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focus

ADHD: Setting Up A Successful Environment

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Co-authored by: Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L, NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist, and Lindsay Delling, OTS, Occupational Therapy Graduate Student

Before any assessments, treatment planning, or suggestions of adaptations take place, we must first understand what attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood means, and how it may present and affect each individual child. The American Psychiatric Association defines ADHD as one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children, with symptoms including, “inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought)” (2017). There are three different types of ADHD: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, or combined type, that come with specific criteria within each to provide a diagnosis. While some symptoms of ADHD are common amongst young children, such as difficulty sitting still or limited attention spans, the difference in children with ADHD is the inability to control it without external forces providing regulation for them. This blog post will outline the sensory systems and will provide environmental suggestions and adaptations for children with ADHD to help them succeed and increase focus!

It is estimated that 8.4% of children have ADHD; so, that being said, what can we as occupational therapists recommend to enhance attention and regulatory strategies in children with ADHD using the sensory systems as a guide?

  1. Touch – Children with ADHD may actually scientifically benefit from utilizing fidget toys to increase their attention to a task. This thought process comes from the fact that using a fidget toy, such as a fidget spinner or some putty, allows children to exert some energy while also keeping their hands busy. This then makes them more likely to attend to another task, such as listening to a teacher speak, because they have sustained alertness while working with the fidget toy and can therefore sustain attention to the overarching task. We have seen this in most people on a smaller scale as they twirl their hair or tap a pen while attending to a task; they are essentially using these items as fidget toys to enhance their alertness and sustain attention to the task at hand (CHADD, 2021). The same can be said for a wiggle seat cushion or chair to promote seated movement so the child can gain that sensory input of movement, while staying seated and attending to the task.
  2. Sight – Because children with ADHD exhibit hyperactive tendencies, this means that they are likely hypersensitive to lighting and types of lighting within environments, such as fluorescent lighting which is prevalent in many school systems. Providing children with ADHD breaks from this harsh light and allowing time for their eyes to relax is a great way to promote improved attention throughout the school day. Hypersensitivity in sight is also important to be aware of regarding any schoolwork a child may be doing. If there is a lot going on within the page, a child with ADHD can become easily overwhelmed and may be quick to abandon the activity due to overstimulation. Covering portions of the page so that the child can only see one activity at time may be helpful in keeping them focused and on track and will likely decrease frustration.
  3. Hearing – Due to the hypersensitive nature of children with ADHD, sounds can be very distracting for them when they are trying to focus on a task. One solution would, of course, be to find a quiet space for them to complete schoolwork and other activities. This, however, may not always be readily available or even an option. In that case, providing these children with other adaptations, such as noise cancelling headphones, while they complete their work or even just frequent noise breaks and allowing them to take a walk or play with a preferred item can be great alternatives in promoting sustained attention in a noisy environment!
  4. Smell – Just like the other senses, certain smells can also become overwhelming and even distracting for some children with ADHD. This can happen for many reasons, such as smells of food reminding them how hungry they are at school, smells that make them think of a certain memory that promotes daydreaming, or even simply gross smells that the child cannot seem to get their mind off of. To promote sustained attention and a calming effect with children with ADHD, essential oils can be a good option to trial! While they are not scientifically proven to directly help with symptoms of ADHD, they are proven to ease anxiety and stress, which can occur with ADHD. Scents such as lavender, vetiver, and chamomile are known for their stress-relieving abilities that promote relaxation and serenity within the body.
  5. Taste – Snacks…a fun way to wrap up this post! Similar to fidget toys, crunchy snacks can also provide attention-enhancing qualities when eaten during a time where sustained attention is necessary. The child will be focused on the task of chewing the crunchy item, such as carrot sticks, an apple, or some chips, and will therefore be present in the moment and better able to attend to the task going on around them. This strategy can be used in a variety of settings where eating is appropriate – school, home, tutoring, etc. And, it’s a fun contribution to the repertoire of strategies to enhance attention and self-regulation strategies!

As always, we recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist or getting an occupational therapy evaluation. Contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson, OT, to learn more at: jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.

