Unable to stay seated, you fidget while distracted by the unorganized mess around your desk. Instead of finishing a project that’s due tomorrow, you get up and decide to go to the store. Putting on your shoes to get out the door, however, is the most daunting task of the day. Where are those shoes? Did you leave them under the bed or in the closet? Are they outside? Panic starts to set in and then, miraculously, you find the shoes. The feeling you get while putting them on is like fingernails scratching a chalkboard though.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you or fit the behavior of your child, it’s possible there’s an issue with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD). A visit to a primary-care medical provider can lead to a proper diagnosis.
If tests point to an ADD or ADHD diagnosis, where do you go from there? There are many options as well as specialists ready to provide support, and occupational therapists (OT) can collaborate with your primary care provider on effective strategies.
“The goal of occupational therapy is to guide the client toward achieving maximal functional ability in their daily life, allowing them to participate and thrive in the roles that occupy their day,” said licensed Northern California occupational therapy assistant Lisa Matthews.
OTs who specialize in ADHD and ADD have specific skills they use to help each patient build their own toolkit that touches on all aspects of a person’s sensory system needs, cognition, body mechanics, and environments.
Addressing Sensory Issues
Sensory processing is how the brain registers what is happening when there is movement that involves the body. Those who struggle with sensory processing react in many different ways. Some may crash around and aimlessly move about seeking sensation, while others won’t move at all.
The key to working through sensory-processing issues is to put the patient on a “sensory diet.” For children, learning can happen through fool play. For example, an OT can have a child position their body or hands a certain way while coloring or working on a puzzle. For adults, something as simple as a push-up off the side of a table, wearing noise-canceling headphones, or removing fluorescent lighting can make a remarkable difference. It’s important to take small breaks to implement these exercises throughout the day.
Planning and Organizing is Key
Being organized and staying on task plays an important role in anyone’s life, but for someone with ADD or ADHD, those functions can be a big struggle that sets them behind.
“Utilize tools such as a visual schedule, calendar, digital reminders, or lists,” said Matthews. “Free up that brain space!”
Visuals are a great way to help with planning and organizing. Take a picture of an organized desk or backpack and use that as an example. Plan ahead to avoid future issues. Get clothes or uniforms ready the day before work, school, or a game. Have an extra set of books—one for school and one for home. Celebrate successes: Reward yourself or your child for work accomplished or goals met.
Fighting to Stay Seated
OTs can have valuable tools in their kit to help individuals who fidget and can’t stay calm or seated. Flexible seating options such as a wobble seat, T-stool, therapy ball, or standing station can be helpful.
“Set timers with a work-reward system,” said Matthews. “Incorporate core-strengthening exercises for increased postural stability while seated at a desk.”
Matthews also suggests exploring aromatherapy, squeezing a stress ball, or chewing on ice.
Motor Planning or Praxis
Praxis is a neurological process of planning what to do with a new idea and how to execute the decision. Adults or children with ADD or ADHD often have difficulty with praxis, and motor planning can be challenging. OTs work with patients on their pencil or pen grip by having them write in the sand to develop their motor skills and use therapy putty to strengthen muscles. Matthews also suggests creating an obstacle course for a child or an exercise routine for an adult that includes jumping, crawling, climbing, cardio, and overall strengthening.
Although ADD and ADHD are widely known conditions for children, many young people grow into adulthood undiagnosed. Nevertheless, Matthews says it’s never too late to address a concern and seek help.
“Reach out to your child’s school, your doctor or therapist, or a private clinic to request a formal assessment,” she said.
For more information on California occupational therapists’ education, licensure, and services, visit the California Board of Occupational Therapy. To check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.