- Focus in school
- Take tests
- Do homework
- Get along with their peers
Even everyday tasks, like getting dressed or doing chores, can become more difficult.
Medicine and therapy can help kids with ADHD keep up in school and control their problem behaviors. Yet these treatments may not cover every issue.
Taking a pill won't necessarily help kids take a shower, organize their backpack, or make their bed.
For help with everyday skills, as well as inattention and other ADHD behaviors, you might want to get help for your child from an occupational therapist.
What Is an Occupational Therapist?
An occupational therapist or "OT" helps kids with ADHD improve certain skills such as:
- Physical coordination
- Efficiency in everyday tasks
Occupational therapists typically have a master's degree. They are certified in their field and licensed in the state where they practice.
An occupational therapist might work in a hospital, clinic, or private practice. Some occupational therapists are based at a school.
How to Find an Occupational Therapist
To find a qualified occupational therapist in your area, you can check with the American Occupational Therapy Association. Or you can call a hospital in your area that offers occupational therapy.
Frequently your child's doctor will have a list of good OTs in your area.
When you're in the process of picking an OT, ask these questions:
- What kind of training do you have?
- Are you certified and licensed to practice in this state?
- Are you specifically trained in pediatric occupational therapy or just OT?
- How much experience do you have working with kids who have ADHD?
- How will you evaluate my child?
- What treatment goals do you recommend?
- What types of therapy will your program involve?
The occupational therapist you choose should focus on your child's needs and listen to your concerns. Make sure you're comfortable with the therapist before you start the evaluation process.
The Occupational Therapy Session
The first thing the therapist does is evaluate your child. This is usually done with input from you and your child's teachers.
During the evaluation, the therapist will look at how ADHD affects your child's:
- Social life
- Ability to function at home
The OT will also perform a standardized assessment to check into your child's strengths and weaknesses.
Then the therapist will recommend strategies to address these issues.
During a therapy session, the occupational therapist and your child might:
- Play games such as catching or hitting a ball to improve coordination
- Do activities to work out anger and aggression
- Learn new ways to do daily tasks such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, or self-feeding
- Try techniques to improve focus
- Practice handwriting
- Go over social skills
- Work on time management
- Create organizational systems for the classroom and home
The occupational therapist might also test your child for something called sensory processing disorder.
Kids with ADHD sometimes have more trouble than their peers processing sights, sounds, smells, and other stimuli. But there is some debate as to whether this is an actual disorder.
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that sensory processing problems exist, but does not consider it a separate disorder.
Most people can filter out the screams of a fire engine siren or the sound of a flushing toilet. But for some kids with ADHD, these sights and sounds are an overwhelming bombardment to the senses.
Some kids with ADHD pull away from excess stimulation. Others crave even more. They're the ones who can swing and spin endlessly.
To help ADHD kids who have sensory processing disorder, occupational therapists use a technique called sensory integrative therapy. In this technique, the therapist helps to re-organize the child's sensory system, using:
- Deep pressure, such as massage or the use of a weighted vest or blanket
- Rhythmic, repetitive movements such as on a swing, trampoline, or exercise ball
- Different textures for the child to touch
Sensory therapy can be part of an overall treatment for ADHD that includes medicine and behavior therapy.
The research on sensory processing disorder is still very new. There is some evidence that this technique can help improve behaviors like impulsivity and hyperactivity. But most experts believe occupational therapy is best for help in treating weaknesses in coordination and organization, which are frequently seen in children with ADHD.