OT & ADHD
What is OT ? For those who don’t know, OT stands for Occupational Therapy. Many parents are catching on to the benefits of Occupational Therapy (OT) for kids. OT strategies are often used to strengthen various areas of development for children. According to Understood.org, a great resource for teaching students with ADHD:
Occupational therapy (OT) helps people who struggle to do everyday tasks because of poor motor skills. For kids, that includes tasks that are part of learning and functioning well at school.
Understood.org, Occupational Therapy: What You Need to Know
There is a common misperception about OT amongst many parents. I know because I used to be one of them. I used to think that school-related OT was only useful if a student had handwriting issues. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Occupational Therapy for Teaching a Child with ADHD?
Occupational Therapy is not a new area of intervention for teaching students with ADHD. However, recently more and more parents are learning of its effectiveness at addressing their student’s ADHD symptoms. Fortunately, OT strategies can help with a variety of school-related issues. Today, we will discuss how OT strategies can assist with teaching students with ADHD. Specifically, today we will discuss a common ADHD-like symptom that impacts learning: visual attention weaknesses.
Why is it important to assess visual attention in students struggling with school? Specifically, why do children who hate math and reading often have this attention weaknesses?
You may be shaking your head at the computer or phone screen mumbling, “Wait a minute, Lindsay. Huh? Visual attention? What is that and why do I care? Just help me get my child to sit still and focus!”
Deep breaths, Friend… I’ve got you covered.
What is Visual Attention?
I love me some Understood.org… let’s see what they say about visual attention.
The brain, not the eyes, processes the visual world, including things like symbols, pictures and distances. Weaknesses in these brain functions are called visual processing disorder or visual processing issues.
Understood.org, Visual-Spatial Processing: What You Need to Know
Occupational Therapists (OTs) use their skills and knowledge of the brain and its connection to the body, to apply OT strategies to improve visual attention in children.
My Middle & Symptoms of ADHD Visual Attention Weaknesses
Like many other parents, I entered the world of OT through experience with my middle daughter. My middle daughter began reading quite easily at the age of four-and-a-half. Because her early printing and handwriting was done fairly neatly and well, I always assumed learning would be easy for her. However, it wasn’t until the age of 7 that I began noticing some “little things” that were, in fact, becoming big issues for her.
I began noticing her aversion to school work or reading. Physically flipping and cartwheels at all times. Physically writing answers on a piece of paper was a very laborious task for her. She quietly avoided writing answers to questions on paper. For her, the act of hearing a question aloud and then processing it into a coherent answer was enough for her. Having to physically write down her thoughts was an overwhelming task. Additionally, I began noticing that she skipped words or lines of text while reading. As the font became smaller, these reading “missteps” became more frequent.
I noticed her lack of attention to details, lack of focus and her continued hyperactive-like behaviors.
Physical Therapy Leads Us to Later Occupational Therapy
As a baby, my daughter was late to sit up, crawl and walk. Because of these delays, at around 10 months, I brought her to pediatric physical therapy for months in order to strengthen these areas. Later, these memories combined with other emerging challenges, prompted me to seek out an OT evaluation for her.
It was through this evaluation that I learned of my daughter’s struggle with visual attention. God blessed us with an amazing Occupational Therapist who ultimately worked with my daughter on visual perception issues. My daughter showed difficulty with visual convergence, visual tracking and overall control over her visual system.
Each week, Alicia, my daughter’s Occupational Therapist, implemented OT strategies to improve my girl’s visual attention skills. Alicia would then debrief me as to what “homework” I was to complete with my girl. It was crucial for me to support the continued strengthening of my daughter’s visual system.
Why OT for ADHD-Symptoms such as Visual Weaknesses?
Basically, visual attention is what helps us weed through all of the information that our brains receive at any given moment. In the case of this ADHD symptom, our brain must process all of the input that is collected from the eyes. The brain must then take all of the information it receives and focus on that which is most important.
Every day, our brains receive a mass amount of input from our body systems. We smell, we hear and we see, for example. Our brains then process the information and ultimately, decide where to focus.
For example, while at the park, you keep your eye on your child despite hundreds of other objects in your view. Your brain knows to focus on the little boy in the red shirt and not the trash cans.
Taking this into consideration, we can apply it to a child’s learning struggles. Often, when a child progresses in reading skills, he may begin to shut down or hate reading. This is indicative of a visual perception problem.
For more information on reading instruction, check out my blog post on Reading Instruction for Struggling Readers.
Are Visual Attention Weaknesses impacting your student?
In a child with a visual attention weakness, he may struggle when given a math worksheet. Often there are twenty or more equations on a sheet of paper. This can be very visually overstimulating for a child with visual attention weakness.
This child’s brain has to weed through the many digits and focus specifically on one problem. This can cause a student to become overwhelmed. Anxiety prevents him from processing the math problem well. and ultimately, this leads to gaps in educational success.
These symptoms are troubling for many parents and children to navigate. Often times there is the perception that the child is not trying, just sloppy or careless. However, experts now realize that these symptoms are associated with an actual cognitive deficit. Specifically, experts are finding that visual attention deficits are often at the root of these issues.
If this describes your child, do not fret. There are strategies to help.
12 Tips for Teaching a Child With ADHD
Today, I am honored to have my sweet friend, Alicia Mathews, MS, OTR-L share her expertise with you. She will offer valuable suggestions on how to use OT strategies to improve a child’s attention. These OT strategies to increase attention are useful for home educators and traditional educators alike. I know you will find these tips useful.
Alicia, take it away!