How does OT help children with ADHD?

Occupational Therapy for children with ADHD focuses on reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity, correcting maladaptive behaviours and enhancing attention to improve skills in the classroom, at home and on the playground.

This is achieved through enhancing the child’s ability to process lower level senses related to alertness, touch, body movement and positioning in space, so that child can then pay more attention to the higher level senses of hearing and vision. When these senses are developed children can sustain their attention and focus and give meaning to what they see so that they rely less on movement to stay alert. Other aspects of the OT treatment may also address the development of a positive self-concept, listening skills, cognitive perceptual skills and behaviour modification.

What about ADHD and sensory processing disorders?

Many children with ADHD will have sensory processing disorders, which can contribute to their inability to pay attention, focus and concentrate. These children will either withdraw from or seek sensory stimulation like movement, touch, light and sound. They may make loud noises and constantly move, touch and fidget in order to get the appropriate stimulation that they seek. Other children with ADHD may withdraw from loud noises, busy rooms, and bright light and not engage appropriately in an activity as expected. They will then be considered to be troublesome and badly behaved in school and in other social settings.

What therapy programmes are available?

There are a number of programmes designed to address sensory processing difficulties and to help the child attend and learn by adapting the environment and activities. These provide the child with tools and coping techniques for use within school, home and other social environments. Programmes that we implement, but do not limit ourselves to include: The Alert Programme, Sensory Diets and the Brain Gym.

The Alert Programme

Also called ‘How Does Your Engine Run?’ this was created by Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger as a means of helping children to learn self-regulation. The programme works well with children who have sensory processing difficulties as it teaches them that their brains are like ‘engines’ that are sometimes running fast and sometimes running slow. The goal is to make the engine run just right.

The child learns this by engaging in activities that bring their engine up or down according to their needs at any particular time. Fast engines can be slowed by squeezing balls, dimming lights and listening to relaxing music. Slow/sleepy engines can be perked up with fast music, tickles, dancing and bright lights.

Sensory Diets

We design individual ‘Sensory Diets’ to provide a child with the type of stimulation that they need to remain focused and able to learn throughout the school day. The diet may include movement activities such as jumping on a trampoline during break time, carrying heavy objects such as books, chairs and heavy school bags. Other sensory activities include squeezing putty, wearing weighted vests for short periods of time, using a scooter board or playing tug of war. These are incorporated into the school day to ensure the child remains alert and focused for learning. We review the activities to determine which ones help the child’s brain to become more organised at different times of the day.

Brain Gym

‘The Brain Gym,’ was created by Paul E. Dennison. Ph.D. The programme aims to improve communication between the left and the right side of the brain using whole body movements such as drawing giant sized infinity signs on a board or touching the left foot with the right hand and the right foot with the left hand whilst hopping. The basis of the Brain Gym theory is that improved communication between the two sides of the brain will decrease hyperactivity and increase focus.

In conjunction with this programme, we also work closely with teachers and parents to use other tools, such as Visual Perceptual programmes, teaching strategies and classroom strategies. Here small tips often work, such as asking a child to repeat the sentence when giving instructions or keeping classroom materials clearly labelled and in the same place, as this can make a big difference to a child with ADHD when they are trying to organise their thoughts and environment. 

Other interventions or recommendations may include:
  • Environmental adaptation (organised, clutter-free desk, labelling, colour coding etc.)
  • Home programmes
  • Behaviour modification programmes (e.g. How to establish boundaries, discipline, rewards etc.)
  • Study skills (Including time management, mind mapping, regular breaks etc.)
  • Coping skills & stress management
  • How to divide activities into ‘bite-size chunks’
  • Ergonomics (correct positioning to enhance productivity)
  • The importance of routine and structure
  • Balanced lifestyle