Occupational Therapy for Children With ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 25, 2024
3 min read

An occupational therapist, or "OT," helps kids with ADHD improve certain skills, such as:

  • Organization
  • Physical coordination
  • Ability to do everyday tasks -- such as take a shower, organize their backpack, or make their bed -- quickly and well
  • Control their “energy” levels, hyperactivity, etc.

Occupational therapists typically have a master's degree. They are certified in their field and licensed in the state where they practice.

An OT might work in a hospital, clinic, or private practice. Some are based at a school.

You can check with the American Occupational Therapy Association to find a qualified OT in your area. Or you can check with local hospitals. Your child's doctor will often have a list of good OTs near you, too.

When you're in the process of picking an occupational therapist, ask these questions:

  • What kind of training do you have?
  • Are you certified and licensed to practice in this state?
  • Are you specifically trained in pediatric occupational therapy or just OT?
  • How much experience do you have working with kids who have ADHD?
  • How will you evaluate my child?
  • What treatment goals do you recommend?
  • What types of therapy will your program involve?

The OT you choose should focus on your child's needs and listen to your concerns. Make sure you're comfortable with the therapist you pick.

The first thing the therapist does is evaluate your child. They usually do this with input from you and your child's teachers.

During the evaluation, the therapist will look at how ADHD affects your child's:

  • Schoolwork
  • Social life
  • Home life

The OT will also do a test to find out your child's strengths and weaknesses. Then they'll recommend ways to address their issues.

During a therapy session, the occupational therapist and your child might:

  • Play games, such as catching or hitting a ball to improve coordination.
  • Do activities to work out anger and aggression.
  • Learn new ways to do daily tasks like brushing teeth, getting dressed, or feeding themselves.
  • Try techniques to improve focus.
  • Practice handwriting.
  • Go over social skills.
  • Work on time management.
  • Set up ways to stay organized in the classroom and at home.
  • Come up with an analogy that helps your child understand hyperactivity and how to keep it in check. For example, a “hot engine/cold engine” analogy and how to cool a hot engine down.

The occupational therapist might also test your child for something called sensory processing disorder.

Kids with ADHD sometimes have more trouble than their peers processing sights, sounds, smells, and other things. But there is some debate as to whether this is an actual disorder. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that sensory processing problems exist, but doesn’t consider it a separate disorder.

Most people can filter out the screams of a fire engine siren or the sound of a flushing toilet. But for some kids with ADHD, these sights and sounds overwhelm their senses.

Some children with the condition pull away from too much stimulation. Others crave even more. They're the ones who can swing and spin endlessly.

Occupational therapists use a technique called sensory integrative therapy to help kids with ADHD who have sensory processing disorder. In this technique, the therapist helps to reorganize the child's sensory system, using:

  • Deep pressure, such as massage or the use of a weighted vest or blanket
  • Rhythmic, repetitive movements such as on a swing, trampoline, or exercise ball
  • Different textures for the child to touch
  • Listening therapy to help with sensitivity to sounds

Sensory therapy can be part of an overall treatment for ADHD that includes medicine and behavior therapy.

The research on sensory processing disorder is still new. There is some evidence that this technique can help improve issues like impulsivity and hyperactivity. But most experts think occupational therapy is best for help in treating weaknesses in coordination and organization, which children with ADHD often have.