ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a neurologic condition. ADHD is a neurological condition, not a behavior disorder, mental illness, or learning disability. ADHD is classified as “neurodivergent.”
ADHD affects the executive functions of the brain, such as planning, attention, self-awareness, and organization. The gap between ABILITY AND PERFORMANCE is that a person with ADHD can do many things, but they are often unable to perform them. A child with ADHD might be able to build a Lego building, but due to ADHD symptoms such as difficulties with attention, initiation, and sequencing, they cannot act.
ADHD can also affect an individual throughout their lifetime, starting in childhood and continuing into adulthood. This causes challenges with academics, social situations, and self-care. The symptoms of ADHD can change with age. A child may have hyperactivity, an adolescent might struggle with inattention, and adults could be affected by a combination.
ADHD is commonly seen in conjunction with other disorders or conditions. A person with ADHD can also suffer from a learning disability or anxiety. They may have Sensory Processing Disorder, depression, or be Autistic. One does not necessarily equal the other.
WHAT CAUSES ADHD?
A single factor does not cause ADHD. ADHD runs in families and is more common in identical twins than in fraternal twins.
Certain chemicals and toxins have been shown to affect ADHD. One study concluded that “phthalates have been shown to increase psychological disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Another study revealed that “ADHD is associated with heavy metals exposure during adolescent growth.”
ADHD can appear in children who have suffered a traumatic head injury, according to some studies. In one study, autoimmune diseases in mothers were linked to ADHD in children. ADHD can be more common if there are complications in pregnancy, the child has been exposed to alcohol and tobacco while in utero, or the birth is traumatic. ADHD is a condition that affects the brain. Research has shown that people with ADHD have different brains.
ADHD symptoms vary from person to person but often have similar symptoms.
ADHD can be classified into three different types.
ADHD – Hyperactive and Impulsive Disorder
ADHD, formerly known as ADHD with Inattention.
Combination Type ADHD
ADHD HYPERACTIVE AND IMPULSIVE
The individual will be constantly moving, fidgeting, and squirming. These individuals may be prone to interrupting conversations and talking non-stop, as well as having problems with impulse control or self-control. This is the type we often see in children, and it is more common among boys.
The child is always “on the move” and unable to focus on tasks, such as in a classroom or at a meal. They also have impulsive behavior. They need help waiting in line, and they seem to need more patience during quiet time.
The individual has difficulty focusing on tasks. They need help with attention and concentration. The individual may need help with following instructions that are in multiple steps. This type is more common in women and adults.
Adults with this condition need help following a conversation, are easily distracted, and often misplace or lose things. It is hard to do anything that requires sustained concentration, such as reading a book or attending a lecture. Unfortunately, many people are not organized and often forget their appointments.
When a person displays symptoms of both types, this is the case.
ADHD is a childhood disorder, and symptoms must have been present at an early age to be diagnosed. Remember that symptoms of ADHD can be caused by other factors such as SPD or sleep deprivation. When diagnosing ADHD, symptoms must be present in at least six months and multiple environments. They must also have a significant impact on daily functioning.
A doctor will evaluate the symptoms and use the DSM-V to determine if they match ADHD.
Executive functioning is the skills to plan, monitor, and execute tasks and goals. Executive functioning is divided into seven areas:
Inhibition (impulse Control)
Motivation and initiating
Executive functioning skills are needed for everyday tasks like showering, following a daily routine, and cooking meals. They also help with school and work-related tasks, such as planning and executing projects, maintaining attention during lectures, and maintaining relationships. This includes having meaningful conversations, planning outings with friends, establishing boundaries, and managing emotions. Executive functioning skills for children are required to play, which provides for planning and imagining activities for play, building activities (including writing or drawing), and controlling the body during physical activities.
Executive dysfunction is often a symptom of ADHD. A person with Primarily Impulsive and Hyperactive ADHD may have significant difficulties with self-awareness (self-control), inhibition (impulse control), emotional regulation, working memory, and working memory. A person with Primarily inattentive ADHD, formally ADD, may have significant difficulties with self-awareness and motivation, initiation and planning, working memory, and emotional regulation.
ADHD AND SENSORY PROCESSING
Sensory processing refers to the ability of the brain to organize and interpret sensory information. This includes what you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. This consists of the ability to understand and manage emotions and movement. Your sensory system is made up of eight senses:
Tactile (sense or touch)
Visual (sense or perception of sight; not just how well you can see but also how you perceive what you see).
Auditory (senses of hearing, not just how well you can hear but also how you perceive what you hear).
Olfactory (sense odour)
The sense of taste (gustatory)
Proprioception is the sense of how you move in space.
Vestibular (senses of balance and movement; directly related to changes in head position)
Interoception is the sense of inner workings (such as hunger, sickness, emotions, etc.).