References

https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/fidget-toys-and-adhd-still-paying-attention/#:~:text=Putty%2C%20squeeze%20toys%2C%20fidget%20cubes,classroom%20without%20becoming%20a%20distraction.

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/adhd/what-is-adhd

 

Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.

 

Lindsay Delling is a graduate student at Regis College working toward obtaining her master’s degree in occupational therapy. She previously completed fieldwork at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown and many school-based settings before coming to finish her fieldwork with NESCA. Prior to graduate school, Lindsay worked with children with disabilities in the Boston Public School system, as well as in a special education preschool setting in her hometown. Lindsay is open to working with many different populations once she completes her degree.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Simple Executive Functioning Strategies When The World Is Anything But Simple

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Whether your children have returned to school full-time, on a hybrid model or fully virtual learning, we are all juggling. Juggling work demands, family demands, household demands and educational demands in a time of remarkable uncertainty. The start of the school year typically brings the smell of fresh school supplies and our best organizational efforts, but many of us may feel hesitant to use organizing strategies to manage our lives. Why? Because our lives are unpredictable and anything but typical these days. If you’re hesitating to use pen on a calendar, I hear you!

The ability to plan and employ organizational strategies is a key task of our executive functioning system. It’s what allows us to coordinate multiple schedules, dance and sports practices, projects at work, PTO bake sale reminders, and get out the door each day on time. I have been hesitant to adopt routines because I recall vividly how all those plans imploded in March when the world stood still. I hear the buzz about how school will end up fully remote so “put it all down in pencil before it all changes.”  Maybe that will prove true, but in the meantime, let’s consider the ways that we can rally our executive systems to do what they do best: plan, organize and regulate. Some suggestions for how to do this now while the world is unpredictable:

  1. Adopt the Sunday Game Plan. Put information in a family or personal calendar once a week. Spend a few moments on Sunday night catching up on plans for the coming week. Even if we end up transitioning from “hybrid” to “remote” (or all remote), this planning routine can still be adopted. Conclude your Sunday Game Plan by previewing what may be coming the week after in the event of long-term projects. While the content of your game plan may change, the structure can remain consistent.
  2. Keep a consistent schedule for sleep for the family. When we were all in school and work, we had set times to wake up in the morning. We should adopt more consistent bed times at least from Sunday through Thursday nights. Engage kids and teens in a conversation about the plan for sleep. If there are days when children are not waking up to physically attend school, try to keep wake up times no more than an hour off to allow for more consistency in our overall sleep regulation.
  3. As part of your weekly plan, set aside time for exercise. This is particularly important for children who will have reduced physical education activities. Research about the positive impact of exercise on mood, anxiety and attention underscores how important movement is in the day.
  4. Work together with your child to identify a consistent work space. Needing a work space at home is not suddenly and dramatically forced on all of us like it was in the spring. Take the time to arrange a space that is as distraction-free as you can make it. It’s not necessary to run out and buy things as minimal distractions can allow your child to focus on their school work. Keep the supplies nearby in their own bin, basket or box top.
  5. Help your child to create visual schedules or checklists for the day. Include times for virtual school, times for completing assignments and steps to submit the work either electronically or packed for the next day in school. Keep checklists consistent throughout the week when possible.
  6. Plan and schedule breaks. For young kids, try to plan breaks from tasks for every 15-20 minutes. Incorporate movement or stretching when possible to improve focus. For older students, try to plan breaks every 30 minutes of sustained effort. Try to take a full break from screens rather than replacing a tablet/computer screen with a phone or video game.

Children and teens develop their executive functioning skills over time. Keep this in mind as you set up routines and expectations for your whole family as what is expected for a second grader should and will differ from a seventh grader. Again, the content can differ but the structure of using a checklist, planning a break, or working at a desk or table is the same.

Please remember: the pandemic has depleted our executive functioning systems, so it’s important that we are gentle and kind to ourselves. Think about simple and reasonable systems to organize yourself and your family.  And be flexible when we have to go back to the drawing board.

 

Resources:

Positive impact of exercise:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022347612009948

Executive Functioning tips and sample schedules:

https://www.smartbutscatteredkids.com/

 

About the Author: 

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.

 

If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.