Drug-free ADHD: How one Henrico County boy says he is winning his battle

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Nine-year-old Presley is a rising triathlon star. He’s taken home medal after medal and title after title, and he thanks his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

“Sometimes ADHD doesn’t help you, but it just was a really special gift and really helped me in biking, swimming and running,” he explains.

Presley’s mother Emily says she first noticed the signs when he was a toddler.

“I came to my parents and said, ‘I don’t want to be on medicine anymore.’ My dad was, like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ and my mom was, like, ‘Let’s just try this.’ And I tried this and did really good.”

“They say the mother’s gut, and it really is the truth.”

Presley’s Kindergarten teacher then confirmed her suspicions; Presley was not focusing or listening in class. A doctor made the ADHD diagnosis, and then prescribed drugs to control Presley’s impulses and wandering mind.

“You could tell when Presley was on meds,” remembers his dad Scott. “He was not the bubbly, happy kid. He was more reserved and quiet.”

Scott and Emily say each drug had side effects. In addition to Presley’s personality taking a major hit, he was having a hard time sleeping and could not put on weight.

“I came to my parents and said, ‘I don’t want to be on medicine anymore.’ My dad was, like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ and my mom was, like, ‘Let’s just try this.’  And I tried this and did really good.”

“This” is exercise. Presley works out several hours a week with a triathlon training team. It is part of a treatment plan developed by Dr. Eric Etka, a Glen Allen chiropractor who lives with ADHD.

“People just don’t know how to handle it yet,” Dr. Etka says about ADHD. “It’s a very powerful brain, which can be really positive or really negative.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, about one in ten kids has ADHD. While medication is often prescribed to control the symptoms, Dr. Etka has found changes in fitness and nutrition can also curb disruptions.

“They have problems in school, they’re getting letters,” Dr. Etka describes his patients. “You know, when Mom’s phone dings, it’s an email from the school, her heart stops, like, ‘Oh God, what did my kid do again?’ Right? And that happens all the time.”

Scott and Emily worked with Presley’s medical doctor to wean him off medications. They say directing his energy into races helps him filter out distractions.

According to the Center for Disease Control, about one in ten kids has ADHD.

“When Presley first came on, we had to get him to focus a lot, and now he just flows right with it and has more focus in everything that he does,” says Michael Harlow, Presley’s Triathlon Coach with Endorphin Fitness.

That everything includes school. Emily says Presley is not getting into trouble anymore, and he is even more determined to turn what could be a weakness into his strength.

“Triathlons are fun, but I like riding my bike more than anything,” Presley says. “I want to be a pro-cyclist.”

Adds Harlow, “Presley always gives everything he’s got. He’s a true competitor. When you combine that gifted athlete with someone that just loves it and enjoys every moment of it and wants to be there, it’s a really special thing.”

Dr. Martin Buxton, a psychiatrist with Chippenham Tucker Pavilion, says anyone considering a change to their ADHD treatment should first talk with a physician and make sure it is an accurate diagnosis because ADHD can be similar to other conditions.

Buxton says he has not seen anything but drugs help the most severe cases, but some patients with milder symptoms can benefit from behavioral changes.

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