ADHD and sensory challenges are often linked. An individual with Primarily Impulsive ADHD, for example, may be sensory seeking. They seek out certain types of sensory input – specifically vestibular or proprioception, such as movement and heavy work. A person with Primarily inattentive ADHD, formally ADD, maybe on the opposite side of sensory processing – sensory avoiding. Individuals with ADHD can also experience sensory overload. The sensory input is too much, and they are overwhelmed. They feel anxious and overwhelmed and cannot use strategies to help.
Here, you can find out more about the challenges of sensory processing.
Tips and Tricks to Help
It’s essential to first seek professional help from a trained professional if your child or you are struggling with ADHD. It could be a therapist, counselor, occupational therapist, or other professional with experience treating ADHD. The best treatment is a combination that includes personalized, specific strategies.
This article will focus on ADHD tips and tricks. These strategies are also applicable to adults.
NEUROPLASTICITY and NEUROFEEDBACK TRAINING
The NIH defines neuroplasticity as the ability of the nervous to respond to external or intrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections. Imagine it as a “growth mindset”, the ability to change one’s brain! It is especially beneficial for people with ADHD since it is a neurologic condition.
Here are some ideas to help you teach a growth mindset:
Empathize – Verbalize your understanding that your child struggles and that it is okay for them to face challenges. Normalize the struggle.
Encourage your child to do challenging activities. Talk about the advantages of “doing difficult things.”
Doing hard things and overcoming obstacles is an excellent example to follow. How can you encourage your child to take on new challenges?
Positive self-talk is essential. Try saying “This is too hard, I can’t yet do it” instead of “I’m not able to do this because it’s just too difficult.” But I will keep trying to get better!
Create strategies to deal with difficult situations. Each individual and problem will be addressed individually.
Look into neurofeedback along with teaching growth mindset and neuroplasticity. This area is growing and showing positive results for those with ADHD. According to one study, “Standard Neurofeedback Protocols in the Treatment of ADHD are well-established treatments,” and another said that “frequent use of neurofeedback strengthens neural networks required to sustain focus” and “improve executive function.”
Listen to All Things Sensory Podcast episode 80 for more information from Michael Klinkner, LCSW.
It can make a huge difference to change the environment at home and implement specific strategies during the day. It’s important to customize each system for the child and be consistent.
SLEEP AND THE BEDTIME ROUTE
A consistent bedtime routine is critical to ensuring sound sleep. After a long, tiring day, rest is when our bodies can relax, and our minds can repair themselves. ADHD symptoms are magnified if you don’t get enough sleep. The day can be challenging.
Use blackout curtains to improve sleep quality. Also, reduce clutter in the room (place toys in the closet or use bins). Change the nightlight to read and use a noise maker if needed.
Create a bedtime routine that includes a few strategies that will help your brain and body prepare for sleep.
First, you must meet the child’s sensory threshold between 1-2 hours before bedtime. It means giving them the sensory input that they seek. Find out more about the sensory point.
Use calming strategies after the child has reached their sensory threshold. These include heavy work, deep pressure on the skin, dimming of the lights, calm music, and lavender scents.
Limit your screen, food, and water consumption 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Also, by ensuring the child has enough time outside and is active throughout the day, the brain and the body will feel calmer at bedtime.
Reducing screen time can reduce ADHD symptoms. Extended screen time is often a factor in emotional regulation and impulse management problems.
Use these tips to get the most out of your screen time
Set boundaries that are consistent and firm. If you have established rules for screen time, don’t compromise.
Before and after watching a screen, move around.
Before and after screen time, get outside. Include more time outdoors after your child uses a screen.
Limit your screen time before going to bed.
Once a week, detoxify your screen.
Model healthy screen boundaries. The more time you spend on a device (including your phone), the more likely your child is to want to use a machine.
Hippocrates was one of the first to diagnose ADHD. He described people with similar symptoms as having “quicker responses to sensory experiences, but less tenaciousness, because the soul moves quickly on to the next impression”. His treatment included dietary changes and physical activity. “Modern day dietary interventions include restricted elimination diets, avoidance of artificial color and supplementation with free fatty acids.”
Examine the diet of your child. Is there a nutritional deficiency? Do they get enough protein? Are they allergic to food or sensitive? What chemicals are present in their food? You may have noticed an increase in ADHD symptoms following the consumption of certain foods. Working with a nutritionist who specializes in functional medicine can be beneficial.
ADHD can cause problems with organization. It can cause a messy environment – difficulties in keeping materials decluttered and organized. It can also lead to materials needing to be recovered and remembered.
First step – declutter! Purge your child’s room and donate everything your child hasn’t used in the last six months. This can be done on a regular schedule. Do the same thing for your room. *
Identify other gift ideas for your child that do not include purchasing MORE toys to be donated six months later. Consider a gift card to your favorite book or ice cream store for your child. A ticket to the child’s famous amusement park would be a great gift. The memories of experiences often last much longer than those of toys. They also keep your bedroom neat.
