ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ADD (Attention deficit disorder) are two of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. In Singapore, community studies have found the prevalence of ADHD to be between 1.7% and 16%.
ADHD can cause wide ranging difficulties such as above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviours. Children with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time.
Occupational therapy focuses on helping to build the key skills children need to function independently at home and in school. For kids with ADHD, occupational therapy can help children with:
- developing better time management skills
- building better organisational skills
- improving executive functions
- practicing new social skills
How can occupational therapy help ADHD?
The first thing an Occupational Therapist will do is to conduct a thorough assessment to see how ADHD is impacting your child’s ability to succeed at home, school, in relationships and in other areas. They will then create a treatment plan to address any areas of concern. There are a number of ways in which OT inventions have been instrumental in managing ADHD.
Projects, routines, tasks and deadlines can be difficult for kids with ADHD to manage. They might struggle to complete work within a set timeframe, have trouble executing a plan or finishing tasks in the right order.
Scientific studies have shown that OT can be effective in improving time-processing and daily time management abilities. In one 2018 study, a group of students aged 9-15 worked with an occupational therapist over a 12-week period. They showed significant improvement in their awareness of time and their ability to manage their time effectively during daily tasks.
Succeeding in school inevitably requires good organisational skills. ADHD can interfere with children’s ability to anticipate what they need to complete a project, keep to a schedule or separate complex tasks into smaller activities.
An occupational therapist will look at each activity and break it down into steps or skills the child needs to succeed. Once a project has been broken into steps, the therapist can organise materials, develop systems and visual cues to help a child track, remember and follow a process, one step at a time.
The OT will work with a child to create a outline of steps involved in a task, colour-code different activities or make a model to explain what’s expected. Visuals can be very important for kids with ADHD.
Children with ADHD often have difficulty with a complex set of interrelated thinking skills known as executive functions. Executive functions include working memory, planning skills, setting priorities, controlling impulses and distractions and knowing how to stay attentive or shift attention.
Studies have shown that occupational therapy can be useful in building executive function. Using a series of engaging therapeutic activities called the Cog-Fun (Cognitive Functional) program, kids working with an OT showed good improvements in executive function after therapy. OTs also worked with parents to teach them how to support and coach their children – parental support has been shown to help ensure OT invention success.
ADHD can have a negative impact on a child’s ability to manage social interactions. The disorder can cause people to act impulsively, interrupt others, and behave in aggressive ways. An occupational therapist can help to get to the bottom of the underlying reasons why a child is behaving inappropriately – often kids with ADHD are ‘acting up’ due to frustration.
An OT working with a classroom teacher might ask whether a child is sitting close enough to the teacher to hear and understand instructions, or whether a child’s the individualised education plan is meeting their needs. Often, giving kids regular breaks to increase movement and increase oxygen in the brain is really important for kids with ADHD. A 2015 study found that OT interventions led to a long-term improvement in social play skills when therapies were practiced at home and in the clinic.