doctor needs to address the chemical and emotional issues, says Dr. Barnes. “You need to have the patient’s blood chemistry and stool analysis to check for food sensitivities. Address the emotional issues the child may have. All those aspects are important because you can adjust the child all day long, but then he goes back to the family environment and the problems come back. Art therapy is effective. Instead of talking to the child, give him a piece of paper and pencil and ask him to draw his family or a picture of how he feels.” 

Chiropractic can help ADHD children with sensory integration problems. “ADHD children are often irritated by the tags on their clothes. They may not like the texture and coarseness of certain foods. Chiropractic adjustments- together with tactile programs, such as exercises with a fine brush or a feather- help reduce their sensitivity,” says Dr. Doscher. Reducing sensitivity means better attention spans, as children will not be distracted by the factors that used to irritate them, explains Dr. Fallon. 

29. Llinas RR. I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. The MIT Press, 20001.

30. Peet J. Adjusting the hyperactive/ADHD pediatric patient. Chiropr Pediatr 2:12-16, 1997.