Kids on Speed? final episode

What a disappointment the ABC Kids on Speed show turned out to be.

Promoted as "ABC TV’s ‘Kids on Speed?’ shows drugs are not the answer", the show opened with the following lines:

Professor Mark Dadds: It is possible to get help without just using the medication."

Narrator: Clinical psychologist Professor Mark Dadds has a program for kids with severe behavioural problems. Medication is always a last resort. Professor Dadds gets results by retraining parents.

Narrator: in a daring experiment, Professor Dadds and a team of experts will ... consider every option ... to decide whether to medicate or not 5 young kids

Yet most of the kids started on medication first and all of the kids ended up on various types of medication except one (Seth) - and it seems likely that he will too after his appointment with a sleep clinic.

Considering every option seemed to mean medication, behavioural training and remedial classes. I am not against the use of medication, and I am very much in favour of behavioural training but I am against the use of medication first or alone. And obviously, having seen that diet can achieve the same effect as medication for some children, I am disappointed that the diet aspect was completely ignored.

What this show did best was to show what life really is like with these kids, namely, unliveable. Professor Dadds' behavioural training program really was excellent. And the amount of support provided for the families was fantastic if unrealistically expensive. If only every ADHD family could be provided with that amount of support.

What this show did worst from my point of view was to ignore diet. There are as many diets as there are allergy clinics. Over 25 years of running the Food Intolerance Network we have seen that the RPAH elimination diet works well with the majority of ADHD children but for best results it should be supervised by a supportive and experienced dietitian from our list (below).

Many parents say "we've done the diet and it didn't work". When I ask which diet, some common answers include:

  • no artificial colours, flavours and preservatives - while this helps some children's behaviour, it is usually not enough for children with a diagnosis of ADHD
  • the  gluten free dairy free (GFDF) diet - this diet alone is unlikely to work for ADHD symptoms
  • the RPAH elimination diet "but ... we kept in milk, he couldn't give up his milk" -  whatever people are most reluctant to give up is most likely to affect them.
  • a nutritionally balanced diet with heaps of fruit and vegetables - salicylates in drugs such as aspirin have been linked to irritability, confusion and inattention for over 50 years yet few people understand that salicylates in foods can cause the same problems especially when eaten frequently in high doses such as tomato sauce. Foods high in salicylates include most fruit and some vegetables especially fruit juice, strawberries, kiwifruit, avocadoes, sultanas and other dried fruits, citrus, pineapple, tomato based sauces and broccoli.

Nutritionists recommend 2+5 (2 serves of fresh fruit and 5 serves of vegetables per day), but most mothers who contact me do it the other way around – unlimited fruit, fruit juice, dried fruit and fruit flavoured products (e.g. muesli bars, fruit yoghurt), and don't worry too much about vegies because “fruit's so healthy”. This can lead to a very high salicylate diet. One mother wrote:

"I got your book and did what it said. We have seen a huge difference, you have changed our lives forever and we are very grateful. My son used to live on fruit, especially sultanas. We were one of those 2+5 reversal families".

I would like to see every family with a diagnosis of ADHD offered diet first if they want it, then behavioural training, remedial classes and medication.

More information

Factsheet Introduction to food intolerance
Factsheet ADHD
Our website list of dietitians

Feedback from failsafers on this blog

Having a kid with ODD myself, I know what the challenges are and we were very close to medicating as a last resort - BECAUSE - we had never been shown the diet link to TRY first. If it works (when you do it effectively and to the letter as Sue also mentioned...) then great, if it doesn't - medication may be the only option... and that's OK.

So many children are put on medication with little to no attention to diet or behavioural training and this I simply cannot understand. Depending on severity these avenues need to be explored first or in-conjunction with medication. A well known professor once told me 'there is no link between food and behavior.' For many kids there is. Others will need meds.

In an ideal world, I dream it would be nice to have a free or very low cost 'camp/holiday' type situation, where anyone with any food allergy/intolerance/behavioural issue can go to a safe relaxing place, be fed low chemical foods, shown how to shop & prepare foods. Education on challenges & even let them stay long enough to get through detox/withdrawals. Follow this up with support from dietician etc... Response: that's a great idea! Akin to sleep school. Call it Eat School.

I have a son with behavioral issues. After taking him to multiple visits to specialists and no answers, I finally got a diagnosis of ADHD... it was recommended to trial meds. (No diet mods) I did so... some improvement, but the most improvement I've seen has been from us modifying his/our diet, which hasn't been easy he is 9. But it's a change I'm pleased with. Now to eventually wean him off his meds which I believe in time he will be able to manage to do without.

I think any of us who watched the show and have kids who suffer ADHD wanted a lot more covered in the show but to my mind it was a show based entirely on medication and not anything else. I'm sure they didn't advertise it as anything other than the trend in medicating kids with ritalin.

Pity that we "failsafers" seem to be the ones ostracised and kept on the edge of mainstream medicine. Doing failsafe is not easy, but it's worth it.

But they did mention diet. Didn't you hear the paed suggest "deep fried mars bars"!? I too was disappointed that a change in diet wasn't mentioned. That should have been a starting point for these families.

I watched a few episodes and thought how typical it is of the medical profession to ignore the ramifications of diet.

We watched with interest every shot of the kitchen or food to spot what could be the food intolerance. My middle child is exactly like those children and diet and behavior management have changed things for us immensely. If we relied on the doctors and other specialists all we would have had was a diagnosis.