Sensory Integration for ADHD and Other Attention Deficit Disorders

Several symptoms associated with attention deficit disorders, with and without hyperactivity, respond to a sensory integrative (SI) treatment approach.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Talking excessively
  • Being “on the go”
  • Demonstrating difficulty organizing tasks
  • Fidgeting with hands and feet

Children who demonstrate these and other characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperac­tivity Disorder (ADHD) often do so early in their lives. This can be frustrating to the child, the family, and the pediatrician.

Over the past few years, there has been an increasing awareness of the effects of these patterns on children’s general development and learning. These youngsters are being referred for appropriate treatment much earlier. Occupational therapy offers programming for these children and their families.

In developing a treatment plan, the therapist must consider the symptoms of ADHD. Goals can be to decrease sensory sensitivities, facilitate appropriate processing of sensory input, help organize and modulate interaction with the environment and enhance self regulation and organizational skills.

Sensory Sensitivity

Understanding what kind of touch, pressure and movement is excitatory and what is inhibitory or calming for a child can affect the quality of interaction. Touch pressure, light to deep massage, slow to moderate rocking or bouncing, light to moderate joint compression, low frequency and low intensity vibration can all result in calming behavior.

Sensory Processing

When the nervous system registers and processes informa­tion as noxious or threatening, the arousal system responds in a protective fashion.

This is often the case in children with increased sensory activity. A normal nervous system allows discrimination to take place.

This in turn, facilitates the desire to explore and gather more information. It is impor­tant to use patterns of sensory input that encourage discrimi­nation rather than protection.

Facilitating Self Regulation

As children begin to experience discrimination states more often than protective states, they also learn what types of sensory input are organizing for them.

They then begin to seek and demand these types of input. Ultimately, language can become a means of initiating, modulating, and regulating input for maintaining appro­priate arousal levels. Many children talk to themselves as they play or work. They are using their language to self-regulate.

This article was adapted from an article by Patricia Oetter, MA, OTR in the June, 1986 issue of the Sensory Integration Special Interest Newsletter of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

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