Please take pictures of your space after it has been organized. Use these photos as a guide when cleaning and organizing. You can take a photo of the sink in your bathroom or a drawer that has been cleaned and organized. You could also photograph your child’s desk or clothes closet. It can be helpful to show a picture of the organized desk at your child’s elementary school. A visual example of how to clean and organize is beneficial for children with ADHD.
Use a visual calendar to keep track of your schedule. It could be a family calendar or a phone calendar. Why do you have a calendar on your wall? Most likely to keep track of appointments and activities.
A child with ADHD may have difficulty planning, initiating, and organizing daily activities. A visual schedule can be conducive in this situation. Create visible programs that show each daily task in detail. If your child struggles with their daily morning routine, such as getting ready for school each day, you could create a visual calendar (written, illustrated, or both!) Each morning, they will need to accomplish a specific task.
Here are some tips for creating and using visual schedules:
Include your child when making the visual program. Discuss WHY this will be beneficial. Avoid blaming the child. “We have to use this schedule because you cannot stay focused in mornings.” Instead, say, “we are making this to make the morning routine easier for us both!”
Motivate your child by making it fun. Do your children like to check off boxes? Would they rather have a schedule with Velcro so they can take out each item as soon as they are finished?
Be consistent and practice. It’s possible that your child will not understand the concept in the first few mornings. Make sure to practice with your child, be consistent and encourage success and independence. Patience will be key.
Visual timers can also be helpful to show the child how much time is left on a particular task. It can improve their focus on a particular task so that they complete it within a set time frame. This can be used for non-preferred tasks. They are able to see the duration of the task and will likely be more motivated to finish it when they know that it is ending soon.
CALM DOWN CORNER
Create a place in your house where your child can “calm down”, or decompress. Children with ADHD can be easily overwhelmed with information, causing them to shut down or explode. When your child feels overwhelmed with information, they can retreat to a calm down corner. This is particularly helpful after a school event or a birthday celebration.
Here are some tips for creating a quiet corner.
To reduce the visual stimulation, it should be enclosed.
Items in the calm-down corner should be soothing for your child. These include weighted and pillowed blankets, twinkle lights, soft music, or fidget toys. The experience will be highly personalized.
Your child can help you relax.
Discuss the purpose of each and play out different scenarios.
Use it only as a reward.
This YouTube video will give you more tips for creating a calm-down corner.
Training for Caregivers
Participating in caregiver training is especially beneficial if your child has ADHD or you are aware of a caregiver who cares for a child. It is important to first learn more about ADHD. Learning different strategies to help your child will be beneficial to your entire family.
Co-regulate. It’s crucial to be able to co-regulate with your child when they are going through a difficult time.
Prepare them for success. Include in this teaching strategies they can use on their own.
Be consistent and clear in your expectations. It can be hard to do when your child struggles, but this is very important.
Provide positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement. It is important to reward small achievements and build up over time.
STRESS MANAGEMENT AND EMOTIONAL REGULATION
“A 2018 systematic meta-analysis of RCTs found that “meditation-based therapies” (which included mindfulness, vipassana, yoga, among many others) resulted in a moderate effect size in improving childhood ADHD symptoms, with higher benefits in inattention than in hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.”
A 2017 systematic review examined the benefits of mindfulness for both adults and children with ADHD. The study found that mindfulness-based interventions significantly improved attention in adults.
Learn more about yoga for children and adults, mindfulness techniques, and other self-awareness strategies. It can be helpful to learn more about mindfulness techniques, yoga for kids (and adults! You could also reach out to a professional who is trained and can offer services. Many apps are available to teach mindfulness techniques to children. Find out which app works best for you and your family.
A program for emotional regulation is another strategy. This program will teach your child different emotions and which events or activities trigger certain emotions. It should also include personalized strategies that can be incorporated into daily routines and in-the-moment strategies.
A child with ADHD will likely also have difficulty with sensory processing. This was briefly discussed above in the section on sensory processing. Your child may be “sensory-avoiding” or “sensory-seeking”, depending on the sensory system. Your child might be “sensory-avoiding” tactile input while “sensory-seeking” movement. Your child may “sensory avoid” visual input, while “sensory seeking “tactile input.
If you are considering using sensory-based strategies, it is highly recommended that you do so! Take into account the following:
Always try to meet your child’s daily sensory needs (sensory threshold). Include sensory inputs that your child enjoys and seeks.
To calm your nervous system, use calming proprioceptive input.
Oral motor tools and fidgets are great ways to improve your child’s attention and provide proprioceptive feedback. (It is important to explain to your child why and how these strategies work).
Get outside. Numerous studies have shown the incredible benefits of being outside.
Frequent sensory breaks are recommended. It has been proven that movement improves learning outcomes. Therefore, frequent sensory breaks and/or movement breaks should be included in the daily routine.
MOVEMENT AND EXERCISE
Adding movement and exercise to your daily routine, along with sensory strategies has many benefits. There have been many studies on the effects of different types and levels of exercise and movement in ADHD.
There are many different types of exercises that you can do with your child.
As previously mentioned, yoga can also help with mindfulness.