Evexia Therapies

Occupational Therapy for ADHD

Understanding Occupational Therapy and ADHD

Occupational Therapy is a key therapeutic component in the management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and can include both remedial and adaptive strategies. Occupational therapists work with children, parents and a child’s teachers to build individualised strategies that help manage ADHD diagnosis across different settings including at home, school and within the community.

Occupational therapy takes a holistic approach and considers gross motor skills and function, sensory processing difficulties, social skills and the physical environment children with ADHD are in to then offer strategies to implement into their daily lives.

There are three different types of ADHD that can be diagnosed with (Health Direct, 2023) which include:

  1. Inattentive attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Easily distracted (not hyperactive/ impulsive behaviours)
  2. Hyperactive-impulsive attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Characteristics of impulsivity & hyper-activeness)
  3. Combined (Characteristics of both groups).

Within the Inattentive group, characteristics may include:

  • Difficulty focusing, finishing tasks and easily distracted
  • Limited attention to detail
  • Disorganisation skills, poor time management
  • Difficulty with executive functioning including memory, concentrating and listening
  • Gross motor function deficits and low muscle tone

Within the Hyperactive-Impulsive group, characteristics may include:

  • Difficulty sitting still and staying on task including poor time management
  • Fidgeting and need for constant movement, sensory processing difficulties
  • Excessive talking and or difficulty waiting their turn in a conversation
  • Characteristics of anxiety and or built-up energy – Inability to focus on a slow task i.e reading
  • Impulsive behaviours, lack of patience and self-regulation
  • Gross motor function deficits and low muscle tone

How Occupational Therapy Can Help Manage ADHD

Our allied health professionals including occupational therapists work with school-aged children with ADHD, young adults and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) focusing on their gross motor skills through functional movement patterns that provide a sensory input and are transferable into everyday activities.

Occupational Therapists assist children with ADHD diagnosis by implementing useful tools that help regulate emotions and behaviours. Effective options include working on creating routines, patterns and valuable skills that can relate to building peer relationships, and independence in everyday tasks in turn increasing their overall quality in everyday life.

Occupational Therapists provide tailored intervention strategies for sensory processing disorders through emotional support, behavioural therapy, physical therapy and practical strategies to assist with symptom reduction.

Improving Daily Living Skills

Individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can often have their activities of daily living (ADL’s) affected by their condition, depending on the type of ADHD, and the symptoms experienced. It can be multiple aspects which are affected, from their ability to focus and complete a task or their organisational skills or problem-solving skills. Working with an Occupational therapist in regular occupational therapy sessions can assist with the improvement of these symptoms through exercise and techniques to improve sensory processing, emotional regulation, social skills and executive functioning. Our Occupational Therapists will regularly review a child’s progress based on their time-related interventions and often notice symptom reduction. We place a high emphasis on children with ADHD and fostering positive behaviours that supports their long term mental health.

Building Organisational Strategies

Organisation is an important skill to develop a structured and consistent approach to tasks at all times but is even more crucial for children with ADHD who experience poor planning, time management and sequencing, language challenges, attention difficulties and learning difficulties. Organisation is an important aspect of play, language, social life and self-care tasks which have a direct impact on children with ADHD symptoms.

Occupational therapists work with children and adults with ADHD and sensory processing disorder to increase their capacity in the skills that need to be specifically modelled and supported and by sensible structures such as diaries and visual charts then reinforced by realistic routines which transfer into everyday activities.

A treatment team will consist of healthcare professionals such as occupational therapists, exercise physiologists, psychologists and speech pathologists who provide emotional support which is the foundation to treating children with ADHD. These therapists will often work with a child’s teachers to support their development through these individualised interventions.

Sensory Processing and ADHD

Occupational Therapists provide sensory therapy to children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder. A child’s sensory system has 5 basic systems which are visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and tactile. A child’s sensory processing problems can involve one or multiple sensory systems where by they seek, avoid, have low registration or a sensation sensitivity. An occupational therapist can work with a child that has a sensory processing disorder through the use of a sensory diet which can provide significant improvement to assist with attention, concentration, sensory reactions and emotional regulation.

Social Skills and Emotional Regulation

Occupational therapists (OT’s) are able to provide tailored programs that assist in improving social skills and emotional regulation in children with ADHD. For example, depending on the type of ADHD the children are diagnosed with they can often have difficulty focusing and staying on task. In a classroom situation, this can become very frustrating for children with ADHD and can often result in outbursts of anger or frustration. An Occupational therapists can provide techniques which children are able to implement to improve their emotional responses and reduce the number outbursts experienced by managing their anger/ frustration, via activities such as mindfulness activities or breathing techniques. This will coincide with improving their social skills, as if they are able to remain in a classroom environment, they will be able to interact with other children more frequently.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for ADHD

The ADHD brain can affect an individual’s functioning in several ways and has links to cognitive, behavioural and motivational functioning. A key factor in this is the difference in the level of Neurotransmitters that we produce, predominantly norepinephrine and it affects the neural organization to self-regulate and to stop automatic responses which affect ADHD symptoms. Occupational therapists offer tailored strategies and interventions to work with children and adults with ADHD. Strategies that an occupational therapist uses will impact more than one area of an individuals life as skills are transferable and a holistic approach is recommended.

Benefits of Exercise for ADHD

Systematic reviews have found occupational therapy interventions that work on gross motor patterns to help improve attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) be beneficial in symptom reduction related to selective attention, reaction time, vigilance, impulsivity, inhibitory control, executive function and mental health in children with ADHD (Grassmann et al., 2016). This will correlate with their ADL’s and improves their daily life, such as enhancing their ability to focus in school and complete the required work, and result in improvement in their grades and knowledge. By working on repetitive gross motor patterns with an occupational therapist this will assist in the development of the connections in the brain which struggle to form normally.

Exercise is proven to release endorphins which correlates to ADHD and mental health providing a natural therapeutic response and one that can be accessed independently with long-life benefits.

Who Can Benefit from Occupational Therapy? (Children vs. Adults)

Occupational therapists are normally the first health professionals to provide support to families with children and adults with ADHD symptoms, commonly before and after diagnosis. Every individual can benefit from occupational therapy as it provides significant improvements to one’s ability to participate in everyday life tasks. The benefits of occupational therapy not only impact individuals experiencing sensory processing disorder and executive functioning difficulties secondary to ADHD but people living with mental health and physical difficulties also benefit from occupational therapy interventions.

Finding an Occupational Therapist

Our occupational therapy practice has occupational therapists that provide paediatrics occupational therapy and support for adults with ADHD. It is important to work with an experienced occupational therapist that can build a strong connection and repour and understand one’s ADHD symptoms to ensure you’re the right “fit” for each other.

Individuals living with ADHD who have difficulties with their executive function rely on their formal and informal supports to ensure symptom reduction and the ongoing management of common ADHD symptoms. Mental health is commonly affected in individuals living with an ADHD diagnosis which can be managed through ongoing occupational therapy sessions.

An occupational therapy session may consist of assessment, behavioural therapy, physical therapy, self-regulation strategies that provide significant improvement to executive function and time management skills for children and adults with ADHD.

Conclusion: Living Well with ADHD

As neurodiversity and ADHD diagnosis is becoming more common in todays society, it is important to find and engage with the right healthcare professionals for the ongoing management of ADHD symptoms.

Symptoms are often significantly improved by following the advice for qualified occupational therapists who can assist you in making healthy life choices including regular exercise and healthy eating which stabilise the neurotransmitters in the brain. This in turn can improve ones daily life by enhancing their executive function, impulsivity and mental health for long term health benefits.

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