What to know about occupational therapy for ADHD

What to know about occupational therapy for ADHD

Occupational therapy may help individuals with ADHD in multiple ways. It can help a person identify barriers to success, develop strategies for tackling those areas, practice new skills or refine old ones, and brainstorm solutions when things do not go as planned.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to pay attention and manage impulses.

Experts estimate that 5–7% of school-aged children worldwide have ADHD, and around 63 million children and adolescents live with the condition worldwide. In the United States, about 6.1 million children have an ADHD diagnosis. Although ADHD symptoms evolve, it typically persists into adulthood, affecting about 366 million adults worldwide.

People living with ADHD may have challenges with time management, organization, focusing, and multitasking. Because ADHD symptoms are highly individualized, occupational therapy aims to help people plan and prioritize by using various techniques tailored to the situation.

Keep reading to learn more about occupational therapy for ADHD, including how it works, and why it may be effective.

At its core, occupational therapy involves helping people of all ages participate in whatever they want or need to do.

Occupational therapy encourages people to overcome the barriers that prevent them from doing important activities, and increases their independence and satisfaction in life.

It addresses the importance of people’s psychological and emotional well-being, and focuses on improving these by using everyday activities in a therapeutic manner. For people with ADHD, who may report low self-esteem and self-efficacy, this is also a focus for the therapy.

Overall, the main goal of occupational therapy is to adapt the environment to fit the individual. It follows the thinking that no two people are the same, so the surroundings should adapt to serve everyone best and allow them to be their most productive.

The basis of this reasoning is especially beneficial for those living with ADHD. Occupational therapy helps these individuals participate fully in social situations. For children with ADHD, it can also help them with school, work ethic, and performance.

While occupational therapy is beneficial when applied to other mental health conditions, limited evidence of its application with ADHD exists.

ADHD typically affects an individual’s educational functioning, management of interpersonal conflict, relationships, and ability to provide emotional support. The symptoms of ADHD include inattention and hyperactivity or impulsivity. These qualities can lead to difficulties in time management, emotional regulation, motivation, and executive function, which are needed for completing tasks.

In a small 2018 study, 38 children aged 9–15 either were randomly placed to work with an occupational therapist for 12 weeks or be in a control group. After this time, those in the occupational therapy group showed a significant improvement in their ability to manage their time effectively and their general awareness of time.

Another 2020 study involved 23 female participants, divided into either a 7-week occupational therapy intervention group or a control group. Researchers found that the 11 participants in the therapy group demonstrated reduced stress and ADHD symptoms, with enhanced task performance and satisfaction.

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